Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was online with WashingtonPost.com readers on Friday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m. ET to
discuss his book, The Michael Jackson Tapes, which is an account of his
recorded conversations with the pop star as his spiritual advisor that
took place in 2000 and 2001 and explore Jackson’s feelings about fame,
family and relationships. In addition, Boteach will address the latest
news about the leaked L.A. coroner’s autopsy report which states that
Jackson was a “fairly healthy” 50-year-old before he died of an
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Hi. It’s Rabbi Shmuley. Thank you all for
joining us this afternoon. It’s the eve of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot
and I wish everyone a very joyous holiday. I look forward to your
questions and comments.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: If you had the opportunity to talk to Michael today, what would you say to him?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: I would tell him how said I am that he died
so prematurely, how I believed his death was so avoidable. How tragic
this is for his children who don’t have a father or a mother and for
all the people who loved him. And how important it was for him to
change direction in life so that it did not end up in tragedy.
New York, N.Y.: Rabbi Shmuley: What is your opinion of the
“documentary” produced by Martin Bashir in 2003? Do you feel that
Michael was treated fairly in it?
Also, do you still have a relationship with Uri Geller?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: I told Michael, when Bashir’s people
contacted me in order to reach Michael, that the last thing he needed
was to bring cameras into his life. He needed to get control of his
life, to reorient his existence toward spiritual purpose and a
consecration of his fame to a noble cause. He was famous enough. He
didn’t need this documentary. I lament that he participated when his
life was not ready to be opened to scrutiny.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: What is your response to the autopsy report that
was released to the public yesterday? It stated that Michael was in
relatively good health and that there were no additional drugs found in
his system, which directly contradicts your claims of him being a
prescription drug addict.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Michael himself admitted to an addiction to
prescription drug medication around 1993. As has been widely reported,
he sometimes resorted to painkillers in order to deal with medical
issues. I told him that he had to learn to live with his pain, and make
changes in his life, instead of medicating the pain away. I wanted him
to address its root cause.
We as a society are often guilty of the same. Americans consume three
quarters of the world’s anti-depressants because materialism will never
bring happiness. We have to rediscover spiritual purpose, which is
exactly what I told Michael throughout our friendship.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: On Dateline, you stated that you weren’t sure if
Michael was innocent with regards to the child molestation charges.
After spending two years taping the man–how could you possibly be
unsure? Certianly, something would have tipped you off if he was guilty.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: What I have consistently said is that I never
saw anything that would lead me to conclude that Michael could ever
harm a child.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I don’t want you to break any confidences, but what
do you believe Michael Jackson would have wanted the world to know
about his feelings on spirituality?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: The most beautiful part of this book is
Michael’s depth when it comes to spirituality. He was a devout
Jehovah’s Witness who regularly knocked on people’s doors to persuade
them to believe in G-d, as he describes in the book. Michael believed
that G-d was absolutely essential in people’s live and he and I talked
about religion and spirituality constantly.
Lodi, Calif.: What was the purpose of the book you were going to
write with/for Michael? Was it to be an autobiography or a self-help
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Michael was incredibly wounded and deeply
saddened at the fact that he was turned into a pariah by the media. He
hoped in this book to reach the public in his own voice and demonstrate
his truest and deepest self so that people would know who he really was
rather that what the newspapers said he was.
Anonymous: Was Michael Jackson ever baptized?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Michael sent me to interview his mother
Katherine for the book. It’s one of the most interesting chapters. In
it she describes how Michael was raised as a devout Jehovah’s Witness
from a very early age. She deeply laments that Michael decided to
disfellowship himself from the Church. I lamented the same and
endeavored greatly to reconnect him to the Church which I believe had
kept him humble and grounded.
Eagle Rock, Calif. : Rabbi–Do you think anyone could have saved
Michael? He had a large family and millions who loved him (myself
included), but it doesn’t seem he was really close to anyone. It just
makes me so sad, and wish I could have been in his life.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: What will always puzzle me is why Michael’s
love for his own children, Prince, Paris, and Blanket, was not enough
to keep him alive. He was an exemplary father and loved his children
very deeply. Sadly, he had indeed become isolated from the many others
who loved him.
Los Angeles, Calif.: In the Catholic Church, In the Baptist Church,
in the Mormon Church, and in most Christian organizations I know, when
a person talks privately to his spiritual leader that is consider
sacred and absolutely confidential. A Father/Priest/Minister is
supposed to keep it a secret until his death. Is that different in
Rabbi Boteach’s faith? Why is a spiritual leader exposing to the whole
world tapes of private conversations, giving interviews on TV, and
publishing a book to promote himself using a dead person’s intimacy? Is
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: There is nothing in this book that breaks any
confidences. These tapes were made not only with Michael’s approval but
at his behest in order that a book be published. This is exactly why
Michael sent me even to his mother for her inclusion in the book, as
you’ll discover in the book. It was his desperate wish to make his
heart known to the public. And indeed, we have already received
thousands of emails from people the world over saying that the book,
and indeed my interviews, have completely altered their perception of
Michael. People never knew just how much he suffered and the loneliness
he experienced. Please read the book and I believe you’ll feel the same.
Springhill, Fla.: Why did Michael think he was ugly?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: What I write in the book is that all of us
living in this culture have somehow been conditioned to believe that we
are not attractive. There is too much self-loathing with regards to
appearance in America. Michael was guilty of it, as are so many of us.
