Beliefnet
Steven Waldman

In 2000, some Beliefnet folks were invited to a small meeting with Michael Jackson, who was trying to raise money for a Peter Pan theme park. Bob Nylen, Beliefnet’s co-founder, wrote about the scene in his new book, Guts:

Best Dot-Com Meeting Ever
In 2000, a megacelebrity asked his counselor — our contributor Rabbi Shmuley Boteach — for introductions to acquaintances in finance and new media. So Steve Waldman, Tony Uphoff, Highland Capital VC Jo Tango, forty strangers, and I met in the Four Seasons hotel suite of the most recognizable human on the planet. We munched finger foods and evaded jumpy PR ladies and the Good Rebbe in the star’s spacious living room.
More or less on time, the King of Pop strode from an anteroom: Michael Jackson went straight to work. A young man assisted, holding two dozen illustrated storyboards. Jackson wished to build a Peter Pan theme park. A misapplied Band-Aid held his nose to his face as he spoke diffidently, then with mounting confidence as his voice dropped from alto to tenor. It wasn’t a bad idea, aside from the unbelievably creepy factor. Theme park? Peter Pan? From a guy living a pedophilic life that J.M. Barrie only simulated? Hmm.
Mr. Jackson took financial questions for fifteen minutes,. His concentration began slipping. He lobbed grapes at his colleague, who reciprocated. Rebbe Shmuley asked us to pose, one by one, for photos with M.J., and oh, by the way, how about donating to a new charity to benefit kids? Each of us in turn grasped the naked right hand of the famous germaphobe, flesh-to-flesh, and chatted him up, too.
Subsequently, I coughed up a hundred dollars for the charity, but no photo. As I recall, the charity was called “Save These Children.”

My main positive memory from this meeting was how, once you got past his dour handlers — very Hollywood, very unsmiling — Jackson himself seemed like a sweet guy. He obviously didn’t mind being called the King of Pop and worshiped as the greatest musician of all time, but in my 3 seconds with him, I found him to be quite humble.
I thanked him for the article he’d written for us — a truly extraordinary piece about celebrating the Sabbath and his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness — and he was gracious and normal.
In this photo, from a different meeting with Elie Wiesel and Shmuley (which I did not attend), you can actually see Jackson as a serious, businesslike person.
jackson_wiesel.jpg