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Part of his reason for going abroad was that he no longer - With an extraordinary man

Part of his reason for going abroad was that he no longer
felt like he had a home in the United States. He said, publicly
and privately, that he felt that Neverland had been
violated by the police raid. Neverland, his beloved home,
represented Michael’s love for purity and innocence—and
these were the very qualities that the trial had cast into
doubt. So he abandoned the ranch, and in doing so, he
abandoned one of his most cherished dreams as well.
An All-Star Salute to Patti LaBelle: Live from Atlantis
aired on November 8, 2005. Sitting backstage, watching
the Bluebelles reunite, was a musical pleasure and a career
high. After the show was over, I felt a moment of
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pride and happiness. But it didn’t last long. The show
went well, but its success was small comfort to me. I was
out of touch with my own emotions. I felt numb.
Michael invited my family to Bahrain to celebrate
Christmas with him, but I didn’t go. I was negotiating
with Russell Simmons, one of the founders of Def Jam, to
do a tribute concert celebrating his contributions to hiphop.
I used that as an excuse not to go, but the real reason
was that I was angry. As much as I wanted to put the past
behind me, as much as I believed in being magnanimous,
the fact was simply that I wasn’t. I still couldn’t believe
that Michael had doubted me, doubted my unwavering
loyalty to him, especially after all of the fear, anxiety, and
depression that I’d been through since November 2003. I
didn’t want to see him or speak to him.
Part of me wanted to clear the air, but the years had
made me stubborn. When Michael had first asked me to
work with him, I knew he was inviting me on a wild ride,
and I went willingly. In the process, I’d had the time of
my life, and though I’d suffered through Michael’s episodes
of doubting me, I’d ridden that roller coaster with as
much patience and forbearance as I could summon. But
for all the craziness we shared, the trial was the roughest
ride I’d ever taken. I endured it because of him, because
of our association, because of my loyalty. After living under
the shadow of it for over two years, I thought I
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deserved a “real” phone call, a true clearing of the air. A
conversation with a friend, not some pat response.
After the trial Michael didn’t seem to want to have
any contact with me. And it’s not as though he disappeared
into thin air. He was in regular communication
with the rest of my family; he just avoided me. Given his
easy acceptance of the lie he was told about my unwillingness
to testify, I didn’t necessarily expect a simple and
joyous reunion. But I expected us to talk. I expected to
have a chance to defend myself. And I expected, at some
point, an apology. Maybe I was being self-centered or inconsiderate.
Certainly what he’d been through was bigger
and harder than what I’d endured. However, what Michael
didn’t realize was that I’d been through it with him;
I, too, had experienced one of the most difficult times of
my life.
Michael was a lot of things to me—boss, mentor,
brother, father—but more than anything else, he was my
oldest, closest friend. When he discarded me, I felt confused
and lost. I’d seen him do this to so many other
friends and colleagues, but I’d always thought the combination
of my loyalty and our history made me exempt.
Clearly, I was wrong.
Russell Simmons aside, I didn’t know what to do with
myself. It had been tough to look for more work while the
trial was going on. And I wasn’t sure where to begin. I
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had no intention of pounding the pavement for a job. For
all my experience, there were some fundamental gaps in
my work history. I wasn’t used to showing up at a certain
place at a certain time, and I wasn’t accustomed to having
a boss—a real boss—tell me what to do. I thought I
wanted to continue producing concerts and shows, in theory,
but I didn’t feel like myself. I had always been a bit
detached, but now I was virtually impervious. I came
across as arrogant, stuck-up, even a little strange. Perhaps
the worst effect of my unhappiness was that I’d picked up
Michael’s paranoia. I didn’t trust anyone. The truth was,
dramatic as it sounds, I had lost my faith in humanity.
Within a few months, I pulled myself together and set
up shop in an office on Fifth Avenue, the first office I’d
ever had. I started to rebuild. It turned out I did have
skills, and I had acquired a reputation as a guy who could
get things done. I knew how to forge relationships, make
deals, and bring in financing. People came to me to
handle various deals, and I started taking consulting fees.
