The Michael Jackson I Knew...
Darlene Donloe with Michael Jackson... Notes on the King of Pop from the memory of a one-time tour publicist.
"I have never written about the brief relationship I had with Michael Jackson.
But, upon learning of his untimely death last week, I felt compelled to offer a different perspective on the Jackson I knew.
I don't need to tell you he was a genius. I don't need to tell you the impact he had on the music industry or that he was loved throughout the world.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have nothing bad to say about Jackson. In fact, it's just the opposite. He gave me some of the most unforgettable moments of my life. And, for that, I will be forever grateful.
It was the summer of 1996 when my friend, Bob Jones (now deceased), who happened to be Jackson's publicist at Motown and then later with MJJ Productions, called me and asked what I was doing for the next six months.
He said: "How would you like to go out on tour with Michael? He needs a tour publicist."
I held the phone in disbelief as Bob continued his spiel. What did he expect me to say? "Well, Bob, I'll have to look at my schedule. Let me get back to you." Why would I want to fly around first class on a private plane for a Michael Jackson tour, visit exotic places, meet officials, eat great food and stay in five star hotels? I said yes. Duh!
About three weeks later, I was on a plane that landed in Prague, Czech Republic, the first stop on MJ's worldwide HIStory Tour.
It was a week into the tour before I officially met Jackson. Although I had accompanied him on many of his outings, no one had bothered to formally introduce us.
His handlers had warned me not to speak to the King of Pop unless he first spoke to me. Were they kidding? I played along — for about a week.
I decided the next time I accompanied him to either a hospital, orphanage or record store, I would make my ninja move. I figured the worse that could happen would be that I would get sent home.
As he perused the compact discs in the R&B section of a local record store, I started to walk toward him. The handlers were aghast. It was as if the air had quickly been sucked out of the room. Undeterred, I walked up to him and said, "Mr. Jackson, I'm Darlene. I'm your publicist on the tour."
He turned and looked me straight in the eyes. "Oh, OK," he said. "Are you going to do the whole tour?"
"Yes," I replied. "Unless you know something I don't."
"OK," he laughed and returned to looking through the CDs.
"Well," I thought, "that was uneventful." However, secretly, it was completely fulfilling.
I found out later he knew exactly who I was because he had asked, "who is the black girl?" Of course, as time went on he became more comfortable with my close proximity to him.
When fans asked the King of Pop whether they could get an autograph or take a picture with him, he'd occasionally say, "If it's OK with her," pointing to me.
It was always OK with me. Who was I to break a fan's heart?
When news broke about MJ's passing, all of the memories of the tour came flooding back. There was the night he married Debbie Rowe and I got no sleep for two days, due to endless media calls. I stuck to the party-line answer: "I have no comment on Mr. Jackson's personal life."
Being a part of Jackson's entourage was fascinating and eye-opening. I got to see the inner workings of a superstar's multifaceted, precision-like machine. I was always on call and had to be ready to accompany MJ at a moment's notice — or I'd be left behind. That wouldn't sit well.
It became clear, early on, that while he was sometimes soft-spoken, he was strong-willed and very direct when he wanted to make a point or have something done.
On concert nights, I'd watch as MJ walked from his car to a spot underneath the stage where a platform would eventually elevate him into position to make a powerful entrance.
The favorite part of my job was standing in the wings night after night, watching him hit every mark with precision and thinking how blessed I was to observe a master craftsman at work.
Because he had such a commanding presence, I think people forgot he was a man. He's been elevated to superstar status for so long, it's hard for some to look at him as a human being who puts his pants on one leg at a time.
I saw him in those pensive, quiet moments before going on stage. I witnessed him, sans television cameras, sitting, comforting and talking to a child in a hospital who was fighting a serious disease. This is the guy who, on Thanksgiving in Australia, thought it was important enough to come share a meal and celebrate with his staff and crew.
When it comes to Jackson, I can only speak my own truth. The Jackson I came to know was friendly and respectful to me. And, on those occasions when I caught his eye, he would give me that shy, childlike smile.
The following quote from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" was read recently at a friend's memorial. I think it's more than appropriate for Jackson.
"And, when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun."
In gratitude, I say thank you, Michael Jackson. Thanks for the magic, the music and enough memories to hold me a lifetime. — Darlene (the black girl)"