Pop Culture

Michael Jackson: ‘I am scared of my father’

Speaking candidly to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in conversations that were recorded with the express purpose of sharing them with the public and publishing them in a book, Michael Jackson related extensive personal information. During 30 hours of conversation, they discussed the star’s childhood scars, the price of fame, his spirituality, married life, his love for his children, his demanding father, his thoughts about dying young, his deep fear of aging, racism, his closest friendships and much more.

With Michael’s sudden and unfortunate death, Rabbi Shmuley was moved to fulfill his friend’s wish that his true self and heart be known to the public. Their talks are the foundation of “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation.” An excerpt.

Childhood, loneliness, cartoons and brothers
The most formative experience in Michael’s life was being forced into entertainment from approximately the age of five. Michael felt he had been robbed of not just an essential part of life but the most magical part. He longed to recapture it and spent his remaining days doing just that. Some argued that Michael was a case of arrested development. I disagree. Michael Jackson chose not to grow up.

Shmuley Boteach: Was there an age at which you realized, “Oh my gosh, I missed my childhood?”

Michael Jackson: Yes, I remember distinctly ... It’s like being on a ride you can’t get off and you think, “Oh my God. What did I do?” and you are committed and you can’t get off. It hit me before I was a teenager. I wanted so badly to play in the park across the street because the kids were playing baseball and football but I had to record. I could see the park, right across the street. But I had to go in the other building and work until late at night making the albums. I sat there looking at the kids with tears running down my face and I would say, “I am trapped and I have to do this for the rest of my life. I am under contract.” But I wanted to go over there so bad it was killing me, just to make a friend to say, “Hi.” I used to walk the streets looking for someone to talk to. I told you that.

SB: How old were you?

MJ: It was during the Thriller album.

SB: So you were the biggest star in the whole world and. . .

MJ: I was looking for people to talk to. I was so lonely I would cry in my room upstairs. I would think, “That’s it. I am getting out of here,” and I would walk down the street. I remember really saying to people, “Will you be my friend?”

SB: They were probably in shock.

MJ: They were like, “Michael Jackson!” I would go, “Oh God! Are they going to be my friend because of Michael Jackson? Or because of me?” I just wanted someone to talk to. Already in this comment you could see the development of the two personalities that would forever collide in Michael’s person. There was Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, an aloof superstar who had everything and needed no one. And Michael Jackson, the shy kid under the mask, who lacked even a single real friend.

SB: Did you find it?

MJ: Yeah, well, I went to the park and there were kids playing on swings.

SB: So that’s when you decided that children were the answer. They are the only ones who treat you as a person?

MJ: Yeah. That’s true.

SB: So that’s the age that it hit you, “Oh my gosh. I did lose my childhood, because these are the only people I can identify with.”

MJ: I suffered a lot in that way. I knew that something was wrong with me at that time. But I needed someone ... That’s probably why I had the mannequins. I would say because I felt I needed people, someone, I didn’t have ... I was too shy to be around real people. I didn’t talk to them. It wasn’t like old ladies talking to plants. But I always thought I wanted something to make me feel like I had company. I always thought, “Why do I have these?” They are like real babies, kids, and people, and it makes me feel like I am in a room with people.

Realize the import of these words. Michael Jackson was so lonely that he turned to mannequins to feel like he had human company. That is the degree of isolation he experienced (and it’s an experience shared by many who make it to the top and lose connection to family, friends, and community).

Michael’s fear of his father
Shmuley Boteach: You know, Michael, I used to judge my father a lot and one day I stopped judging him because he had his own challenges. He has had a very difficult life that began in abject poverty in Iran. And it wasn’t easy for Jews growing up in Iran. Who knows what his childhood was like? Do you still judge your father?

He said, “Why didn’t you sign the contract?” I go, “I don’t know.” He goes, “Well, sign it. If you don’t sign it you are in trouble.” It’s like, “Oh my God, why? Where is the love? Where is the fatherhood?” I go, “Is it really this way?” He would throw you and hit you as hard as he can. He was very physical.

SB: Did you begin to feel that you were a moneymaking machine for him?

MJ: Yes, absolutely.

SB: Just like Macaulay Culkin described? So you felt used?

MJ: Yes. And one day — I hate to repeat it — but one day he said, and God bless my father because he did some wonderful things and he was brilliant, he was a genius, but one day he said, “If you guys ever stop singing I will drop you like a hot potato.” It hurt me. You would think he would think, “These kids have a heart and feelings.” Wouldn’t he think that would hurt us? If I said something like that to Prince and Paris that would hurt. You don’t say something like that to children and I never forgot it. It affects my relationship with him today.