I began to see that stepping away from Michael was the
only way to discover that I could succeed and thrive
without him. It was an important lesson. My own identity,
which had been wrapped up in his for so long, started to
emerge. For the first time in my adult life, I was putting
myself first.
^ CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
RECONCILIATION
MICHAEL AND I KNEW WE WERE DUE FOR A real rapprochement,
but direct confrontation wasn’t Michael’s
style. Instead, the restoration of our friendship was allowed
to evolve over time. It wasn’t what it had been, but
we eased back into it, talking occasionally throughout
2006.
Michael was spending time in Las Vegas with his
children, occasionally returning to Los Angeles to appear
in court to defend himself in the various lesser lawsuits
that continued to plague him. Every time he called, I
sensed that there was still a distance between us. He
wanted to talk, to hear my voice, but the time wasn’t right
for the conversation I needed to have with him. We both
avoided the topic. He’d ask what I was working on, what
I was doing. I told him about my office in Manhattan and
filled him in on some of the projects I had on my plate. I
always made it a point to thank him, saying, “I wouldn’t
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be able to think the way I do and do what I’m doing if it
wasn’t for you.”
I remember him telling me, “Frank, just get one thing
done. Finish one thing. Don’t work on three hundred
things. Nothing will get done.”
He was right. I was working on three hundred things.
I thought that was normal, because that’s what he and I
had always done. But Michael was like a mature Fortune
500 company, while I was just a start-up.
Our conversations were brief. He didn’t want to talk
about the trial, our conflict, any of it. There was no resolution,
but the more we spoke, the more I started to understand
that the trial had been so difficult for him that he
couldn’t bear to revisit it. Whereas I needed to talk about
things in order to move on, Michael was too traumatized
by those things to discuss them. Talking to me meant
dealing with that pain, and he simply wasn’t ready to do
this yet.
But soon he started telling our mutual friends how
much he missed me and how well I was doing. He told
people that he talked to me all the time and everything
was great. It wasn’t the truth, but Michael knew that what
he said would get back to me. Since I knew how nonconfrontational
Michael was, I understood that this was his
way of reaching out to me … without actually picking up
the phone to reach out to me.
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Calls from Michael usually came out of the blue. One
day, in the spring of 2007, the phone rang and it was him,
asking me to join him in Ireland. Two years had passed
since the verdict, and we still hadn’t talked through any of
the problems the trial had engendered. Michael was on
the phone for only a moment, but this was, I felt, the first
time since the trial that he had truly reached out to me,
asking to see me in person. I told him that I would be glad
to join him. He said, “Okay, I’m going to have someone
call you to work out the logistics.”
Two days later I got a call from Raymone Bain, Michael’s
publicist and personal general manager, who was
(briefly) running his world. (She, too, would eventually
sue him.) Her words were shocking and unforgettable:
“As per Mr. Jackson,” she announced, “if you come to
Ireland, we’ll have you arrested.”
It took me a moment to register what she had said.
Could I have heard her right?
“Hold on a second,” I said. I was in my office in the
city, and in a flash, I conferenced in my father. I was tired
of it being my word against everyone else’s. I wanted a
witness. Raymone Bain also brought someone else on the
phone.
“I’m a deputy,” the new voice said. “If you go to Ireland,
you’ll be arrested.”
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“Are you kidding me?” I said. “What are you talking
about?”
“Michael says you’re calling him at the studio and
harassing him,” Raymone Bain replied.
This was too much. I didn’t even know where Michael
was working! My father spoke up.
“I don’t know who you are,” he said, “but this is
Dominic Cascio. I expect Michael to call me in the next
twenty-four hours. After a twenty-year relationship? This
is unacceptable.”
Michael called my father the next day and apologized.
He said he hadn’t known about the call. To this day, I
honestly don’t know if Raymone, for some reason, hadn’t
somehow done the opposite of what Michael had asked
her to do, or whether, in his paranoia, he had changed his
mind about inviting me to Ireland.
