Living Off the Wall

Unmasked_bookcover You probably wouldn’t expect a book with a name like “Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson” to dig up events as early as 1993 – that was when the singer was accused of molesting a child, which was about 16 years before his death. In the book’s conclusion, author Ian Halperin writes that Jackson passed away right before it was finished, but that he wasn’t surprised to learn about his death. Halperin, after all, reported back in December of 2008 on his Hollywood news blog, Ian Undercover, that Jackson had six months to live. Let no one accuse Halperin of burying the lead: He pats himself on the back in the introduction for beating the mainstream media to the story.

Maybe Halperin should’ve been a little more modest. As the details about Jackson’s death became clearer, the news broke that he was the victim of a homicide, meaning that the tip Halperin got was just a lucky guess. It’s pretty hard not to be suspicious of Halperin’s reportage, especially considering that the news of Jackson’s death probably surprised him as much as everyone else.

In all fairness, though, he deserves to gloat a little: All of the research he does is pretty amazing. Lots of old reports from newspapers and TV that have followed Jackson’s exploits through the years turn up here – a few of them manage to shed some light on dark spots in the singer’s history that haunted him for life.

The allegations of child molestation have, of course, damaged Jackson’s legacy more than anything. Naturally, they’re right at the top of Halperin’s list. He looks into the charges made by the families of the alleged victims (Jordan Chandler came forward in 1993; Gavin Arvizo did the same 10 years afterward), only to discover that the stories they had weren’t always credible, and that they stood to make lots of money off of him. Before the Arvizo trial, sources revealed that Gavin’s mother, Janet, was known for this kind of thing – she claimed that three J.C. Penney security guards beat her and her children a couple of years prior. The family managed to walk away with $137,500.

Even though that revelation got some coverage in the media, it was Jackson’s bizarre antics during the trial that always wound up stealing the show. (Dancing on top of an SUV at the courthouse, showing up for the trial with his pajamas on, etc.) In that light, it’s easy to understand why lots of people were already convinced that he was guilty, and it didn’t help that he’d been through all this before in 1993 with the Chandler family. That time, Jackson settled out of court, which only seemed to confirm suspicions that he had something to hide.

Halperin, however, produces a court document suggesting that, although his legal team was ready to play hardball, Jackson’s insurance company stepped in and paid the Chandler settlement as a default – the terms of the civil suit included negligence, which Halperin claims is something insurance companies tend to make short work of before things get out of hand. At that point, the fate of his career was all but sealed.

Jackson’s legal woes get the most attention here, and the case against his accusers seems pretty solid. Some things are easier to swallow than others, though – Halperin explores Jackson’s marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, which he claims might’ve been part of a scheme by the Church of Scientology to convert the singer. She’s a Scientologist, but so what if she is? That doesn’t mean she had an ulterior motive for marrying one of the biggest stars in the world.

Halperin also writes that Jackson was in the closet, and includes quotes from one of his alleged gay lovers. (At a time when gay rumors are a dime a dozen, someone was bound to come forward sooner or later.)

Tidbits like that make “Unmasked” a pretty strange read, but throughout Jackson’s life, “strange” was the tip of the iceberg. Although more books about him are sure to turn up soon, it’s safe to say that they won’t tell us anything new. Halperin seems to have revealed the last of his secrets, and if this book proves anything about Jackson, it’s that he made lots of people rich right up to the end.

About David Guzman 207 Articles
I just received my degree in journalism at Brooklyn College, where I served as the arts editor for one of the campus newspapers, the Kingsman. When it comes to the arts, I’ve managed to cover a variety of subjects, including music, films, books and art exhibitions. I’ve reviewed everything from “Slumdog Millionaire” (which was a good film) to “Coraline,” (which wasn’t) and I’ve also interviewed legendary film critic Leonard Maltin.

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