Entertainer Michael Jackson abruptly canceled the remaining dates of his world tour Friday, announcing that “horrifying” allegations of child molestation have caused him to become addicted to painkillers and have left him “physically and emotionally exhausted.”
Jackson, who was scheduled to perform in Puerto Rico on Sunday, instead flew to Switzerland with his longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Larry Fortensky, sources close to Jackson said.
In an audiotape released late Friday by his publicist, Jackson said he began using painkillers seven months ago after he underwent reconstructive surgery for a scalp burn suffered during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984. “The medications were used sparingly at first,” Jackson said, but increased after the child molestation allegations were leveled against him in August.
“As I left on this tour, I had been the target of an extortion attempt, and shortly thereafter was accused of horrifying and outrageous conduct,” Jackson said. “I was humiliated, embarrassed, hurt and suffering great pain in my heart. The pressure resulting from these false allegations coupled with the incredible energy necessary for me to perform caused so much distress that it left me physically and emotionally exhausted. I became increasingly more dependent on the painkillers to get me through the days of the tour.”
The tape-recorded comments marked the first time that Jackson has directly addressed the allegations that he sexually molested a 13-old-boy over a period of months earlier this year. Those allegations surfaced after the boy told his therapist that Jackson had first befriended him and had then become increasingly intimate--sharing his bed, fondling him and masturbating him, among other things.
The therapist reported those allegations to authorities Aug. 17, and the Los Angeles Police Department launched a criminal investigation the next day. The 13-year-old subsequently filed a lawsuit against the pop superstar.
In his statement, Jackson did not indicate whether he had plans to return to this country. The lawyer for the alleged victim said he hoped that Jackson would come back so that the boy’s lawsuit could be heard in court.
“If Michael Jackson is canceling his tour, it would be my hope that he would return to Los Angeles and allow us to try this case in court in an expeditious manner rather than running away from this matter,” attorney Larry R. Feldman said Friday prior to Jackson’s announcement. “I think my client has a right to move forward with this.”
On the tape, Jackson thanked Taylor, who herself has struggled with drug dependency, for her “unconditional love.” He credited the actress with giving him important support, encouragement and counsel.
“My friends and doctors advised me to seek professional guidance immediately in order to eliminate what has become an addiction,” Jackson said. “It is time for me to acknowledge my need for treatment in order to regain my health. I realize that completing the tour is no longer possible and I must cancel the remaining dates. I know I can overcome the problem and will be stronger from the experience.”
The sudden cancellation of Jackson’s heralded “Dangerous World Tour” appeared to catch many of his associates by surprise, stirring intense confusion in his far-flung entourage throughout the day Friday.
As late as Friday afternoon, a spokesman for Pepsi-Cola, which is sponsoring the tour, said he had no information indicating that any dates were being canceled. In Mexico, members of Jackson’s contingent said they were awaiting word on the status of the tour, while in Puerto Rico, the promoter said he expected those shows to go on.
Then, without explanation, the same promoter announced early Friday evening that they had been canceled.
Sources said members of the Jackson camp expect to hold a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday to make an announcement regarding the entertainer. In the meantime, neither Jackson’s criminal attorney, Howard Weitzman, nor his civil lawyer, Bertram Fields, was available to answer questions. Jackson’s private investigator, Anthony J. Pellicano, refused to comment.
Jackson was booked to perform at least eight more shows before the end of the year in Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Dubai; New Delhi; Singapore, and Puerto Rico. Other shows, including one next week in Monterrey, Mexico, also were being added to the schedule. Citing illness and scheduling complications, Jackson had already canceled almost a third of the 30 stops on the tour, which opened Aug. 24 in Bangkok.
Jackson also is scheduled to appear at a “Jackson Family Honors” event Dec. 11 in Atlantic City. Sources close to Jackson said that now appears unlikely.
The criminal investigation of the internationally renowned singer and composer has not concluded. This week, police served their fourth search warrant, this time at the Encino home of Jackson’s parents. Investigators left with boxes of material, including photographs, but authorities would not comment on what was seized. A source familiar with the investigation said that among other things, they were searching for information to corroborate interviews that police have conducted with former Jackson employees.
Previous searches have taken investigators to two of Jackson’s homes and to a hotel suite that he often uses in Las Vegas.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said this week that police had not concluded their investigation. A well-placed law enforcement source said it will not be wrapped up until early next year.
Meanwhile, Feldman, the lawyer for the 13-year-old boy who filed suit against Jackson, is pushing for speedy progress on the case. Feldman has asked Jackson to submit a sworn deposition, but Jackson’s lawyers have not agreed to make him available.
Instead, they have asked that the civil case be put on hold for as long as six years or until the criminal case is concluded--a request that a Superior Court judge is scheduled to consider Nov. 23. If granted, the delay would effectively prevent any information obtained during the preparation of the lawsuit from being used in any criminal probe.
Despite the international uproar created when the allegations of child molestation became public in August, Jackson had pressed on with his world tour, performing across Asia and Europe in recent months despite setbacks and distractions.
At the tour’s outset, as the allegations surfaced, Jackson canceled two Bangkok shows, citing dehydration. He shelved a date in Singapore after collapsing backstage. Other shows were canceled in South Africa, Australia, Chile and Peru.
The end of the tour Friday could mean the end of Jackson’s decade-long relationship with Pepsi-Cola. The company’s sponsorship of Jackson extends only through the current tour.
Over the 10 years Pepsi has featured Jackson in its advertising, the company has gained two market share points on rival Coke. Each point is worth an estimated $500 million in annual sales. But it is difficult to isolate Jackson’s appeal from that of scores of other celebrities and promotions that have also been linked with Pepsi during that time.
While Pepsi has enriched Jackson with an estimated $20 million in endorsement fees, marketing and corporate image experts generally say that if Pepsi’s relationship with Jackson ends, it will likely have no effect on Pepsi sales. And Pepsi’s corporate image will probably be tarnished for only a very brief time.
“Pepsi has an extremely loyal consumer following,” said Kristine Kelley, managing editor of Beverage Industry, a Northbrook, Ill.-based trade magazine. “They are not really swayed by who endorses the product.”
Contributing to this story were Times staff writer Bruce Horovitz in Los Angeles and researcher Susan Drummet in Mexico City.