Michael told my father that he was going to apologize
to me, but that call never came. He may have been embarrassed,
or he may have decided that he would just come to
see me in person.
^ WE THREW A SURPRISE PARTY FOR MY MOTHER’S
FIFTIETH birthday in New Jersey on August 19, 2007.
Later that evening, when the guests had gone, Michael
appeared at the house. He had his three kids in tow, as
well as his black Lab, Kenya, and a cat. My father called
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me in the city and said, “I think you should come home
tonight, but make sure you come alone.” As soon as he
said that, I knew Michael was at the house.
I hadn’t seen my old friend for three years—not since
I’d gone to Neverland when the allegations were first announced.
I went to New Jersey that night, and it was good
to see him and the kids. But there was no way I could pretend
that bygones were bygones and everything was fine.
I said to Michael, “We have to talk.”
“Okay,” he replied.
Eddie, who by that point saw himself as Michael’s
protector, jumped in: “You have five minutes,” he
announced self-righteously. My brother truly believed
that I had betrayed Michael. I would have behaved the
same way if I’d thought the same of anyone.
“Really? I have five minutes with Mr. Jackson?” I returned.
I was outraged, and turning to Michael, I continued,
“That’s it? I get five minutes with you?”
“I never said that,” Michael said, and with that, he followed
me to my old room, which had been converted into
Eddie’s recording studio. Eddie was right behind him. I
asked my brother to leave, but he refused.
“No, it’s better that you go,” Michael said, and reluctantly
Eddie complied.
“First of all,” I said to Michael, “if I want to speak to
you for four hours, I will.”
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“Frank, calm down,” he said. “You know how your
brother is.”
Eddie, who was standing right outside, knocked at the
door, wanting to come back in, but Michael said, “No, it’s
okay. We need to speak.”
I looked at Michael … and simply broke down crying.
“How could you let this happen?” I demanded. “You
know me better than anyone else. You know where my
heart is. How could you let these people come between
us? Why did you believe them? Why did you want to believe
them? You say I betrayed you. How did I betray
you?”
All the questions I’d kept buried for almost three
years came pouring out, each one practically running over
into the next. In the middle of this torrent I told Michael,
“For the record, I have a clear conscience. I have done
nothing wrong. I don’t regret anything that I did. I was
one hundred percent there for you in every way anyone
could ever be there for another person. You’ve told me
how you’ve been betrayed by so many people. You taught
me to be loyal, and I was. I always have been and I always
will be. Where was your loyalty?”
Michael was calm. “Well, I was told you didn’t want
to testify. You weren’t going to testify in my time of
need. That hurt me, after all I’ve done for you,” he
replied.
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“Who told you that?” I asked angrily. “It’s not true.
Your attorney, Tom, told my attorney, Joe, that they did
not need me to testify.”
“I don’t remember who told me. That’s what I was
told.”
“By whom?” I insisted.
“I don’t remember. It was said.” As he spoke, Michael
was lying down on the bed, feet up, chilling out while he
let me vent.
“By whom?” I repeated vehemently. It was driving
me crazy. It had been for years. I tried to calm myself
down and fought to keep my emotions in check, but it
wasn’t easy.
“You said this wasn’t going to happen,” I was finally
able to say quietly. “From the first time I started working
with you. Now you’re telling people that I betrayed you,
that I didn’t stand by you.” I was pacing, like I do, back
and forth in front of the bed. “That wasn’t the case. And
you didn’t call me to find out the truth because you believed
what you wanted to believe—that I betrayed you.
You wanted to be the victim, to say you helped me and I
fucked you over, but I never did that to you. What did I
do to make you hate me so much? You have no idea how
you hurt me. I know how you get. Why didn’t you just
call and ask me for yourself instead of letting your imagination
run away with you?”
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At this point I was feeling like my impassioned words
were finally beginning to sink in. Michael got teary, stood
up, and gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You know I love you like a son.
