Every day, die-hard Michael Jackson fans make their presence known outside the Santa Maria courthouse.
They come with clear messages, scrawled in marker on neon-colored paperboard. Michael, they want us to know, is “smooth but not a criminal.” He is their beloved. He is their beacon of truth.
But no more devoted fan exists than the one who took the stand this week in Jackson’s trial: Debbie Rowe, who had the ultimate fan honor of marrying Mr. Jackson for a presumably blissful three years and bearing him two children, 8-year-old Prince Michael and 7-year-old Paris Katherine.
It’s truly a puzzle as to why prosecutors felt the need to call the one-time Mrs. Jackson to the stand. She's clearly as in love with the King of Pop as she was when she was merely a nurse at his skin doctor’s office — his No. 1 fan, searching for any way to be close to Michael. No one would be less likely to speak ill of him.
Why, prosecutors asked, would she would spend nine hours enduring a recorded interview to help ease the sting of Jackson’s on-air admission that he liked sharing his bedroom with boys?
To show “Michael as a wonderful person and as a great father and generous and caring,” she replied, even though she recorded the interview in 2003, hadn’t spoken with him since 1999 and had barely seen her children since.
Indeed, she was excited to do the interview (even saying things that weren’t true) because she hoped it would give her a chance to see her two kids and “renew a relationship” with Jackson.
A relationship, mind you, that was never lived in the same house. One that, to a cynic’s mind, was born out of some curious desire to bond with Jackson, or perhaps of his need for the children he never got from his first marriage to Lisa Marie Presley.
A different kind of loveWhich is not to say there wasn’t love, at least not on her part. That love seems to endure. Her fondness for Jackson remains clear even now, even as she’s fighting in family court for visitation rights to see her children. In the past, she has called these children a gift to him.
One glance inside Michael and Debbie’s relationship, such as it was, and you begin to see Jackson fans' true depths of devotion. You also begin to understand why so many people find him so unredeemably weird. Their marriage is bizarre enough to make David Gest and Liza Minnelli look like Ozzie and Harriet.
Rowe has never quite admitted whether the marriage was consummated, insisting it’s none of our business. In a sense, that’s quite true. But Jackson’s intimate life is precisely what’s on trial in the current case.
As much as she might want to defend him, it seems curious that a seemingly obvious question of a married woman would make her so uncomfortable — especially since the answer to it would help enlighten the secret, unmentioned question at the very heart of this trial: What are Michael’s sexual preferences, and how does he manifest them?
Leaving that aside, the ever-so-clinical nature of their marriage — the lack of a shared household, the complete disassociation with her once the multimillion-dollar divorce was in place, the nearly total lack of romantic affection he has ever shown for her — gives the impression that this was an extreme manifestation of fan worship, and little more.
Rage at 'vultures'Even now, she views Jackson at a distance from his business pals, portraying them as “opportunistic vultures” whom she feared would hurt her kids. As she tells it, they preyed on her love of Michael and her desire to be reunited with what she considered her family, albeit a rather non-nuclear one.
If that’s true, it’s truly seedy, though no more than this case has now established itself as being. At some point, you understand why, when Jackson associate Marc Schaffel allegedly called Rowe and told her, “You’ll be seeing the kids,” she found him “full of **it,” as she saltily told jurors.
But Schaffel and Dieter Weizner and any of Jackson’s unindicted co-conspirators aren’t on trial here. And District Attorney Thomas Sneddon didn’t do much for his case by putting Rowe on the stand, since she clearly was in no way going to tie the pop star to any of these cynical attempts to manipulate her heartstrings.
What he did, by giving Rowe a global platform to again profess her fondness for Jackson, was to remind us all how bizarre a life the King of Pop has fashioned for himself, and how long a drive it truly must be from reality to Neverland.