Michael Jackson’s Inner Circle Addresses Rumors
Decades of Working With Star Gave Three Stylist Friends Unique Insight Into the Real Michael Jackson
It was the most private of times for the most public of people. Michael Jackson’s family had his body taken to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, the final resting place of so many of Hollywood’s elite.
To prepare Jackson for his final farewell, his family had turned to the three people who’d been dressing the star and making him up for more than a quarter century — Dennis Tompkins, Michael Bush and Karen Faye.
“Nobody else could have [done it],” said Faye of the honor to make up her friend one last time. “I knew how he wanted to look. So I did it for his children.”
Stylists Tompkins and Bush designed brand new clothes for Jackson, incorporating elements from the King of Pop’s favorite looks throughout his career. Tompkins, who created the majority of Jackson’s most memorable outfits, described his stage attire as “Liberace gone to war.”
Notably absent from Jackson’s funeral attire, though, was his most iconic accessory — that legendary single white sequin glove.
“To Michael, the glove was Billie Jean,” said Bush. “That represented that song. That’s not Michael Jackson.”
These are people who knew the man behind the music; knew him stripped of the artifice he so cleverly showed the world. Private and never-before-seen images which ABC News paid to license from the three friends’ personal collections provide snapshots of the global superstar’s most unguarded moments.
Showman to the End
But at the time of his death, Jackson’s inner circle was determined that the King of Pop would exit this earth as the world knew him: a showman.
For nine hours, Faye and Bush fought back their own grief and the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde to prepare Jackson for his final curtain call. After dressing him, Bush even helped to lift and place the body in the coffin.
“The work me and Karen did with Michael at Forest Lawn, that bonded us for life,” said Bush.
In an exclusive interview for the “20/20” special “Michael Jackson: After Life,” Tompkins, Bush and Faye talked with ABC’s Cynthia McFadden about what it was like to work with the star — and addressed persistent rumors that followed Jackson about his sexual orientation, his plastic surgery and his reported drug abuse. The interview marks the first time the trio has spoken publicly about their friend.
Karen Faye met Michael Jackson in 1982, when she was hired to do his hair and make-up for the “Thriller” album cover.
“He walked in; he was very shy but was very gracious,” Faye remembered. “Everything was ‘please’ and ‘thank you.'”
Faye said she was not at all intimidated by his fame. For example, when she saw that Jackson had with him a baby tiger, she flashed her tiger-print underwear.
“He went ‘Ah!'” Faye said while demonstrating how he covered his face. “He was just so embarrassed by that. But I think that’s why he called me back the next job. He liked people who have a sense of humor.”
The conventional wisdom is that Jackson began taking painkillers after his hair caught fire during the taping of a 1984 Pepsi commercial. Faye maintained that wasn’t the case. She said the musician’s use of prescription drugs began in 1993 — almost ten years after now-infamous commercial.
“Just before we went on tour for “Dangerous,” he had an operation, in order to help the scarring. But he didn’t have enough time to heal,” said Faye. “So in order to keep going, he started using painkillers, because it is very painful when nerve endings are severed.”
Faye said she has no idea what drugs Jackson was taking.
Sexual Abuse Rumors
“The day that came out, he was stepping onstage in front of 80,000 people,” recalled Bush.
“It was devastating,” said Faye, “because he had to go out every day in front of a world and the media that was [saying] he was pedophile.”
Faye said painkillers “gave [Jackson] the ability to get through” the combination of the emotional pain brought about by the allegations and his already existing physical pain.
A few months after the allegations came to light, Jackson settled out of court with his accuser for a reported $20 million.
Then, nearly a decade later, another boy came forward, also claiming that Jackson had sexually abused him. The boy was seen in a British documentary holding hands with the musician, and Jackson spoke of their sharing a bed. The remark fueled Jackson’s prosecution.
“He said the word ‘bed,'” recalled Bush. “A lot of people think sexual, and that is the farthest thing from Michael’s mind.”
Jackson’s inner circle is adamant that the star was not a pedophile or homosexual, as many have speculated. According to his friends, Jackson constantly checked out the “hot girls” who appeared in his videos.
Jackson was acquitted on all charges after a three-and-a-half month trial. The taint of the accusation, however, lingered. The trial on the second round of allegations was devastating for Jackson.
Karen Faye and Michael Bush were at Neverland early every morning to get their friend and boss ready for court.
“Before I washed his hair, we knelt down on the ground and [Jackson] put his arms around me and wept. We would pray for God to help us and for people to know the truth,” said Faye, adding that situation was just “vicious” and tore Jackson up inside.
Each day when he walked into the courtroom, running the gauntlet of cameras, he wore a new outfit designed by the stylists who became his friends — a small morale booster.
In his art, Michael Jackson played repeatedly with the idea of metamorphosis. Many of his music videos, including “Thriller,” “Black or White” and “Remember the Time” feature him morphing into someone or something else.
Nowhere was the theme more prominent than in the little-known mini-movie “Ghosts,” in which Jackson becomes a middle-aged white man.
As his makeup artist for more than 25 years, Karen Faye knew Jackson’s face almost as well as he did. She said one thing is certain: Jackson had vitiligo, a skin condition producing white blotches.
As for the eyeliner and lipstick Jackson preferred, Faye said: “He didn’t like the line that was drawn between what’s allowed for men and what’s allowed for women.”
Faye acknowledged that Jackson had plastic surgery. “He was always trying to perfect everything,” she said. Faye denied, however, rumors that the star had a prosthetic nose.
“It was the tape that he used to wear on his nose to [help] keep it in form or else it would expand,” she said. But she admitted that she personally thought Michael Jackson went a little too far with plastic surgery.
‘This Is It’
Soon after Jackson announced his final tour, “This Is It,” Faye received a call from him asking if she would team up with him once again.
Faye says she sensed he was frightened of being judged again. He was still stung by the worldwide backlash against him.
“Standing up in front of an audience, all that fear, all that doubt, all the cruelty people directed at him, he was afraid,” said Faye. “He didn’t want to go through that again.”
Faye said she was concerned that Jackson was too thin to do the show. As the clock ticked, the pressure mounted.
The tour was going to be his first major appearance since the trial ended, and it would be the first time his children would him see perform on stage. The stage was his element, a place he had electrified countless times, dazzling millions, since hitting it big as child superstar in 1969.
Faye, Bush and Tompkins couldn’t comment on whether Jackson was taking any medications while preparing for the “This is It” tour,because the three anticipate being witnesses at the upcoming trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s personal physician. But they say they were all extremely concerned about the star’s well-being.
According to Bush, Jackson was “bone-thin.”
“I feared he was physically unable to do the shows,” Faye said.
The Day the News Came
On June 25 last year, Karen Faye was waiting for Jackson at the Staples Center to begin rehearsals when she got the news she dreaded — Jackson had been rushed to the hospital.
She then got a phone call from her boyfriend, who said he heard news reports that Jackson had suffered a heart attack.
“So many things went through [my] mind,” Faye said. “But because of my fears I knew it was probably true.”
According to Faye, the tour’s director and choreographer, Kenny Ortega, instructed everyone to carry on as usual.
But then the moment came.
“I was headed back to my make-up room,” said Faye, “and Kenny came out of his office and he put his arms around me and whispered, ‘He’s gone. We lost him.’ And my knees just collapsed.”
Faye said she believes that if people paid attention, the world would still have its King of Pop, Michael Jackson. She said she takes solace in remembering all the great times she had with the star, and the laughter that first brought them together.