I’m sorry that I made you feel this way. Let’s just move
on from this. I could have gone anywhere in the world,
but I’m here, with you and your family. I want to move
on.” He apologized for the insane call threatening to arrest
me if I went to Ireland.
Explanations were something I never expected to hear
from Michael Jackson. I was familiar with his paranoia,
had been dealing with it for years; what I couldn’t accept
was that it had been directed at me, and I was never really
sure whether or not he himself understood his own fears
and defenses. He had been through a lot in his life, and I
reminded myself, as I always did, that I hadn’t walked in
his shoes. And so I decided that enough was enough. I
saw that he was truly sorry. His apologies, regret, and
peace were all I wanted.
“I don’t want to have a working relationship with
you,” I told him. “I just want to be your friend, and I need
you to be my friend. I need you in my life.”
“I want the same,” Michael said.
We’d been friends for over twenty years, and yet
somehow we’d forgotten how all the history we lived
through bound us together. I knew Michael’s flaws, but I
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still blamed the people around him for his excesses. I
couldn’t help wanting to take care of him. Old habits die
hard.
“You’re surrounded by idiots again,” I said. “You
need to get yourself away from these crazy people. Do me
a favor, start working. Get back to what you do best.” He
nodded, a slight smile on his lips. He liked the sound of
that. I went on: “Look, there’s a studio in my family’s
house. Start working, start writing, start producing.”
“It’s funny that you should say that,” Michael said,
“because I just had that very conversation with your
brother.”
In the end, Michael and I talked for two full hours. At
first, Eddie interrupted us every ten minutes, thinking Michael
was being forced into a conversation he didn’t want
to have. But Michael kept telling him we were okay, and
finally he stopped trying to control the situation. We
didn’t speak about the trial. I could tell Michael didn’t
want to go there. Instead, we stayed in neutral territory,
chatting about his villa in Bahrain, a new record label he
wanted to form with the prince of Bahrain, and how well
the children were doing. I sensed, in Michael’s tentative
and cautious plans for the short term, that he was still getting
his footing. The aftermath of the trial was apparent.
But I could tell he would rebound from this. Michael was
like a cat with nine lives.
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When our conversation came to an end, I opened the
door and said, “You can come in now, Eddie,” as if we
were ten years old.
Michael and I went from there. He and his family
spent the next four months in New Jersey, and during that
time we started rebuilding our friendship. We hung
around talking about music and memories, just talking as
we always had.
I was working in Manhattan, but I was back and forth
to New Jersey frequently to see Michael and the kids. We
celebrated Michael’s forty-ninth birthday, which fell ten
days after my mother’s fiftieth, with a big family dinner.
My mother cooked, and we also ordered in some pizza
because Michael loved pizza.
The time he’d spent in Bahrain after the trial had been
a good break for him. He had needed time away, time for
himself, and he seemed rejuvenated. He was alive and excited,
getting back into being creative and free. He and
Eddie were working in the studio during the day, and he
was playing with an idea for an animated cartoon he
hoped to produce. He was happy to be around my family,
with whom he could be himself. There was no sign that
he was on any sort of medicine. He was back to being
Michael.
One of the upstairs bedrooms had been turned into a
classroom, and a tutor came to the house every day. Late
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as he went to sleep, Michael made it a point to wake up
early every morning to help his kids get ready for school.
My mother fed them, but Michael was the one who got
them dressed—nicely, as if they were going to school outside
the house—and made sure their teeth were brushed.
During our long conversation, Michael and I had
talked about working on our friendship—no business, just
friendship—and we were true to our word. Any outstanding
issues were finally laid to rest. We joked around, reminiscing
about old Gary and the nutty songs he used to
write and about the time Michael and I were at Disneyland
Paris, taking the Peter Pan ride, when we paused in
front of the animatronic Wendy.
“She’s so beautiful,” Michael had sighed, and then we
looked at each other and instantly knew what we had to
do. I’m not proud of it, and it was wrong, but it had to be
done. To show our admiration, we lifted up Wendy’s skirt
and left our signatures on her, shall we say, animatronic
person. And I am sure that, to this day, on the Peter Pan
ride in Disneyland Paris, if anyone should ever be so bold
as to lift poor animatronic Wendy’s skirt, they would find
my signature and Michael’s signature, staking our claim.
