Master of an Empty Kingdom: The Tragically Short Life of Michael Jackson
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reminisces over the death of his estranged friend, Michael Jackson.
I did not expect to be as saddened by the death of Michael Jackson as I turned out to be. Not that I am cold-hearted, but I lived in the constant dread that his death was imminent. When I was close with Michael, there were just too many times that he walked out of a room with a doctor, after complaining that his foot or back or neck hurt him, all lightheaded and woozy. There was no way that a body could survive so regular an assault. So after begging him to give up the painkillers and failing, I steeled myself against the inevitable by feeling angry and disillusioned. Was Michael not the man who had squandered so many blessings? Was he not the friend who, after I had invested two years of my life into helping him rehabilitate his, treated me as if I were a nuisance because I dared to push him to fix his shattered existence? I would overcome my feelings of pity with a spirit of defiance. No, I will not cry. He hadn't earned it.
But then the news came that he had died. And I was devastated. Especially when I saw my children's tears. Michael was accused of pedophilia. But my children and his children were playmates. Yes, I made sure to supervise. But the children did not see him as a monster. Michael brought cartoon videos for his kids and my kids to watch. We sat in my living room on Thanksgiving laughing and joking. And the children missed him.
Once, when my son Mendy was eight years old he accompanied Michael and me to a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Mendy tried to order. The waiter focused on the adults. Mendy felt ignored. He kept on repeating his order. Michael heard him. He interrupted the waiter. 'Excuse me, but this child is trying to order. Can you please listen to him?' It was not something you'd expect from a superstar. They were supposed to be utterly self-absorbed, right?
And then there was the incident with my children fighting with the children of another family on the school bus. Michael heard about it. My eldest daughter felt bullied. Michael sprang into action. Enter the peacemaker. He called me, and over several days he planned a peace parley in earnest. Everything down to the name tags of the children. No detail was too miniscule. Kids should not fight. Adults were the corrupt ones. He wanted to see harmony among kids. And while he put hours into planning the summit (which never went ahead because the other family pulled out) he was supposed to be working on his album, Invincible. No matter. It would wait. Ending altercations between school children took precedence.
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