Every celebrity has a side of themselves that they don’t share with the public, but in the summer of 1993, it seemed like Michael Jackson had split into two entirely different people.
There was the King of Pop, the 12-time Grammy-winning artist behind albums like Thriller and Bad, who had given an incredible performance at Super Bowl XXVII just months earlier.
But there was also “Wacko Jacko,” the version of Jackson’s personality that sold millions of tabloids filled with lurid stories about his personal life.
Tabloid readers obsessed over whether or not Jackson was bleaching his skin (he probably was), if he had cosmetic surgery (he admitted to two nose jobs and a surgery adding a chin dimple), and why he seemed to be losing so much weight (Jackson’s closest friends and family say he struggled with anorexia).
But the most popular stories were the truly bizarre, like the wild claim that Jackson slept in a hyperbaric chamber designed to keep him looking youthful. Of course, the strangest story of all turned out to be 100 percent true: on the weekends, Jackson invited children to visit him at his $17 million mansion dubbed “Neverland Ranch” in Santa Ynez, California.
The massive property was Jackson’s home, but also his private amusement park where he invited a number of children he called his friends. He let them ride on his Ferris wheel, watch movies in his private theater, and - according to a number of parents - invited children for sleepovers, even sleeping in the same room with them.
Jackson became so close with one of those children, Jordan Chandler, that he invited him on his Dangerous World Tour, and was often photographed in public with Jordan and his family.
So it made national headlines when Jordan and his father, Evan, accused Jackson of sexual abuse, saying the singer had inappropriately touched the boy.
The public was shocked by news that police raided Neverland Ranch in late August, discovering nude photographs of children, which did not qualify as child pornography. Police also questioned 30 children who had stayed at Jackson’s home, including child star Macauley Culkin, but none accused the singer of being a child molester.
But things were about to go from bad to worse.
While police never found enough evidence against Jackson to press charges, the singer was dragged into a pair of messy civil court cases.
Before the details of Jordan’s allegations came to light, Jackson declared his innocence in an emotional televised statement from Neverland Ranch. A poll taken by the TV show A Current Affair at the time found that 75% of American believed Jackson was innocent.
As the trial began, the media dissected every single piece of evidence revealed by the sensational lawsuit.
Jackson was forced to literally bare all, as one of the key pieces of evidence was Jordan’s description of the singer’s genitals. While the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the county sheriff’s photographer say strip search photos of Jackson matched the boy’s description, the jurors weren’t convinced.
Lisa Marie Presley (the granddaughter of Elvis Presley) had been dating Jackson for a year when the allegations broke, and their relationship became another subject of gossip and rumors. She described how the stress from the news stories took its toll on the singer’s health, and how his addiction to prescription drugs only got worse.
"I believed he didn't do anything wrong and that he was wrongly accused and yes I started falling for him,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to save him. I felt that I could do it."
Meanwhile, Jackson’s estranged sister, La Toya, claimed she had evidence that her brother was a pedophile, and would sell the information to $500,000. While her claim caused yet another media uproar, reporters found that her “evidence” was untrue, and La Toya later confessed she had been forced to make the claims by her abusive husband.
Back in court, Jackson’s attorney portrayed Jordan’s father Evan as an extortionist. Joan, Jordan’s mother and the parent who had custody of him, never believed her ex-husband’s allegations. It was also revealed in court that Evan was behind on his child support payments, and spent months negotiating a settlement with Jackson before reporting his son’s alleged abuse to police.
In the end, Jackson was never indicted for any crime, and no charges were filed against him by police. But Jackson did settle out of court with Evan Chandler for $22 million. Even if Jackson wasn’t guilty, the huge settlement helped cement the popular belief that he was hiding something.
Jordan never took the stand himself during the trial, and Jackson’s trial lawyer Thomas Meserau still insists he had witnesses who could prove that the boy was lying.
Jackson and Presley married soon after the trial ended, leading to even more tabloid stories as writers claimed that their marriage was a publicity stunt to repair Jackson’s image. The couple’s divorce just two years later seemed to confirm the narrative, except that Presley told Oprah Winfrey in 2010 she and Jackson tried “getting back together and breaking up.” She also insisted that her marriage to Michael was "a married couple's life ... that was sexually active."
Jackson would be dogged by child abuse allegations for the rest of his life, but neither the LA County Police or the Department of Children and Family Services ever found any evidence of abuse by the singer.
The negative publicity effectively ended Jackson’s career, and even his early death can be connected to the embarrassing court case.
Jackson lost 10 pounds during the trial, and began mixing the painkillers Valium, Xanax and Ativan while coping with the stress from the court case. Prescription drug abuse - and the tabloid press’s obsession with him - would remain a constant in Jackson’s life until his death in 2009.