Monday, April 12, 2010
Book Review: Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson
I, like many people, have had somewhat of a fascination with Michael Jackson, probably considered the greatest pop artist of all time. He was a person who was so talented yet so, well, eccentric (to put it lightly) and made many people wonder what was going through his head. And with his sudden and mysterious death in June 2009, the fascination continues to grow for many people--including me.
When I noticed this book, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, I was intrigued but also in a way put off. The book's author, investigative journalist and blogger Ian Halperin, recently released a book about Brangelina. He also wrote another book called Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, questioning if Cobain actually committed suicide. Other books include Celine Dion: Behind the Fairytale and Fire and Rain: The James Taylor Story (what dirt is there to dig up about that guy?). I was a little concerned I would be reading a 270-page issue of the National Enquirer.
But I found the book to be both balanced and well researched. Halperin spoke with close Jackson friends Macaulay Culkin and Liza Minnelli (although the later was while he was "undercover"). He even briefly spoke with Jackson, again undercover, and he believes Jackson was flirting with him during their conversation.
Halperin starts off his book saying when he decided to write it, he believed Jackson was a child molester and that he was guilty of all the accusations. However, when he did his research, he found many people, including top entertainment journalists, who agreed, but no one could present any concrete evidence to back up their claims.
Halperin's coverage of Jackson starts in 1993, when he was first accused of child molestation. Halperin gives great detail about the legal implications, the media coverage (including the harsh coverage of the TV show Hard Copy, that frequently paid its sources), etc. Halperin even mentions that the young accuser was under sodium amytal, a barbiturate that puts people into a hypnotic state, at the time of his confession. Halperin asserts it was given to his boy by his dentist father. Halperin also details how the prosecution had to examine and photograph Jackson's body to see if it matched up with how the boy described it; it turns out it mostly didn't. There's even a full transcript of the interview with the boy at the end of the book.
The book also covers his marriages to Lisa Marie Presley (who Halperin believes married Jackson to help convert him to Scientology and "cure" his alleged homosexuality) and Debbie Rowe. It also focuses on journalist Martin Bashir's documentary on the King of Pop, right before the 2005 accusations and trial. Halperin shares details of the trial that helped me see why the jury found him innocent; apparently the family of the boy in question had tried to get money from numerous celebrities and had been involved in previous lawsuits.
Additionally, Halperin describes Jackson's body image (questioning how many plastic surgeries he had and if he bleaches his skin white) and declining health. From the information Halperin got from his sources, he predicted on his blog in December 2008 that Jackson only had 6 months to live. There was a huge backlash, but it turned out, Halperin was right. Sources told him how frightened Jackson was of his 2009 concerts in London and how he told his daughter Paris not to be mad at him if he didn't make it to Father's Day. Halperin also asserted how people in Jackson's camp enabled the pop singer's drug habit by giving him what he wanted instead of stopping it.
I think Halperin did an excellent job of being unbiased throughout the book: he presents the facts, not leaning toward the picture of a completely innocent pop star or one of a monstrous child molester. He does believe, like I do, that Michael had a strange connection with children. Maybe the King of Pop was stuck in the childhood stage because he never got to have one; Jackson also told Bashir he was abused by his father.
We may never know the truth behind many Michael Jackson mysteries, but Halperin tries to help readers make up their minds about how they feel about him.