Michael Jackson’s grim fascination with death; James Brown
Saturday, June 27th 2009, 11:46 PM
Michael Jackson kisses the body of James Brown in the gold casket.
Michael Jackson weeps as he touches James Brown’s body.
Jackson arrived around 12:30 a.m. on this December day in 2007 and stayed for nearly five hours. He began by walking into the chapel. He strode directly up to the gold-plated coffin newly back from lying in state up at the Apollo Theater. The lid was raised and Brown lay in a bed of cream-colored satin.
“He leaned over and kissed him on the forehead,” Reid said.
The skin would have been cold under his lips, but Jackson did not recoil. He reached down to adjust Brown’s hair so a lock hung down, as in so many photos.
“He just kind of twisted it around,” Reid recalled.
Jackson had been a child of no more than 6 when his mother would wake him up to see Brown perform on TV. Jackson had sat mesmerized as he watched Brown move like nobody else. He decided that was what he himself would do and not long afterward he was doing it.
Now, after all that happened, both good and bad, after triumphs and twists, stardom and scorn, excellence and excess, the King of Pop gazed down at the Godfather of Soul in his coffin.
“He stood there, I guess, an hour or so just looking,” Reid said.
Jackson spoke of his love for Brown.
“How important Mr. Brown was to him,” Reid remembered. “What an inspiration he was.”
Reid was surprised when Jackson began asking about the preparation of the remains, questions such as people seldom pose.
“How it was done,” Reid said. “What do you actually do? The types of fluids that you use. He wanted to know how long the preparation would last.”
Jackson had become a self-proclaimed resident of Neverland, yet he showed uncommon ease with what even manifestly mature adults have trouble facing.
“Most people shy away when it comes to death,” Reid said. “They would be trying to head the opposite way. It was amazing to me he would talk about it the way he was. It’s just out of the ordinary.”
And Jackson was clearly not asking just to ask.
“He wouldn’t ask a question unless he thought about it,” Reid said. “That’s how precise he was. Whatever he asked he was very interested in.”
That included how the body was made ready for viewing.
“Do we freshen it up? Were we going to change his outfits?” Reid recalled. “He wanted to know had his hair been done, how that was done.”
Jackson also inquired about the coffin and how it was chosen.
“He wanted to go into our casket room,” Reid said.
Reid showed him various models. Jackson did not say so, but Reid could not help feeling that the star was contemplating his own demise, studying Brown in death as intently as he had in life.
“He asked who requested the gold-plated casket,” Reid said. “I said, ‘Well, it’s the family’s decision.’ He asked if that’s something Mr. Brown wanted. I said, ‘Entertainers, they always say solid gold.'”
Jackson laughed and they returned to the chapel. Reid noted that Jackson had a scarf over his hair, but otherwise wore only a plain shirt and pair of pants.
“No outfit or anything,” Reid said.
Jackson did have bodyguards, and he asked them to take photos of him next to the coffin. He was still there as dawn neared.
“He never sat down,” Reid said. “He stood up the whole time.”
Nearly five hours after he arrived, Jackson moved to leave. The memorial for Brown was held later that day and Jackson spoke, telling of his mother rousing him as a child to watch “the master at work” on TV.
“Right then and there, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Jackson said.
Now that life has been sped to an early end by off-stage demons. Reid recalled on Friday a visitor two years ago who came after midnight to mourn the master at rest and study death as if it were a last performance.
“He turned around to look again as he was going out the door,” Reid said.