SB: So that if you didn’t perform for him he would stop loving you?

MJ: He would drop us like a hot potato. That’s what he said.

SB: Did your mother always run over and say, “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t mean it.”?

MJ: She was always the one in the background when he would lose his temper — hitting us and beating us. I hear it now. [Adopts female voice.] “Joe, no, you are going to kill them. No! No, Joe, it’s too much,” and he would be breaking furniture and it was terrible. I always said if I ever have kids I will never behave like this way. I won’t touch a hair on their heads. Because people always say the abused abuse and it is not true. It is not true. I am totally the opposite. The worst I do is I make them stand in the corner for a little bit and that’s it and that’s my time out for them.

SB: I think you are right. I hate when I hear things like that the abused abuse. It means that you are condemned to be a bad person.

MJ: It’s not true. I always promised in my heart that I would never be this way, never. If — and it can be in a movie or in a department store — I hear someone arguing with their child, I break down and cry. Because it reflects how I was treated when I was little. I break down at that moment and I shake and I cry. I can’t take it. It is hard.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Picasa 3.0

    Photos unrevealed until after Michael Jackson's death in June 2009 show the singer to have been an affectionate father to children Prince Michael II (nicknamed Blanket), Paris and Prince Michael, who had often appeared masked or veiled in public.

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    Happy birthday, dear Blanket

    Photos unrevealed until after Michael Jackson's death in June 2009 show the singer to have been an affectionate father to children Prince Michael II (nicknamed Blanket), Paris and Prince Michael, who had often appeared masked or veiled in public. The pictures were released by Blanket's godfather, Al Malnik.

    Here Jackson celebrates the first birthday of Blanket, his youngest child, who sits on Jackson's lap while Prince Michael I (on Jackson's left) and Paris join the party.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Happy birthday to Al

    For the 70th birthday party of friend Al Malnik, the godfather of his son Blanket, Michael Jackson donned an Afro wig.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Kid stuff

    Michael Jackson's children regularly played with Al Malnik's children at Malnik's home. Seated at center among Malnik's kids is Jackson's daughter Paris; at far right is his elder son, Prince Michael.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Shirt shrift

    Mugging for the camera, Michael Jackson and friend Al Malnik point to an image of a younger Jackson on the T-shirt Jackson is wearing.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Daddy in the middle

    By all accounts an affectionate father, Michael Jackson enjoys an intimate moment with son Prince Michael (top) and daughter Paris.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Family friend

    Michael Jackson was a frequent visitor to Al Malnik's home and enjoyed an easy camaraderie with his friend's children. Here he poses with Malnik's daughter.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Supermarket sweep

    Michael Jackson sometimes longed for the simple life, according to his friend Al Malnik. In one of the intimate photos recently revealed by Malnik, Michael enjoys a specially arranged nighttime visit to a supermarket.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Movie time

    Michael Jackson enjoys a movie and snacks with son Prince Michael II, nicknamed Blanket (right), and the daughter of friend Al Malnik.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Michael and Paris

    Michael Jackson poses with daughter Paris in one of a trove of previously unseen photos revealed by Jackson friend Al Malnik.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Bubbly personalities

    Michael Jackson's eldest child, Prince Michael, is clearly enjoying bubble fun with the son of Jackson friend Al Malnik, who is the godfather of Jackson's younger son, Blanket.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Paris and her pal

    Michael Jackson's children frequently played with the children of Jackson friend Al Malnik. Here Jackson's daughter Paris (left) hangs out with Malnik's daughter.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family
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    Paris and Prince Michael

    Intimate photos from Michael Jackson friend Al Malnik reveal the faces of Michael Jackson's children, who often appeared masked or veiled in public. Here are Jackson's daughter, Paris, and his elder son, Prince Michael.

    Courtesy of the Malnik family / Courtesy of the Malnik family

SB: When my parents divorced, we moved away and my father lived 3,500 miles away from us. And it was difficult to be close to him. But I love him, and I try never to judge him, and I have made a great effort to be much, much closer to him. We have to take seriously the Bible’s commandment to always honor our parents. The Bible doesn’t say, “Honor them if they’ve earned it.” It simply commands us to honor them. Just by virtue of them having given us life they have earned it.

MJ: I am scared of my father to this day. My father walked in the room — and God knows I am telling the truth — I have fainted in his presence many times. I have fainted once to be honest. I have thrown up in his presence because when he comes in the room and this aura comes and my stomach starts hurting and I know I am in trouble. He is so different now. Time and age has changed him and he sees his grandchildren and he wants to be a better father. It is almost like the ship has sailed its course and it is so hard for me to accept this other guy that is not the guy I was raised with. I just wished he had learned that earlier.

