Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley shocked fans with a brief, very public marriage his accusers now say was designed to fool the world.
In 1994, one year after the first of many child sexual abuse allegations were raised against him, Michael Jackson did something that stunned the world.
He married Lisa Marie Presley.
The King of Pop’s unlikely union with the daughter of Elvis Presley came as Jackson was facing unprecedented scrutiny about his private life — namely, his string of close friendships with little boys.
‘WE’VE JUST BEEN DUMPED’
While Jackson had brief romances with actresses Tatum O’Neal and Brooke Shields in the late ’70s and early ’80s, by the mid-80s his romantic relationships with adult women — or men, for that matter — appeared non-existent.
But it was through this time Jackson was regularly seen in public with a succession of pre-teen male companions: Among them Wade Robson, James Safechuck and Jordan Chandler, all of whom would go on to accuse Jackson of molesting them.
It was his relationship with Chandler that would turn the speculation about Jackson’s close friendships with young boys into a media storm. In 1993, the young boy’s father accused Jackson of molesting his son, claiming Jordan revealed the details of their sexual encounters while under the influence of drugs during a dental procedure.
The case was settled out of court, the Chandlers receiving a reported $US22 million. But now the spotlight was firmly on Jackson’s unusual personal life.
“I remember Michael saying to me that he’s going to have to have these public relationships with women, so that people don’t think anything,” James Safechuck reveals in Leaving Neverland, thenew two-part documentary detailing his and Robson’s allegations against Jackson.
“He would always say that he’d have to go get married at some point, but that it wouldn’t mean anything.”
Safechuck’s mother Stephanie — then unaware of the alleged abuse — considered Jackson a close friend.
“One day I got a phone call from Michael. He said, ‘Stephanie, I’m not going to be able to come over as often’. It was a short phone call. I hung up, went to my husband and said ‘We’ve just been dumped’.”
A HASTY WEDDING
On May 26, 1994, one year after the Chandlers’ sexual abuse case was settled, Jackson and Presley wed at a ceremony in the Dominican Republic. They’d first met in 1974, when Jackson was 16 and Presley was just 6, and had struck up a friendship as adults in 1992, speaking on the phone regularly since then.
Despite their long friendship, at the time of their wedding, neither the press nor public was aware that the pair even knew each other. The wedding was kept secret for two whole months, Presley finally confirming the union in a statement declaring:
“I am very much in love with Michael, I dedicate my life to being his wife. I understand and support him. We both look forward to raising a family and living happy, healthy lives together. We hope friends and fans will understand and respect our privacy.”
Presley was the mother of two young children, a five-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son, at the time of the wedding. She had divorced the children’s father, musician Danny Keogh, just 20 days before she and Jackson married.
A VERY PUBLIC COUPLE
Jackson had always been guarded about his private life, complaining of constant tabloid intrusion, but all that changed in his marriage with Presley.
They first appeared on TV together at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards, their brief appearance on stage apparently serving solely as a chance to parade their relationship to the masses.
“Just think — nobody thought this would last,” Jackson said as he gestured to his wife of three months, before they wrapped their arms around each other and locked lips.
From there, the pair courted the media, sitting down with journalist Diane Sawyer in June 1995 for a lengthy televised interview. The questions were confronting: Sawyer, clearly incredulous, was upfront with Jackson about his child sex abuse allegations.
“What is a 36-year-old man doing sleeping with a 12-year-old boy — or a series of them?” she asked Jackson.
“I’ve never invited anyone into my bed — ever. Children love me; they follow me.”
Presley defended her husband — but her defence raised eyebrows, as she told Sawyer that she’d seen the children he surrounds himself with.
“They don’t even let him go to the bathroom without running in there with him … when he jumps in the bed, I’m even out. He jumps in there with them,” Presley said.
“But isn’t part of being an adult and loving children keeping children from ambiguous situations?” asked Sawyer. “Would you let your son, when he’s 12 years old, do that?”
“If I didn’t know Michael, no way. But I happen to know who he is and what he is, and I know that he’s not like that. I know that he has a thing for children,” Presley said.
Sawyer also quizzed the pair about their sex life.
“Do we have sex? Yes, yes, yes,” Presley said.
As his wife answered the tough questions, Jackson’s behaviour became increasingly playful and childlike.
Their public displays of affection even extended into Jackson’s music career: His 1995 R. Kelly-penned single You Are Not Alone, a sentimental ballad, came with a music video inexplicably filled with scenes of the couple lounging together naked.
Presley filed for divorce in early 1996, citing “irreconcilable differences” and noting in her filing that they had separated in December 1995, shortly after Jackson had been hospitalised after a collapse and the couple had argued.
As part of the settlement, Presley received 10 per cent of the royalties from Jackson’s greatest hits collection HIStory, which featured the single You Are Not Alone.
Despite their split, the pair were spotted together throughout 1997 and 1998, Presley travelling with Jackson on tour and spending her birthday with him.
Jackson then wed longtime friend Debbie Rowe in November 1996 in Sydney while on the Australian leg of his HIStory world tour. Their even more unconventional union lasted just three years, during which time Rowe gave birth to Jackson’s two eldest children, Prince and Paris.
One of the most harrowing moments in Leaving Neverland comes when Jackson accuser Wade Robson recounts a night between him and Jackson that happened when he was 14. Robson turned 14 in September 1996.
“I was seeing less of Michael. Still talking to him — but less, two to three times a year. Still any time I was physically with him and stayed the night anywhere, the same sexual stuff happened,” he said.
During one of those increasingly rare visits, Jackson attempted to initiate something the pair had never done before: penetrative anal sex. “Michael tried to penetrate me … it was really painful, too painful for me, so he stopped,” Robson alleged.
LISA ON MICHAEL
Lisa Marie Presley resurfaced in 2003 with her debut solo album To Whom It May Concern, which became a top-five hit. Despite the widespread scepticism about the validity of her relationship with Jackson, Presley steadfastly insisted their marriage was genuine — if unorthodox.
To promote the debut album, she again sat down with Sawyer, who pulled no punches.
“Michael Jackson? WHY did you marry Michael Jackson? What were you DOING?” the interviewer asked, eight years on from that trainwreck Primetime special.
Presley hinted that the private Jackson was very different to the man his fans knew.
“First of all, he’s not stupid. He didn’t get to where he was by being stupid. It’s unfortunate that not a lot of people know who he really is because he doesn’t let anybody see it. He has an idea of how he should represent himself to the public which he thinks works for him, which is that sort of meek, victim, quiet thing that he does,” Presley said.
“He wants to lock into you and he wants to intrigue you and capture you, and whatever he wants to do with you, he can do it. He’s very capable of doing that.
“I fell in love with him, I did. Everything I said was the truth.”
Leaving Neverland is available to stream on TenPlay.