In 2005, Wade Robson was the first defense witness at Michael Jackson's trial, where the singer was accused of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor. At the time, Robson was unequivocal: He was not sexually abused by the man known as the King of Pop. But eight years later, he has changed his tune.
Exclusively on TODAY Thursday, the 30-year-old choreographer told Matt Lauer that Jackson, who died in 2009, was "a pedophile and a child sexual abuser."
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Robson said Jackson abused him from ages 7 to 14: Jackson "performed sexual acts on me and forced me to perform sexual acts on him."
Robson is currently asking a probate court to allow him to file a late creditor's claim against the Jackson estate, now that the deadline has passed for creditors to file such claims. His claim comes as a case brought by Jackson's family against AEG Live, promoters of his final concert tour, has begun in civil court.
Born in Australia, Robson was a dancing prodigy whose family relocated to the United States when he was 9; he appeared in three of Michael Jackson's videos: "Black or White," "Jam," and "Heal the World." In later years he went on to direct music videos and choreograph tours for artists including N'Sync and Britney Spears, and hosted and executive produced "The Wade Robson Project" for MTV in 2003. He joined "So You Think You Can Dance" on FOX in 2007 as a judge and choreographer.
So why now? Says Robson, he wasn't ready to face up to the truth until he began to realize how he would feel if a stranger molested his son, born two years ago. "This is not a case of repressed memory," said Robson. "I have never forgotten one moment of what Michael did to me, but I was psychologically and emotionally completely unable and unwilling to understand that it was sexual abuse."
During the first criminal investigation of Jackson in 1993 (when Robson was 11), Jackson would call him "every day" to "role play" and convince him that if anyone knew what they had done together, "both of us would go to jail for the rest of our lives."
He says there was no bribe money offered for him to lie on the stand -- nor, apparently, was it needed. "It was complete manipulation (by Jackson) and brainwashing," said Robson. "He would role play and train me for these (trial) scenarios."
Howard Weitzman, a lawyer for Jackson's estate, said in a statement: “Mr. Robson has adamantly denied under oath and in numerous interviews over the past 20 years that Michael Jackson ever did anything inappropriate to him. He now wants us to believe that he committed perjury at least twice and has been lying to anyone and everyone about Mr. Jackson since the early ‘90s so he can file a claim for money. Mr. Robson’s transparent lawsuit comes nearly 4 years after Michael passed. His claim is outrageous and sad.”
But this is not about landing some big book deal or payoff for silence, said Robson. "I've lived in silence and denial for 22 years and I can't spend another moment in that.... I'm never going to go away with this for the sake of money. I'm never going to be silenced for money. That's not going to happen."
Even today, however, Robson has mixed emotions about Jackson, and told Lauer what he thinks of when he does think of the singer is: "Heartbreak, pain, anger and compassion.... The image that one presents to the world is not the whole explanation of who someone is. Michael Jackson was yes, an incredibly talented artist with an incredible gift. He was many things. And he was also a pedophile and a child sexual abuser."
Later, Robson offered a special statement to TODAY, addressing other sexual abuse victims:
"There are millions of survivors of child sexual abuse out there who are suffering in silence and/or denial, as was I. If my coming forward and speaking my truth can help even one victim gain the courage to speak their truth and begin the healing process, that would be more than I could ever ask.
"I want to say to those victims that under NO circumstances was it or is it EVER your decision or your fault that you were sexually abused. Please find a way to safely speak your truth because the healing process cannot begin until you do. It is not easy in the slightest but it is absolutely possible to heal and get your life back."