Adrian Grant, author of 'The Visual Documentary' and producer of the tribute show 'Thriller Live' on his "Speechless" Tribute and meeting Michael.
Adrian Grant met Michael Jackson personally for the first time back in 1990.
“When I first went over to Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch and there was monkeys running around inside and a tiger, a giraffe, llamas and everything, I was thinking ‘this isn’t real’. His security guard told me ‘it is real for Michael Jackson, he’s grown up with that, that’s his reality’.
When you do spend time with him you realize he’s as very down to earth. He’ll joke around and he’s very knowledgeable about his music and his craft, but away from all that he’s just a normal guy who has had massive success.
Last June 21st, Mr. Grand produced "Speechless" that will benefit children of war in memory of The King, Michael. They do a cover of Michael Jackson's "Speechless" http://www.speechlessmjtribute.com/
(I personally cried hearing this version)
Speechless and numb… that is how I felt as the news of Michael Jackson’s passing reached across the world. I simply couldn't believe it. Two nights without sleep followed, and I still couldn't believe that Michael was gone. And when it did finally sink in I thought only of the pain Michael might have endured, and the pain that his children and mother would suffer. I felt desperately sad for all of his family.
The enormity of the tragedy was reflected by the 24-hour news coverage, the headlines in newspapers, magazines, the messages across social network sites, and the celebrity condolences and tributes. Thanks the 21st Century technology, all this was on a scale that had never been seen before.
The only comfort I could find amidst all the sorrow was that Michael was now in peace. There would be no more physical or mental pain. In dying at the age of just 50 he would become a legend, a giant of the world of entertainment who would be remembered positively, for his music and dancing, instead of being tarnished by scandal.
Unfortunately for Michael it was too easy for the media to paint a negative picture of his 'eccentric' lifestyle. It was easy to twist his motives and question his sincerity. It would have been easy for me to do that too, to take the trust he had put in me during 21-years and do a ‘Bashir’, mocking him because he seemed too extreme or different to your everyday guy. But I won’t be joining the legions of ex-Jackson acquaintances who have ‘sold-out’ for a quick buck. I’d rather keep my integrity and set the record straight, where I can.
His appearance. Yes, he had plastic surgery, but not to the extent people like to believe. He freely admits to having his nose changed a few times. Big deal. Half of Hollywood have, move on. In September 1987, during a telephone call to American chat show host Barbara Walters, Michael said his change in appearance was not only down to two nose jobs and having a cleft put in his chin, but also due to his change in diet over the years, having become a vegetarian. But what people seemed to freak out most over was his skin colour. This was where I felt most sorry for Michael, because he really did have a skin condition called vitiligo, yet most of the media still ridiculed his paleness or the fact that he hid from the sun. When you see someone with skin burns do you call them names? Michael had a skin disease that couldn’t be cured. All he could do was control it in the most aesthetic way he felt comfortable with. When I first met Michael in 1990 he was in the very early stages of the disease, but over the years and during subsequent meetings I could see that patches were appearing across his skin. This is a common effect of vitiligo.
His home – Neverland Valley in Santa Ynez, California – was also the subject of ridicule, just because he had a fun fair and a zoo. I visited there on many occasions and these rides were fantastic! Who wouldn’t want their own fair complete with dodgems and Ferris wheel? And who doesn’t love animals? Michael had enough space (over 3,000 acres) to house and look after two zoos. Yes there were llamas, giraffes, elephants, monkeys, tigers and more, and they were all beautiful. Michael loved the games, the rides and the animals, but they weren't just for his own pleasure. They were there for the enjoyment of others too. Every week Michael opened the doors of his home to hundreds of disadvantaged children. Many charity organisations were granted the use of the facilities and were treated by Michael’s staff as guests of honour.
I had always felt that people would have been more sympathetic towards Michael if they knew him the way I did, if he had just opened up more and said things straight – as they are. I once asked him if he was aware of all the negative media he received and couldn’t he change some of his actions to help combat it. “I know everything that is going on. No matter what I do they’ll always write something bad,” Michael told me sternly.
