Behind The Mask

The Bizarre, Strange Side Of Michael Jackson

For the last several years, it seems Michael Jackson has spent more time on Page One of the papers than he has at No. 1 on the charts.

"I don't read all the things written about me," says Jackson. "I wasn't aware the that the world thought I was so weird and bizarre."

It's not the way most people would want to be known, but most people haven't led the kind of life he has. Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.

"When you grow up as I did in front of 100 million people since the age of 5, you are automatically different," says Jackson.

"Michael Jackson's major commodity that he provides to American culture is scandal, the bizarre, the macabre, strange kinds of things," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's not so much that we look for his latest music now. We look for his latest scandal."

And for years, Jackson has provided lots of scandal and lots of strangeness. It's been a weird ride for Jackson at least since the '80s. You can trace his career with headlines. He calls himself the King of Pop. But the tabloids have given him another title.

"We used to know Michael for the moonwalk, the ability to look like he was walking on the moon," says Thompson. "Now there's a sense that I think, we think Michael came from the moon."

It may have started in the early '90s when photographs revealed a Jackson who was steadily paling. His nose was also changing shape. It became hard to ignore. A Web site has even been set up to track the Amazingly Morphing Michael.

"I think you don't need much sociology or science here. It's a pretty straight no brainer. When a human being begins to evolve before your very eyes, when his face begins to change, his nose shape…that's pretty fascinating," says Thompson. "And then, of course, as his face begins to disintegrate and change, and all the rest of it is fascinating -- simply because it's so weird."

People accused Jackson of bleaching his skin, but he said it was getting lighter because of a rare condition called vitiligo. And he insisted he had only had two nose operations, but they were not cosmetic surgeries -- they were meant to help him breathe.

Documentaries were produced focusing on his ever-changing face, and he made headlines again a year ago after he appeared in a courtroom -- with a nose that appeared to be falling off.

Jackson's personal life has always seemed just a little off. For a while, he was seen in the company of a chimp named Bubbles.

"This is when the weirdness began to reach mythic proportions," says Thompson.

Jackson married twice and produced three children: a girl, Paris, and two boys named Prince Michael and Prince Michael II -- whom Jackson introduced to fans outside his Berlin Hotel as he held him with one arm around his waist over the hotel's balcony railing.

If he is an unusual father, he might have been an equally unusual businessman. He's often described as a sharp operator, but there are reports he sought help in his negotiations from Voodoo doctors who put hexes on his enemies in Hollywood. And Jackson also reportedly took ritual cleansing baths in the blood of various animals

"One on one, Michael was not weird. That's what's so interesting," says Rabbi Shmuly Boteach, who, until two years ago, was one of Jackson's friends. He's been described as a spiritual advisor. "I honestly did not see the bizarre., freakish Michael Jackson. Yes, his nose was not nice. Yes, I guess he had too much plastic surgery. But around me, he was pretty normal."

Around the time of their friendship, Jackson was frequently photographed in public wearing masks, sometimes accompanied by his kids.

"Michael puts the black mask on, and I said take that stupid thing off," says Rabbi Boteach. "Do you realize you look like a chimpanzee with that on? You have to just stop this stuff."

Boteach says Jackson listened to him for a little while, until the superstar's managers stepped in: "The manager said to me, 'You are trying to make Michael normal. He is famous because he's not normal.' And I turned to Michael and I said, 'You have to choose now between celebrity and dignity.' And sadly, I think that he and his people around him chose celebrity."

For years, the world giggled at Michael Jackson's lavish lifestyle, with his mansion slash amusement park named for Peter Pan's hometown. His trials seemed more laughable than legal. And his life, like his face, was always evolving, sometimes melting under the glare of constant scrutiny.

"Fame is not always gonna make everybody crazy. Tom Hanks is really famous. He seems to be a totally normal kind of guy," says Thompson. "I think fame in many ways is like a narcotic, like pharmaceutical. It reacts in certain people, different ways than others."

"And now, of course, he's even bigger than he ever was," says Boteach. "But in the saddest possible way."