Michael Jackson: ‘Untouchable’ by Randall Sullivan touches nerve

Pop singer Michael Jackson walks out of the Santa Maria Courthouse in2005.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Michael Jackson fans have been eagerly anticipating Randall Sullivan’s “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” which went on sale Tuesday. It’s the first deep-dive narrative by a veteran journalist covering the King of Pop’s convoluted final years on earth. But then, too, the book’s been getting a lot of bad press. In the last few weeks, various Jackson family members and celebrity sources have stepped forward to attack the author’s claims in “Untouchable” with gusto.

Pop doyenne Janet Jackson vigorously disputes Sullivan’s account of how, in 2009, she allegedly refused to allow her brother’s remains be interred at Forest Lawn cemetery until his estate repaid her $40,000 in burial costs. Last month, Janet Jackson’s lawyer blasted the reportage, excerpted in November’s Vanity Fair, as “false and defamatory” and demanded a retraction from the magazine (Vanity Fair stands by the story).

In “Untouchable,” Jackson’s then-79-year-old mother Katherine Jackson is described calling her grandchildren’s nanny after the performer’s death with one goal in mind: collecting bundles of cash Michael is said to have stashed beneath his house’s flooring — a claim Katherine Jackson’s lawyer characterized as “simply ridiculous.”


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And Sullivan’s description of a standoff between Mark Wahlberg and Michael Jackson over who got to charter a private jet out of New York in the frenzied days after 9/11 has been similarly refuted by “sources close to Wahlberg,” who told TMZ the movie star maintained his own plane at the time.

Still, for Jackson completists and even those in less than total thrall to the erstwhile Earl of Whirl — people familiar with the performer’s sad, untimely demise at age 50 from “acute propofol intoxication” — “Untouchable” is packed with minor revelations that help cast Jackson in a new light.

Chief among them: Sullivan’s tries to forever overturn any notion of Jackson as a child molester. Explaining his odd penchant for the company of children, the book posits that Jackson was beyond asexual; he was “presexual.” He died “a 50-year-old virgin,” Sullivan writes, “never having had sexual intercourse with any man, woman or child, in a special state of loneliness that was a large part of what made him unique as an artist and so unhappy as a human being.”

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The author deconstructs Jackson’s surprise acquittal in his 2005 criminal trial in support of that thesis and frames Jackson’s $15-million out-of-court settlement with Jordan Chandler, a boy who accused the singer of sexually molesting him, as an extortion case.

“Untouchable” also furthers the perception of the King of Pop as an aspiring movie mogul with fevered ambitions to run a studio and even portray cherished cultural icons onscreen. According to a former business partner the book quotes, in 2002 Jackson attempted to buy the comics company Marvel, with an eye toward mounting a film version of “Spider-Man” and portraying the webslinger himself.

And as recently as late 2008 and early 2009, the performer tried to nurture a long-gestating King Tut biopic into production. Jackson’s former bodyguard claims he wanted Mel Gibson to direct the project; Jackson’s former manager Dr. Tohme Tohme, meanwhile, insists Jackson would have enlisted “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson for the film.

While any number of newspaper and magazine reports have cataloged Michael Jackson’s tremendous chemical appetite for powerful sedatives, “Untouchable” provides a comprehensive laundry list of the various opioids, narcotics and cosmetic treatments that framed the singer’s existence in his final months. Among the prescription medicines under whose influence Jackson operated before his death in 2009 were: Valium, the pain killer Vicodin, the sedative midazolam, the narcolepsy drug modafinil (reputed to increase wakefulness in sleep-deprived people) and Demerol; but also flumazenil, the wrinkle remover Restylane, Botox, latanoprost and Latisse (to promote eyelash growth), a “mouth plumper” product called Nutritic Lips and the singer’s beloved “milk” — the anesthetic propofol that triggered Jackson’s death.

In spite of his prodigious pharmaceutical intake, two months before he passed away, the superstar had to submit to a medical examination by his comeback concerts’ insurer Lloyd’s of London. On a questionnaire he was asked: “Have you ever been treated for, or had any indication of excessive use of alcohol or drugs?” Jackson circled “no” and somehow passed the examination with flying colors. The rest is history.