As of this past June, Michael Jackson has been dead for five years. Here’s a book written by two of his former bodyguards about what it was like to protect him.
When I was growing up, Michael Jackson was at the pinnacle of his career. He put out amazing music with his brothers and by himself. His album, Thriller, was an amazing achievement that was universally admired by people around the globe. I remember having a crush on Michael Jackson, simply because of his musical talent. I knew little about what he was like when he wasn’t on stage or singing on an album.
In the years following Thriller, Michael Jackson seemed to go from being an all American pop star universally admired to a bizarre freak show. The albums that followed Thriller were not as successful, though many people still loved his music and watching him dance. Despite his enormous talent, Jackson seemed to be a troubled man. His appearance changed dramatically. He seemed to be a man who was obsessed with childhood. Troubling accusations regarding his love of children arose and he soon found himself accused of molesting boys who had visited him at his Neverland Ranch. The man who had seemed wealthy and successful beyond measure began to falter in the public eye until he was just as often looked upon with scorn as he was adoration.
Bodyguards Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, along with author Tanner Colby, have collaborated to write Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days. I hesitated before purchasing this book, since I figured it might be in poor taste. But then, the fear of being in poor taste has never stopped me from reviewing things before. Besides, I was genuinely interested in what these guys who were with Jackson in his final days had to say. So I read the book and mostly found it very interesting reading.
This book is laid out as if Colby interviewed Whitman and Beard. Sections of the book are identified as written from each of their perspectives. Colby strings the bodyguards’ memories together with general history about the Jackson family and Michael Jackson’s career. Whitfield and Beard were with Jackson all the time in his final years and they heard and saw most everything going on in his life. It was their job to keep the paparazzi and fans at bay, as well as preventing process servers from giving Jackson legal paperwork. Evidently, people were constantly trying to sue Michael Jackson, sometimes for legitimate reasons and sometimes just because they wanted a chunk of his cash.
Whitfield and Beard describe Jackson’s love of toys, magic shows, amusement park rides, and animals. They describe his insane shopping sprees during which he would drop tens of thousands of dollars at a time. At the same time, these two men claim that they, and others who worked for Jackson, frequently went without being paid. As I read about these men not having enough money to buy themselves lunch or get their suits dry cleaned, I wondered why they didn’t just quit. It later seemed clear to me that these two guys were incredibly loyal to Michael Jackson and his kids. Though he was a demanding boss, he had a childlike innocence about him that somehow enchanted his bodyguards. They write of how excited Jackson would get when his bodyguards were finally paid by his business manager.
I was impressed by how respectful the bodyguards were, even years after Michael Jackson’s death. Throughout the book, they refer to him as “Mr. Jackson”, as if he is still a valued client. And yet, even as they call him by the honorific, they illuminate aspects of his private life. When it comes down to it, this book is probably providing them with some of the back pay they missed while in Michael Jackson’s employ. Some people may not appreciate this breach of confidence, even though Jackson has been dead for five years.
Remember the Time is full of interesting anecdotes about how Michael Jackson parented his children, how he dealt with members of his family, and the business deals that ultimately made or lost Jackson a lot of money. Some of the stories are rather sweet, while others just make me think Michael Jackson was a tormented man who was misunderstood and chased by the public unrelentingly. Ultimately, I found this book fascinating. It really shows how money and fame don’t necessarily buy happiness.
If you are a fan of Michael Jackson’s or you just want to read an account of what it’s like to be a megastar, you may enjoy reading Remember the Time. On the other hand, some readers may think this book is in poor taste. Frankly, I think the authors kept their stories as classy as possible under the circumstances.
The song that no doubt influenced the title of this book…