SB: So why are you still scared?

MJ: Because the scar is still there, the wound.

SB: So you still see him as the first man. It is hard for you to see him as this new man?

MJ: I can’t see him as the new man. I am like an angel in front of him, like scared. One day he said to me, “Why are you scared of me?” I couldn’t answer him. I felt like saying, “Do you know what you have done?” [voice breaks] “Do you know what you have done to me?”

The pain of performing, the pressure of staying on top
Shmuley Boteach: Do you always feel that you are always proving yourself, that you are always having to perform, that there is never rest, that you were never given that period where you could play without having to worry and to impress?

SB: There is this phenomenal pressure. Do you always have to be Michael Jackson, 100 million album sales?

MJ: And the press, they wait with knives.

SB: For you to fail?

MJ: Absolutely. They try and shred me apart so it has to be beyond expectation, beyond brilliant. I give everything I have.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Pool / Getty Images North America

    Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

    Saying goodbye to the ‘King of Pop’

    The family holds a private service, and fans and celebrity friends say farewell to the pop star at a public memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    Michael Jackson's 11-year-old daughter, Paris Michael Katherine, cries as she attempts to speak and is consoled by Jackson's siblings at Staples Center on Tuesday, July 7, in Los Angeles. “I just want to say ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much," she said.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Saying goodbye to the ‘King of Pop’

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    Family, friends and celebrities sing "We Are the World" at the end of the pop star's public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    NBC News / NBC News
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

    Saying goodbye to the ‘King of Pop’

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    Michael Jackson's children, Paris Michael Katherine, Prince Michael II (aka Blanket) and Michael Joseph Jr. (aka Prince Michael) appear onstage at the pop star's public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Jermaine Jackson

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    Jermaine Jackson throws a rose on brother Michael Jackson's casket after performing "Smile," which was the pop star's favorite song, during the public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
  • Image: Usher

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    Usher sings Jackson's "Gone Too Soon" at the late star's public memorial service. The song is off the "Dangerous" album and was originally dedicated to Ryan White, who died of AIDS in 1990 at age 18.

    AP / AP
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    Brooke Shields, who was a childhood friend of the pop star, speaks about her long friendship with Michael Jackson. The actress, who fought back tears during her speech, tells the crowd about what some considered their "odd" relationship and the fun they had together as children.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
  • Image: Jennifer Hudson

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    Jennifer Hudson, who is expecting her first child, sings "Will You Be There?" at the public memorial service for the late singer.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
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    The Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime friend of the Jackson family, speaks about how the "King of Pop" broke down barriers and "opened up the whole world."

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
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    From left to right, Rebbie Jackson, Janet Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Jackie Jackson and Jermaine Jackson attend brother Michael Jackson's public memorial service at Staples Center on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: FORMER NBA STAR MAGIC JOHNSON PAUSES AS HE EULOGIZES DURING MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR POP STAR MICHAEL JACKSON IN LOS ANGELES

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    Former NBA star Magic Johnson pauses as he eulogizes Michael Jackson during the singer's public memorial service. Johnson spoke of his relationship with the Jackson family and also shared a humorous tale of the singer's taste for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    John Mayer performs "Human Nature," one of the many hits off the 1982 hit album "Thriller," at Jackson's public memorial service held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    Katherine Jackson, right, sits with Michael Jackson's children during the pop star's public memorial service held at Staples Center on Tuesday, July 7, in Los Angeles.

    Pool via Getty Images / Pool via Getty Images
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    Stevie Wonder performs at Michael Jackson's public memorial service. The singer started with his 1971 song "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," then switched to "They Won't Go When I Go."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    Janet Jackson, center, attends brother Michael's public memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Memorial Service For Michael Jackson Draws Thousands Of Fans And Mourners

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    Mariah Carey, left, and Trey Lorenz perform at Michael Jackson's public memorial service. The pair sang the Jackson 5 hit "I'll Be There."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Fans attending the public memorial for Michael Jackson cry at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
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    Lionel Richie performs the Commodores' song "Jesus Is Love" during the public memorial service for Michael Jackson.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
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    Michael Jackson's parents, Joe Jackson, back center, and Katherine, front left, arrive with his son Michael Joseph Jr., right, at the star's public memorial service held at Staples Center on Tuesday, July 7.

