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His Passing is Our Message
For many years I have worked with celebrities when I was a publicist for CBS and ABC Television Networks. But none I have met made me â€œstar struckâ€ like Michael Jackson.
One afternoon I was backstage with Diana Ross during a rehearsal break for the first television special she produced, â€œDiana,â€ which aired on CBS in 1981. I felt someone come up from behind as I was talking to her about press interview requests. I turned to see three Black guys, who had silently slipped up on us. It was Michael with his two brothers. I canâ€™t tell you which brothers, because I was absolutely mesmerized by the quiet, unassuming Michael who greeted Diana with a big hug.Â I stood just ten feet away from the biggest pop star in history at the height of his career.
I was speechless. There was only a couple of other people in the area where we were all standing. I whipped my head towards them. Did they see this â€œshooting starâ€ who fell from heaven too? Was I dreaming? Their faces were frozen in shock like mine.
Words would not come out of my mouth to say hello. His presence was a surprise to the entire crew.Â He turned around, and we caught one anotherâ€™s eye. He smiled. I smiled back, awestruck, and just like that he was gone.
Another show I was working on was a television movie starring Bob Newhart for ABC filmed in Las Vegas at the Caesars Hotel in 1991. It was â€œThe Entertainers,â€ the touching story of a chimp, a chump, and the woman they love. I came on the set with my photographer. We needed one special photo to publicize the show. It would be the ABC ad for magazines and newspapers around the country. The shot I wanted was Bob with the chimpanzee who was â€œco-starringâ€ in the movie.
When I walked into the room I was told by the stage manager that the chimp was Bubbles, Michael Jacksonâ€™s beloved pet whom he treated like his child.Â Since he was so well trained, Michael let him work on a few productions.
There were about 30 crew members milling around, but when Bubbles saw me, he refused to cooperate with his trainer.Â In fact, he stopped cold in his tracks. I grew a little afraid. Was he going to attack me?Â Â
Everyone turned around to see what he was looking at.Â I was embarrassed because Bubbles wouldnâ€™t take his eyes off me. I moved to the other side of the room, and the chimpâ€™s eyes followed. Production was halted. Finally the director, assistant director, and the trainer huddled. Before I knew what was going on, the assistant director came over to me and politely asked me to leave. He said Bubbles had only been around African Americans growing up, and when he saw me, he thought I was part of the Jackson family. He wanted to be with me. It wasnâ€™t until then that I realized I was the only Black person on the set. Humiliated, I left, hoping my photographer got the shot. For many years whenever I would hear about Michael, I thought about his dearly loved, belated Bubbles and I smile to myself.
In 1992 I was working at ABC and assigned the publicity on the mini-series television movie, â€œThe Jacksonâ€™s: An American Dream.â€ It was the only drama ever made about their lives. I was in a marketing meeting with the advertising department, and a few of my colleagues from publicity were present with me. The tension and excitement was high in the room. We knew members of the Jackson family were going to show up, but we werenâ€™t sure which ones.Â We did know that Michael was out of the country and wouldnâ€™t be there. Still we were all happy to be at the meeting and working on the show.
A few minutes before the meeting was to start, in walks Rebe, Michaelâ€™s sister, and Michaelâ€™s mother, Katherine. I remember them being down-to-earth, soft-spoken, beautiful ladies.
All together, there was about ten of us at the table. Introductions started around the room, and a few of my co-workers couldnâ€™t wait for me to say my name, Janet Jackson. I saw them smiling at me with anticipation. I was the last to introduce myself, and Michaelâ€™s mother looked at me strangely.
She at first thought it was a joke. I told her it was indeed my name and â€œI had the name first.â€ Everyone, including the Jackson ladies laughed. Ironically, I had been the publicist on â€œGood Timesâ€ for CBS when Janet joined the show.
In the coming days, we will hear both good and negative things about Michaelâ€™s life. Itâ€™s an opportunity to remember anyone in our own lives who has passed away as well. They too are stars in our world. And as we think of them, just like with Michael, the good and the bad memories will surface.
But if we treasure only the good in our hearts, itâ€™s our opportunity to love and to forgive. Itâ€™s only then that we too can be free.