Jermaine Jackson: ‘I wish it was me’

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: TODAY contributor
By By Mike Celizic

The scene is still fresh in Jermaine Jackson’s mind: his mother’s grief-choked voice on the phone telling him the awful news; rushing to UCLA Medical Center and seeing the helicopters hovering overhead; kissing his brother’s lifeless form; watching the three children of Michael Jackson being brought in with a therapist to stand by their father’s body.

“There is nothing to be compared to this, ’cause we lost our brother, our hero. The world is mourning. We are mourning. The fans are mourning. It is unreal. Unbelievable,” Jermaine Jackson told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview recorded at the famous Neverland Ranch of the “King of Pop” — the first in-depth interview with any Jackson family member since the singer’s shocking death last week.

‘Michael is dead’

His voice choked with emotion, Jermaine Jackson, wearing a vintage Jackson 5 shirt, wiped away tears as he described his mother calling him last Thursday to tell him that his brother was dead.

“She was crying, saying he was dead. And Matt, to hear my mother say, ‘Michael is dead,’ to feel and hear the tone in her voice to say her child is dead, is nothing that anyone can ever imagine.”

Katherine Jackson was already at the hospital when Jermaine arrived. “I tried to console her,” he told Lauer, “but I wanted to see Michael and I wanted to see my brother. To see him there lifeless and breathless was very emotional for me. But I held myself together because I knew he’s very much alive in his spirit, and that was just a shell. But I kissed him on his forehead, and I hugged him, and I touched him and I said, ‘Michael, I’ll never leave you. You’ll never leave me.’

“He went too soon,” the singer’s big brother added. “I wish that it was me. I’ve always felt that I was his backbone, someone to be there for him. I was there and he was sort of like Moses. The things he couldn’t say, I would say them.”

The children’s viewing

A therapist at the hospital advised that it would be best if Michael Jackson’s three children —Prince Michael, Paris and Prince Michael II, nicknamed Blanket — saw their father so they could understand that he really was gone and begin the grieving process.

“I know it’s tough, but I think it was the best thing to do. At first I was against it, but what do you say if you don’t show them?” Jermaine Jackson told Lauer.

Details of the autopsy report that have been published in the media agree that Jackson weighed a mere 112 pounds at his death. Partially digested pills were found in his stomach, and he had needle marks on his hips and shoulders.

But Jermaine Jackson insisted that his brother was in good physical shape as he prepared for a 50-show concert stand in London. There has been rampant speculation that the singer was in no condition to take on the rigors of the show.

“I do believe and I do know that Mike is very strong, not just mentally but physically. He’s a dancer, he never stopped dancing, he was already ready physically. He passed the physical, he was strong; he was ready.”

Lauer asked Jermaine what his reaction would be if reports of his brother’s drug use turned out to be true.

Michael Jackson left custody of his children to his mother, Katherine, who is 79 years old. Diana Ross was named as the secondary custodian. Lauer asked Jermaine if his mother was up to the task.

“She's capable, she’s up to it,” he replied. “She’s always with all the children, she loves laughter and the crying and all the excitement. Yes, she is.”

‘1,000 percent innocent’

Jackson talked about how painful it was and is to read and hear the things that people say about his brother. The allegations that Michael Jackson was a pedophile and his 2005 trial on molestation charges were particularly hard on the family. Jackson was acquitted in that trial, but after it was done, he abandoned Neverland Ranch and lived a nomadic life.

“I knew he was 1,000 percent innocent,” Jermaine Jackson asserted. “I knew. We all knew.”

“You never doubted [it] as a brother?” Lauer asked. “You never took the brother hat off for a second, Jermaine, and said, ‘Let me look at this from a different point of view. Is it possible that this is true?’ ”

“Look at this place,” he added, gesturing toward the grounds of his brother’s onetime refuge. “Neverland. Look at this place. I love it here because I feel him.”

Jackson described how his brother’s view of Neverland — the place where the star lived the eternal childhood he felt he’d never had — changed after the trial.

“He was hurt, he was torn apart, and to be treated like you’re not from here, to be made a mockery for the world to see, he felt that they sort of invaded his privacy,” Jackson said. “A place that was so beautiful — [to] turn it into something so ugly.”