    Pool via Getty Images / Pool via Getty Images
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    Queen Latifah speaks at the memorial service for music legend Michael Jackson. The actress also read a poem from Maya Angelou entitled "We Had Him."

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    A fan holds up a license plate before Michael Jackson's public memorial service on Tuesday.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
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    Michael Jackson's public memorial service at the Los Angeles' Staples Center on Tuesday, July 7, begins with singer Smokey Robinson reading comments from Nelson Mandela, Diana Ross and other friends.

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    Corey Feldman arrives at Michael Jackson's public memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7. The actor became friends with the pop singer in the 1980s.

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    The Jackson brothers accompany Michael Jackson's casket into his public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

    Pool via AP / Pool via AP
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    Fans enter the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the public memorial service for Michael Jackson on Tuesday, July 7. More than 1.6 million people registered for the lottery for free tickets to the event, and 8,750 were chosen to receive two tickets each.

    Zuma Press / Zuma Press
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    Members of the media work in front of the Staples Center in Los Angeles during the public memorial service for the late pop star Michael Jackson on Tuesday, July 7.

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    Fans gather outside Staples Center before a public memorial service for Michael Jackson on Tuesday, July 7, in Los Angeles.

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    The hearse carrying the coffin of Michael Jackson arrives at the star's public memorial service held at Staples Center on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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    Leslie Young, 43, left, and Mari Quates, 50, wave and yell from the 5th Street overpass as the Michael Jackson funeral procession drives down an empty 110 freeway in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7. The women came from their local offices to get a glimpse of the family as the cars head toward Staples Center for the public memorial service.

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    The casket is carried out after a private funeral ceremony for pop star Michael Jackson at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7. Jackson's body -- reportedly resting in a $25,000 gold-plated casket -- was later transported to a lavish public memorial at the 20,000-capacity Staples Center.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
  • Image: Motorcade arrives at Forest Lawn Mortuary for services for Michael Jackson in Los Angeles

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    A motorcade arrives at Forest Lawn Memorial Park for Michael Jackson's funeral services in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7.

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  • Image: Family Gathers For Funeral Of Michael Jackson At Forest Lawn Cemetery

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    A motorcade arrives at Forest Lawn Memorial Park on Tuesday, July 7, in Los Angeles. Jackson, 50, the iconic pop star, died at UCLA Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25 in Los Angeles.

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  • Image: Members of the media wait at Forest Lawn Mortuary before services for Michael Jackson in Los Angeles

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    Members of the media wait at Forest Lawn Memorial Park before services for Michael Jackson in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Jackson fans began crowding into downtown Los Angeles for a star-packed public memorial to the "King of Pop," whose sudden death nearly two weeks ago shocked the world.

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  • Joe Jackson waves as he departs the Jackson family home in the Encino section of Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 7, prior to a  memorial service for son Michael Jackson.

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    Joe Jackson waves as he departs the Jackson family home in the Encino section of Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 7, prior to a memorial service for son Michael Jackson.

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    A Los Angeles police officer directs the funeral procession outside the Jackson family home in Encino, Calif., on Tuesday, July 7, enroute to Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

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SB: But it wears you out?

MJ: Yeah. Because when you are the top-selling artist of all time, the records that are broken, they wait ... you are the target.

SB: What gives you rest, what gives you strength? Is it Prince and Paris?

MJ: Prince and Paris and children all over the world. Not just Prince and Paris — all children.

SB: Do you feel that if the next album is not amazing that you are not going to be special?

MJ: It would be a terrible blow to me [if I did not perform as well as I wish] because I put real pressure on myself and I demand the best out of myself. I really do. The best of the form or the medium that I work in, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. So to have that happen, if that was to happen, it would be psychologically destroying for me.

SB: But do you feel that people would still love you if you were not as successful? Would you still feel loved? A child has to feel loved even if he or she doesn’t do well at school.

MJ: Yes, I would, because of the past work. But I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I try not to look at the past.

SB: Do you think that because of some of the things that you described to me, a very difficult childhood — without the birthdays, without the Christmases — that is why success in your career has become so important?

MJ: Probably. I think so.

SB: Do you think you punish yourself a bit too much, that’s why there is so much pain? You punish yourself immensely if things aren’t perfect?

MJ: I really do. I know that’s true. I’d rather be the one responsible for it because I have the final say and the final cut on everything. In the past it has been very successful. Oh God, but if that [diminishment of success] was to happen, I don’t know what I would do.

SB: But don’t you see, Michael, that’s what you have to get over.

MJ: I know, but I can’t get over it. It’s me. I’m not made that way.

Excerpted from “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Vanguard Press.

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