When Michael Jackson, in a drug-induced altered state of consciousness and slurring speech, talked about building a hospital for children, it wasn't the first time Michael Jackson had talked about building medical facilities for sick children. He equipped a burn wing at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City and built a 19-bed wing at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.
Artist David Nordahl, Michael Jackson's friend for more than 20 years, and whose work was commissioned for Neverland Ranch, recently shared some memories of Jackson:
"That conversation they played in court was so Michael. Taking care of sick children is what he talked about in every conversation we ever had. He took care of sick children all over the world. He paid for Bela Farcas' liver; the cost was $125,000 and when they found out it was for Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson who decided to split the cost, the price jumped to a quarter of a million. Bela got his liver.
"I didn't do just paintings for Michael; he asked me to do sketches for rides he invented at Neverland and the drawings for condos he planned to build for critically ill children and their families. He knew that critically ill children heal better in an environment of hope, positive thoughts, laughter and magic. The darkened and quiet sick room fosters depression, not joy and joy heals according to Michael. His condos had large bay windows in the front and they were supposed to look like tree houses in the forest.
"He wanted the large windows because he knew that very ill children often can't sleep and wake up at night afraid, so he built an outdoor theater to run cartoons 24/7 so that if the children woke up, they would be able to see the cartoons from the window."
Nordahl spoke about Michael's mischaracterized love for children. How was he during that time when he was accused, I wanted to know.
"Michael knew, I mean absolutely knew -- without a doubt -- that his personal destiny was to heal children; it was his calling. He visited orphanages all over the world, built some, built children's wings on hospitals, he sent doctors to the Balkans and even sent a 737 with medical supplies to Sarajevo.
Michael loved children; he lived for children. They were the most important thing in his life; in fact, they were his reason for living. All Michael's work was dedicated to children -- to the children of the world or to the child in all of us. Neverland Ranch was dedicated to children and it was always under construction. Its similarity to Disneyland was intentional. Michael saw helping children in this world as his life mission. He traveled the world advocating for children and contributing a great personal fortune to children's causes. It was his life and it was his reason for living. Can you imagine what it was like for him to be accused of harming children?"
The story told is that as Michael befriended a divorced family with a boy diagnosed with cancer and brought them to Neverland because children healed there from all kinds of troubles and wounds, he came in contact with the boy's father who believed himself to be creative and an unrecognized talent as a playwright. Ravaged by a mental illness and prone to its delusions, the father believed he would become Jackson's partner in his planned production company -- Lost Boys Productions. Jackson, with $40 million in start-up money from his record company, commissioned Nordahl to design some logos for the project. Before the paint was dry, the boy's father realized he was never going to be Jackson's partner in the venture, and he demanded half the money. When Jackson refused, the rest became easy: make an accusation and collect $20 million earmarked for filmmaking -- Jackson's passion and next venture.
Unfortunately Jackson never got to realize his dream of making films. His reputation suffered and some will always think him guilty of a crime when his only crime was being "different." But geniuses usually are often outcasts of their peers and culture. And we can guess, given the times, that more than a little of what happened to Michael Jackson was racially motivated.
I pointed out to Nordahl that the blueprint for the condos at Neverland included waterfalls that produce negative ions which are uplifting and make people feel good; he had to know about endorphins.
"Of course he knew; he had music piped in at Neverland for the flowers because he knew it encouraged them to grow," Nordahl replied, "Michael read all the time. He knew a lot about healing; he knew joy and delight had an effect on hormones and mood. He wanted some of the construction at Neverland to be secret so that children visiting would not know ahead of time everything they would encounter there, so that there was the joy of surprise. He knew how it would delight them and make them feel."
"But the magic for Michael was gone. Michael loved magic; he asked for it in paintings. He saw the world that way and he deliberately looked through the magical eyes of a child because he preferred it. It's true he felt the loss of childhood, but more than that, Michael liked seeing the world through fresh un-indoctrinated and fresh eyes, so he chose it. Looking with those eyes and through the lens of innocence allowed his creativity to flow freely and fiercely like a river. When the accusations came, especially the last one, his river of creativity was dammed and went dry."
The media, in a frenzy, used Jackson to sell their wares -- the tabloid headlines, the stolen and unflattering pictures. He took to wearing a mask to discourage them. Fortunes were made on fictionalized stories and unauthorized biographies by people who never met him or knew him only on at the fringes of his orbit.
The loudest Jackson detractors are often the most guilty of using Jackson and riding the hysteria surrounding him to launch and sustain careers "reporting" on Michael Jackson's life. Those same people know sensation sells and knowingly contributed to it. They still ride his coattails even in death, revisit the crimes whenever in front of a camera, and claim guilt to this day despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary and a not guilty (14 counts) verdict. They can't afford to be exposed for their bullying so they stubbornly occupy their position. They bullied him for his skin color lightened by the disease Vitiligo; the paternity of his children despite modern adoptions and fertilization methods for couples unable to conceive, for his surgeries in a culture that reveres youth and eschews 'aging rockers.' Deep pockets and a racist agenda explains much because Jackson was born into and grew up in a racist culture and married white women. The rest is explained by the ego that: sees people not as who they are but as who you are being.
"Some called Neverland a child magnet," Nordahl reminded me. "And it was really; that was deliberate. But Michael did not have the agenda they said he had -- his agenda was not to harm children; his only agenda was to bring joy and magic to kids. I watched him do that for 20 years. Michael himself had a kind of magical attraction. Kids just followed him. We were once in a Toys-R-Us store where Michael was buying toys for kids and I turned around to find a sea of kids following us. And Michael was in disguise."
"People said he was a recluse; he wasn't. He just always drew crowds. There was something about him; watching people descend on him was like watching a wave crashing to shore. He had to practice getting out of any article of clothing quickly because people around him went into a kind of frenzy. He could get out clothes faster than anyone I've ever seen."
Nordahl remembers too, the loneliness that Michael suffered.
"Before and during the trial he felt abandoned. He was being convicted in the court of public opinion and he worried about getting a fair trial. He worried about what would happen to his kids if he went to prison. He had trouble sleeping. We were staying at a friend's beach house on the ocean and I told him if he couldn't sleep to come down and visit me. He was worried he'd keep me awake but I didn't mind; I knew he was lonely and worried. We spent many long hours talking and sometimes walking on the beach waiting for sunrise. He couldn't sleep. When you take away someone's reason for living, the reason for his life, what's left?"
I wanted to know if David Nordahl had been watching the trial.
"Sure; it's hard because you know they had to make it about Michael. I wish the world could know the real Michael. Michael always said that if you talked about the good you did in the world, you cancelled the beneficence of the gift, so he was very private about his humanitarian work. Nobody will ever know how much he did for this world and for the children. The world will never know what it lost because they took Michael from his work and that cheated not just him of his future, but it cheated all of us."
Artist David Nordahl lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he is currently getting ready for a show in Tucson, Arizona at Settler's West Gallery on November 19, 2011 and in Las Vegas at a hotel on the strip in April.