Actually, I lied when I said I wasn’t proud of this moment.
I actually am.
Meanwhile, things were going well in the studio with
Eddie. Just as Michael had groomed me to do business
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with him, he had mentored Eddie’s musical talents from a
young age, always promising that if he worked hard, one
day he would have his chance. Even though Eddie was
my younger brother, I had always looked up to him in
many ways. I was happy that they were working together,
and happy that Michael was making music again. The two
of them, along with our close friend James Porte, wrote
twelve songs, three of which (“Breaking News,” “Keep
Your Head Up,” and “Monster”) would appear on Michael’s
last album, Michael.
Things seemed to be on the right track—in Michael’s
life, in my life, and in our friendship. But the months and
months of simmering resentments and acrimony came
with a heavy price, and despite the changes for the better
in other areas, my brother and I remained unable to reconnect.
Each of us held a grudge against the other, and
though we kept them in check for Michael’s sake, it was
apparent to anyone who spent time around us that things
between us were not at all the way they used to be. We
were civil to each other, but we still hadn’t made our
peace. It was unclear if we ever would.
^ CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
THE UNTHINKABLE
OVER THE NEXT COUPLE YEARS MICHAEL AND I
were in regular phone contact—as friends. He was working
on This Is It, a series of fifty concerts that were to be
held at London’s O2 Arena starting in July 2009. The
shows would be his swan song. Even his children, who
had never been allowed to see him perform live, would be
in attendance—for the first and last time.
At my suggestion, Michael brought back one of his
former managers, Frank DiLeo, who hadn’t worked with
him since I was a kid and Frank was on hand for the Victory
tour. At some point Frank got in touch with me to ask
that I join him in London to work on the concerts. He was
getting older and felt he needed some help.
“You’ll have to discuss it with Michael,” I said, “but
if he’s open to it, I’m open to it.” The timing was right for
me. I was looking for my next gig, and I felt close to
Frank, who’d been a great mentor to me. But I left the
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decision in Michael’s hands. I didn’t want to force myself
into the job.
Soon after this, Michael and I had a brief conversation.
He told me that my brother Eddie and James Porte
were flying out to London and were planning on working
hand in hand with him on his days off to produce the album
they had begun in New Jersey. Michael enjoyed the
creative synergies between the three of them and was enthusiastic
about making music again. He was giving Eddie
the chance he’d always promised him. This was Eddie’s
moment.
Michael said how happy he was to have Frank DiLeo
back in his life, and then he got to the point of the call: he
wanted me to join them in London.
“Frank will get in touch with you,” he said. “Just
work everything out with him and keep it confidential.
Don’t say anything to anyone.” I smiled when I heard
that. Some things never change.
“I’m really proud of you,” I said. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. “And now I gotta get going.
We’re heading into rehearsal now.”
It would be a baby step for me and Michael in our
journey to reconciliation, and for all the bitterness and
strife of recent years, I knew how great things could be. It
was his final series of concerts, and I wanted to be a part
of it. I was in Italy, on hold, waiting and expecting to go
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to London, when Michael died on June 25, 2009. It was
ten years, to the day, from the night of the Michael Jackson
& Friends concert in Seoul. Ten years exactly since
the night I’d started working with Michael.
^ IN CASTELBUONO, AFTER I LISTENED TO THE NEWS
OF Michael’s death on my cell phone, I walked up and
down the cobblestone streets by myself for some minutes
while a friend drove my car home and my cousin Dario
waited beside his car, letting me process my shock and
grief. I was in a mental fog, and it felt as if the world were
spinning around me. Random memories rose up from the
depths and then melted back into them. Brief moments
from the past, some happy, some sad, some small or big,
some heartbreaking or funny, swirled up then vanished. I
was still in this state when I climbed into Dario’s car.
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