Michael Jackson: An Oral History

From Stevie Wonder to Donald Trump to Cher, The Daily Beast selects the best remembrances and anecdotes from the King of Pop’s storied life.

Washington Times / Zuma Press

I first met Michael when I was in Detroit. He came to Motown, and they were talking about this boy from Gary, Indiana, and the Jackson 5, and everyone was excited. He was a little boy then. He would always come into the studio curious about how I worked and what I did. "How do you do that?" "Why do you do that?"… I remember playing air hockey one time, and we were going back and forth. I play air hockey on the side as opposed to the end of the table because it's more accessible for me to really understand what's happening. He said, "Oh, you're cheating." And I said, "Aw, I'm not cheating, come on." And we went on and on for hours, just playing air hockey and being silly. Stevie Wonder

"He was 10 years old, and he had just come to Motown, and [Motown artist and Jackson 5 mentor] Bobby Taylor and I used to take Michael to the golf course with us. He would ride around in the cart with us and critique our golf game, and when we'd hit a bad shot, he'd laugh. I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw how talented he was when he was 10 years old. He was 10, but he was 30! He sang like he was 30, he danced like he was 30. He was awesome." Smokey Robinson

When I think of him, I think of him as a young boy, this teenager that I first met. This adorable boy that I met who loved to look at my beaded socks, and said to me once, “Cher, do you think we could just go to the movies?” and we looked at each other and said, “Nah, don’t think so.” We talked about, let’s just rent the movie out and we’ll bring all of our friends. A young man that I remember dancing with all night, and going to see Dreamgirls with... I thought: “My God, I’m going to dance with this boy who’s like the best dancer in the world, and I remember one night, we were at a party—I think it was on the Queen Mary—and we danced all night long. And I never even thought about how I wasn’t his equal as a dancer. We were just having a blast. He was a great teenager. He was a great, optimistic, adorable—not very confident though —he was so beautiful and adorable, but he didn’t have any confidence in that. Cher

In 1978, Sidney Lumet pulled me kicking and screaming into doing the music for The Wiz, starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael as the Scarecrow. Michael dived into the filming, learning not only his lines but everyone else's. There was only one problem: There's a scene where the Scarecrow starts pulling proverbs from his stuffing and talking about Socrates. Michael kept saying "So-crates." It was really interesting to watch; either because of his age or his fame, no one wanted to correct him. After about the third time, I pulled Michael aside and told him the correct pronunciation. He looked at me with the big, wide eyes of a child opening a present under the Christmas tree and said, "Really?" Quincy Jones

"He was such a sensitive guy that when we would go out to dinner—he was a vegetarian—he would apologize to each vegetable before he ate it. He ordered steamed vegetables and he literally would say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Carrot" and "I'm sorry, Mr. Broccoli." He was so empathetic to other people and all living things—that's really what I remember most about Michael, even more than his dancing and singing. When you talked to Michael, you really felt he was feeling what you were feeling." Rob Cohen, producer of The Wiz

“Every Tuesday night we had dinner. He was passionate about learning and about everything. My father adored him. He knew every word of every song in every film my father ever made. He burst into “Triplets” and three little unexpected children, that thing when he was around my dad. He was so curious. When I took him to Martha Graham's for rehearsal, he was absolutely riveted and we went home, and he wanted to learn all of those steps. So I taught him. He was such a student of everything. The spacewalk was really done in vaudeville, but he took it and changed it and made it his own. If you notice in his early videos, his feet are kind of flat. You know, when he has the diamond outfit on. His feet are kind of flat. As you go on, he took Gene Kelly's socks, threw some glitter on them, and wore those.” Liza Minnelli

We were at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. There were thousands of people literally crushing us. We had 20 bodyguards, but it was really dangerous. He dropped to his knees and started crawling to the exit. He did it so routinely, I thought he fell. And I said, "Michael, is it always like this?" He goes, "Yeah, this is nothing. Japan is much worse." Donald Trump

Michael Jackson called me up and said, "Spike, I want meet you, I'm coming to New York." I said, "Well where you want to meet?" He says, "I want to come to your house." I live in Brooklyn! He wants to come to my house! So, Michael Jackson came to my house in Brooklyn, New York — this was when I was living in Fort Greene. And he said, I want you to direct a video for me. My new album's coming out, pick a song. So we listened to all the songs and I picked "Stranger in Moscow." And he said, I don't want you to do that one. And I said, "Michael, just tell me which one you want me to do! Why ask me to pick one?" And he laughed and he said he wanted me to do "They Don't Care About Us." That's how it happened. Spike Lee

I have so many memories of him pranking me onstage. Our quick-change tents shared a side, and as we were rushing to change our wardrobe in between songs, invariably, a grape or a carrot would come rocketing over the top at me. I could always hear him giggling through the wall. Sheryl Crow

”My husband and Michael came to Las Vegas to see my show, and I was more than honored to have him. He came backstage, and we spent about an hour together. He had a lot of questions for me. He was very, to me, he seemed to me like, “I want to know so much, I want to know how it is to sing every night here. Is it difficult to sing here every night? Is it demanding?” I felt he wanted to know so much. And I wanted to know so much for him. I was amazed to have him in my dressing room. When I said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Michael Jackson is with us tonight, I thought people were going to jump off the balcony. People went crazy.” Celine Dion

“For someone who was so avant-garde in his music, Michael was a traditionalist when it came to painting. He always asked me to find him a William-Adolphe Bouguereau painting of angels and saints. When I did find one, he wanted to know if I could find one with even more angels and more saints.

I went to hear him sing in Romania in 1990. When he heard that there was an orphanage filled with children with HIV, Michael began to weep. Whether it was a beautiful painting that made him emotional, or the horror of children's lives which made him cry, Michael felt very deeply about things and wasn't afraid to let that show.”

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—Barbara Guggenheim, art consultant

We had lunch together about a month ago, and he talked about his ordeal. He felt like he had really been put through the ringer. He said they wanted blood. Anjelica Huston

“Years ago Michael and I were having a deep conversation about life in general. I can't recall the exact subject matter but he may have been questioning me about the circumstances of my father’s death. At some point he paused, he stared at me very intensely and he stated with an almost calm certainty, "I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did." I promptly tried to deter him from the idea, at which point he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded almost matter of fact as if to let me know, he knew what he knew and that was kind of that.” Lisa Marie Presley