Michael Jackson, fighting off allegations of sexual abuse and a case of what his doctor described as severe dehydration, returned to the concert stage Friday, performing a lively two-hour show before a capacity crowd in Bangkok, Thailand.
Jackson's appearance was greeted enthusiastically by more than 40,000 fans in Bangkok's National Stadium, temporarily quelling speculation that he was preparing to abort his world tour amid allegations that he sexually abused one or more young boys. Although rumors continued to circulate that Jackson was preparing to surrender to authorities, his lawyer vehemently denied those reports.
"There is no plan for him to surrender because there is no reason for him to surrender," attorney Howard Weitzman said from Los Angeles.
In Bangkok, Jackson did not address the international furor surrounding the allegations. He spoke directly to the audience only once, saying: "I love you."
Meanwhile, police and social workers in Los Angeles continued to press forward with their investigation on two fronts: opening an inquiry into allegations that Jackson was the victim of a $20-million extortion attempt and interviewing young people close to Jackson about whether he made sexual advances toward them.
Although investigators have the statement of a 13-year-old who says he was molested by Jackson over a period of months, sources say their probe has been hampered by a shortage of physical or medical evidence linking Jackson to sexual molestation. Videotapes seized during the Aug. 21 searches of two homes belonging to Jackson did not produce evidence that would support a criminal filing against the entertainer, says a well-placed police source.
Thousands of photographs also were seized during those searches. They still are being reviewed, sources said.
The extortion investigation is proceeding separately, say sources familiar with that inquiry. It grows out of allegations raised by members of Jackson's camp that the singer was the victim of an extortion attempt and that the sexual abuse charges arose only after that attempt was thwarted.
In an Aug. 17 report detailing the allegations brought by the 13-year-old alleged sexual abuse victim, a county social worker wrote: "Minor stated he and his father met with Michael Jackson and attorneys for (the boy's father) and Mr. Jackson and confronted him with allegations in an effort to make a settlement and avoid a court hearing."
Film industry sources have said that the boy's father sought a $20-million movie production and financing deal with Jackson. Although the boy's father has not commented publicly about that charge or any other aspect of the case, he has told friends that the extortion allegation is untrue.
Officially, the Los Angeles Police Department was silent about the extortion charge and all other aspects of the case. "I cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation," said Lt. John M. Dunkin, a spokesman for the department.
Weitzman, however, said he was told that an extortion investigation is under way and that it was opened after he met with police late Thursday. "That's my understanding, based on our meeting with them," he said.
Asked by the Associated Press why Jackson did not report the alleged extortion attempt to police earlier, Weitzman said: "It was our hope that this would all go away. We tried to keep it as much in-house as we could."
Meanwhile, authorities continued to reel under the crush of publicity that has accompanied the Jackson investigation. Unauthorized news leaks have bedeviled investigators probing the case since it broke early this week, and their task at controlling information has been made even harder by the willingness of some media outlets to pay for information. (The Times does not pay for information.)
Police and Children's Services officials have clamped down on their employees. Some county officials are fearful that the improper release of the report detailing the 13-year-old's allegations of sexual abuse could subject the county to a lawsuit.
"There is a fear that the county will now be subject to a lawsuit over the issue of confidentiality in the case," said one source at the department.
As investigators continue to probe the accusations that Jackson molested one or more children, sources said they spent Friday canvassing more witnesses, interviewing children close to the entertainer and meeting with parents of possible victims.
Weitzman, who said he is in daily contact with police, declined to discuss the progress of the probe, except to say that "they are conducting a very thorough investigation."
One of those interviewed was Victor Gutierrez, a Southern California free-lance journalist who has been working on a book about Jackson for several years. Gutierrez spoke to LAPD officers for two hours Thursday and was interviewed again Friday.
He would not disclose what transpired during those sessions, but he told The Times that he has interviewed for his book some of the same youngsters being sought for questioning by the LAPD.
As Jackson resumed his tour after its two-day suspension, he gave no signs that he was toning down his sexually suggestive act. The Bangkok audience cheered enthusiastically as Jackson thrust his hips suggestively and held his crotch during his most provocative musical numbers.
At one point, he stroked the upper thigh of a backup singer, and the crowd cheered as he inched up the singer's leg. There was loud applause when Jackson hugged a young girl brought up from the audience.
Members of Jackson's audience defended the entertainer, and three young boys said to be Jackson's nephews arrived at his hotel Friday, apparently to give him moral support.
Brian Marcar, the promoter of Jackson's Thai concerts, said actress Elizabeth Taylor and Jackson's sister, Janet Jackson, were en route to the Far East to join the singer. They were expected to meet Jackson in Singapore, the site of his next concert, Marcar said.
While ensconced in Thailand, Jackson and his entourage took over the 16th floor of the Oriental Hotel Bangkok, which many surveys describe as the world's best.
The Oriental suite where Jackson stayed costs 55,000 baht ($2,200) a night plus tax and service. The master bedroom is decorated in Caribbean style, with bedposts in the shape of pineapples. The suite has its own kitchen.
"He has his own cook. We can't enter the room," hotel public relations director Supatana Atorn-Phtai said Friday. Jackson's people even cleaned the room. Supatana said she believed that the hotel was recommended to Jackson by Taylor.
Jackson was being protected by five bodyguards, who would not allow anyone to get off the elevator on the 16th floor unless they have clearance.
Outside the hotel, Thailand's Tourist Police provided security and accompanied Jackson on his jaunts around the city. A policeman drove Jackson's limousine, and he switched cars each time he ventured out.
A total of 3,000 policemen and soldiers were used to provide security during the concerts, according to Ponprasert Ganjanarintr of the Tourist Police, a branch of the central investigation bureau.
Wallace wrote from Bangkok, Newton from Los Angeles. Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Carla Hall, Sonia Nazario and Amy Wallace.
* RELATED STORIES: D1, F1