Advice For Michael Jackson

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Now that his molestation and conspiracy trial is over, Michael Jackson surely will have plenty of time to catch up on his reading. Perhaps he will even find his way here, to these pages, and if he does, I want to make sure he gets this unsolicited (but not necessarily uneducated) advice about where he might want to take his life and career now that his most recent miseries seem finally to have ebbed.

So here goes:

Mike - may I call you "Mike" (the Rev. Jesse Jackson does)? You do not have to end up like Marlon Brando or Elvis Presley or even Howard Hughes. You don't have to be forever known as the biggest freak of both the 20th and 21st centuries. America loves second, or third, or even fourth acts - loves public disgrace and redemption - and if you turn things around now you still can change the way the lead paragraph of your obituary is going to read.

But you've got to listen to me. I followed your trial as best I could and from it, I feel as though I gained some insight into why your life is such a mess despite all of your musical talent and success.

From your prosecutors and defense attorneys, and from the witnesses and the evidence, I learned that many of the problems you face and have faced could easily have been avoided. It's just that you don't know how to avoid them. That's why you should read this column. We can talk about payback later-maybe an autograph or something.

First, if you aren't already in it, get yourself into therapy. Really good therapy. If you are wealthy enough to continue to pay the rent at Neverland (and we'll get to that later), you clearly are wealthy enough to get someone out to your house a few times a week. And it cannot be someone within your immediate circle of contacts - it cannot be someone who is financially dependent upon you.

That's part of the reason why you are where you are today: you place too much trust in people who have too many incentives to tell you simply what you want to hear. You need to start talking to someone who will tell you the truth and make you face some hard realities. You need someone who isn't afraid of you.

Second, find yourself a personal manager who also doesn't need the work from you. You have some very smart and loyal friends who don't have the types of problems that you have had. Ask them for some names.

Then have your new manager fire everyone even remotely involved right now in the short- and long-term operations of your life. You need to get your house in order, literally and figuratively, and the only way to do that is to hire people who can recognize trouble and keep you away from it.

This goes for your personal life, which has gotten increasingly risky, and your financial life, which by most accounts seems more precarious than ever.

You need to stop believing that the smartest people in the world are the ones closest to you. If this trial demonstrated anything beyond a shadow of a doubt it is that you have surrounded yourself too often with people who do not remotely offer you the loyalty and guidance you, or anyone else, deserves.

You need professionals, not amateurs, to help guide you. You need more Bill Gates and less Damon Runyon hanging around giving you counsel. You need more IBM and less Enron.

Third, you need to stay away from other people's children. That doesn't mean that you have to stop helping them. It just means that this help has to be separated from any personal contact with you.

When kids come to Neverland, you need to ensure that you are never alone with them. The people you hire to help protect you from these children, or them from you, must also ensure that your house and your property are no longer a place where children can romp unsupervised and disciplined. You may have been deprived of your childhood, but adults who had childhoods, like me, understand that being punished for bad deeds is an important part of growing up.

Fourth, you need to get back to the only thing that made you great. You need to start singing again - and not necessarily anything new. Get your brothers together, or go out by yourself, and do a "Greatest Hits" tour. It will be overwhelmingly successful and will reveal your music to a whole new generation of fans - anyone 12 or under, for example - who were born after you started your decline.

Anyone born since "Thriller" and Billie Jean" came out only knows you as a creep. You have the power to change that. Your talent is great enough. But it is not going to happen unless you make it happen. Besides, you really need the money.

Finally, you have to come to the realization that the world doesn't work the way you want it to. And it never will. People will accept a certain level of your eccentricities but not when you try to convert people to them. For example, you will never convince people that it is okay to sleep with young boys (it isn't, by the way).

And you will never convince people that you are as innocent as you claim. Your hero, Peter Pan, does not exist in the real world. In the real world, your shtick doesn't sell anymore. Also, leave the adult magazines alone and when your fans send you books with pictures of naked men you might want to think about sending them back.

All this will not be easy. It will require you to finally deal with your past and to change the way you deal with the world. It will require the sort of strength of character that you have not displayed recently. It will require a level of intensity and stamina and resolve that you used to apply to your music. Speaking of which, while I was covering your trial, I began again to listen to your music and it, not you, is what made me even care what happens to you now.

Whatever it is that allowed you to reach those heights so many years ago is probably still inside you. If you can find it, you will get to start your life again. If you don't, misery will no doubt come your way again.