Unfortunately for Michael this was all too true. I recall a trip to Budapest in 1994. Michael, along with Lisa Marie-Presley, was visiting children’s hospitals, handing out gifts and toys. I was fortunate to be the only ‘media’ allowed to accompany them into the hospitals, and I was delighted to help in giving the gifts to some of the sick children. However the sceptical press suggested the trip (part of Michael’s ‘Heal The World’ campaign), was nothing more than a publicity stunt. What they didn’t report was the moving moment when Michael brought a smile to the face of a dying girl who had lain motionless and silent for weeks. Her mother, at her side in constant vigil, broke down in tears as her daughter reached out and touched Michael’s hand. Sounds like a miracle, but I saw it with my own eyes. So why was it that people constantly derided someone who genuinely cared and who also happened to be one of the world’s greatest ever entertainers to boot?
I feel the reason was a lack of understanding. People found it difficult to relate to Michael in the way that they did with other stars, especially in this era of reality TV. Michael was (and will forever remain) on a very high pedestal that made him unique, and there were many who were envious or felt threatened by him and wanted to knock him off his perch. He was accused of all sorts, but as Michael put it, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” It is desperately sad to me that only now, in his passing, does Michael seem to be getting some of the love and respect he deserved whilst he was alive.
At his public memorial service on July 7, 2009, the outspoken civil rights campaigner the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a rousing speech. His words were heard not just by the 18,000-strong audience in the Los Angeles Staples Center but by billions tuning in around the world, and perhaps the most poignant were: “I want his children (Prince, Paris and 'Blanket' who were all present) to know there was nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what your daddy had to deal with.”
Put yourself in Michael’s shoes, a star from the age of 10; imagine those achievements, the accolades, and the wealth. You could do anything you want. Give yourself three wishes. Hopefully one of them would be for peace and love in the world, but how is that going to happen? We can only do what little we can, according to the resources and knowledge we have. Michael was an innocent and he tried 'healing the world' with all the love he had to give.
I once asked Michael what he considered to be his greatest achievement. During his trip to Budapest in 1994 Michael had promised to help an eight-year-old Hungarian boy, Bella, who was dying from cancer. His life was saved with an operation that Michael and his ‘Heal The World’ foundation had paid for. “Saving Bella’s life was definitely one of the most important moments in my life,” said Michael honestly, furthermore highlighting what a caring humanitarian he was.
I often felt Michael was underrated as an artist. There was so much more to his genius than the record-breaking sales of albums such as ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’, ‘Dangerous’ and ‘History’. Look at the quality of his work, the videos and the live performances. I was fortunate enough to see Michael produce songs in a recording studio on a few occasions. Here was a man who had been learning his art since the age of five, and it showed when you heard and saw him. He knew the tools of his trade inside out, like second nature. This allowed him to channel his heart and soul into his creations, and take them a step further than most artists. Listen to tracks such as ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Earth Song’, ‘Black or White’ and ‘Whatever Happens’ – pure timeless pop genius.
The day after the public memorial service at the Staples Center I visited the Jackson family home in Havenhurst. As I arrived Michael's daughter Paris was playing outside. I went up to her and told her that I knew her father well, and what a great and lovely man he was. She said, "Thank you", and I gave her a copy of my book Making HIStory. The joy on her face as she looked at the cover adoringly was beautfiul. She was so happy, and gave me the biggest hug ever. She skipped off, book in hand, to show her grandmother. Later in the evening one of Michael's former employees told Katherine Jackson that I had always written positive things about Michael. Katherine replied, “Well, there was nothing negative to report.”
It means a lot to me that I have had the opportunity to document the history of one of the world’s greatest ever entertainers. Indeed one of my proudest moments came one day when I was at Neverland and I saw that Michael had framed the family tree from my book, ‘The Visual Documentary’, and placed it beside his grand piano where he entertained guests. He also told me how grateful he was for my work, and acknowledged this in his credits on the ‘History’ album.
Michael, I am so sorry and sad that you are gone. You are the greatest entertainer the world has ever seen, but moreso one of the kindest, most caring people I ever met. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your great inspiration and for all the opportunities you have provided me with. Your spirit will live on forever, and I will promote the truth and your legacy wherever I can.