In his case, he referenced the fact that his father made hurtful
comments. But there can be no question that a culture that promotes
external appearance over internal beauty is going to produce a
glorification of youth over wisdom and Michael relates in the book that
he desperately feared growing old.
Knocking on doors: How in the world could Michael knock on anybody’s door unnoticed? Was this as a kid or adult?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: He relates that he would disguise himself.
The adults, he says, would not know whom he was. But the kids always
figured it out. Michael says he was missionizing even after the release
of the Thriller album.
Richmond, Va.: I loved your TV show, I was able to learn something
important about myself everytime I watch the couple on each episode try
to work things out.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Thank you. One of the things through which
Michael and I connected was a broken childhood. My parents divorced
when I was a boy and I have since devoted my life to healing families,
which is what my TV show ‘Shalom in the Home’ is all about. I see this
book about Michael in the same light. It is a deep book of healing and
Michael is incredibly courageous in sharing his pain so that parents
might learn to always prioritize their children.
Ashburn, Va.: You had plenty of time to publish the book before the
2003 arrest. It could have saved his life to get his message out to the
public. Why didn’t you publish this book in 2002? It feels that you are
just another one in a long line of people who exploited Michael Jackson
for your own personal fame and fortune.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: This book could not have been published when
there was zero sympathy for MIchael in the public. It’s entire purpose
was to have people open their hearts to the real Michael Jackson and
judge him more favorably. The 2003 arrest reinforced an already
existing view that Michael was not the person he purported to be. I am
sure we all remember those times.
As far as fame and fortune are concerned, my life’s passion has been
healing families and bringing values to our culture. I have a long
history of doing so and have published 22 books on these subjects over
the past 20 years and a great many have been best-sellers, thank G-d.
So I have not gotten into publishing because of this project.
On this particular book I accepted an extremely modest advance and have
already dedicated a substantial portion thereof to Michael and my
mutual dream of creating a regular national children’s holiday. For me
this comes in the form of a weekly national family dinner night. We
call it ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night.’ Please go to http://www.fridayisfamily.com
and sign up. You will also have noticed that I have utilized every
media opportunity of late to highlight this very important initiative
and will continue to utilize further revenue to that end as well as one
of my passions, support for parochial education so that children can
have values in the classroom at a young age.
Montreal, Canada: First of all Happy Sukot and Hag sameah!
My question is–did Michael ever speak about or believed in true love?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Happy Sukkos to you as well. Yes, Michael was
a real romantic and speaks movingly in the book about his belief in
Anonymous: Who do you believe was the real love of Michael’s life?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: In the book it seems that he adored,
absolutely adored, his mother. And as far as a romantic relationship is
concerned, he speaks very movingly about his affection for Lisa Marie
Presley, his first wife.
Denver, Colo.: Looking back to your time with Michael, is there
anything you would do or say to Michael that may have changed the path
he was heading and possibly have changed the outcome?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: I have thought of this many times since his
death. I wish there were but don’t believe there was. I tried very,
very hard to get Michael to gain control over his life. He first
listened and we made considerable progress. But he began to treat my
counsel, and indeed my loving rebukes, as something annoying. I miss
him greatly and mourn his loss.
Burbank, Calif.: But Rabbi, you write on your Web site that Michael
may have done something criminal or immoral. Can you explain that
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Michael confessed on international TV to
sharing a bed with a child. This is unacceptable and immoral and he
promised me, when I warned him about never being alone with a child,
that he would never do it. When I saw him say this in the Bashir
documentary my heart sank. I have consistently said that I never
witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that Michael could
harm a child.
Birmingham, U.K.: What do you think the world needs to know most about Michael Jackson?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: When you read this book you will see how how
hard Michael tries to communicate to the world’s parents that you must
love your children unconditionally and that fame and fortune are never
a substitute for love and affection. We should heed his very moving
Platte County, Mo.: How can the public be sure that the comments and
viewpoints expressed in the book as attributed to Michael, are truly
accurate (no dishonest editing)since he is unable to sign off on the
final product? There were parts of Living with Michael Jackson that
were edited in an extremely dishonest and unethical way to portray him
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: We have already given media outlets the
portions of the audio tapes that they have requested and I am sure you
have all listened to the substantial material.
My purpose in this book was always to potray Michael in the most
authentic and favorable light, but without making the mistake, in any
way, of whitewashing some of the errors he himself confesses to that
led to tragedy. Michael wanted his life to serve as an inspirational
message to parents of what to do and not do. He did not want these
tapes or this book to be hagiography. This was an honest book, not an
exercise in PR. I know that some people who love MIchael are troubled
by just how honest he is about his pain, loneliness, and brokenness.
But I find his honestly positively inspiring and redemptive. I find it
surprising and saddening that so many who claim to love him feel that
Michael should have censored himself and come across only as the
perfect King of Pop. But he wished to be known, as he makes absolutely
clear in the book, not as an aloof icon or caricature, but as a man. A
man who reached for things higher, who inspired and electrified. But
who was also was scarred very deeply by being forced into a life of
performance at too young an age.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: I thank you all for your time. This Sukkot
(festival of Tabernacles) is the 10th anniversary of the first time
Michael asked me to take him to Synagogue where we danced and prayed
together. He will be much on my mind. He is sorely missed.
G-d bless you all, G-d bless Michael’s children to whom the book is dedicated, and may Michael rest in peace.