Michael Jackson was the subject of two high-profile sexual-abuse cases during his lifetime — first in the mid-’90s, and then again in the mid-aughts. Now, ten years after his death, more allegations against the King of Pop have been brought to light.
The forthcoming HBO documentary Leaving Neverland has been the subject of intense conversation since its premiere at Sundance in January. It explores new claims from James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who individually allege that Jackson molested them when they were children in the 1990s.
Robson publicly defended Jackson during his 1993 civil case and served as a defense witness during his 2005 criminal trial, but in 2013, Robson reversed his initial claims of Jackson’s innocence and filed a lawsuit alleging abuse. Safechuck, meanwhile, was named as a witness in the 2005 trial, but declined to testify. He maintained Jackson’s innocence until 2014, when he joined Robson’s suit, but the suit was ultimately thrown out in 2017.
The notoriously reclusive Jackson did not give many interviews, but he did speak about the allegations a number of times. Below, we look at every time Jackson publicly addressed the charges against him.
December 1993: Jackson makes a statement from Neverland
Jackson’s run-ins with the law started in 1993. He was investigated by the LAPD after a father accused Jackson of molesting his 13-year-old son. Investigators searched Jackson’s home, questioned around 30 children who knew Jackson, and, eventually, strip-searched Jackson himself. Jackson’s lawyers insisted the allegations were part of an extortion plot, and a 1994 GQ article investigated whether MJ was framed.
Still, the charges were serious enough that Jackson decided to issue a statement in response.
A visibly agitated Jackson said, “There have been many disgusting statements made recently concerning allegations of improper conduct on my part. These statements about me are totally false. As I have maintained from the very beginning, I am hoping for a speedy end to this horrifying, horrifying experience to which I have been subjected.”
May 1995: “Scream”
The original civil case against Jackson was eventually settled out of court for a reported $20 million in 1994. In 1995, Jackson and his sister Janet released the lead single off his album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.
The lyrics are a response to hostile tabloid coverage, but they could also be viewed as a not-so-subtle dig at the 1993 trial. Jackson sings, “Tired of injustice/Tired of the schemes/Your lies are disgusting/What does it mean/Kicking me down/I gotta get up/As jacked as it sounds/The whole system sucks.”
June 1995: ABC “PrimeTime Live” with Diane Sawyer
In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. They sat down together with Diane Sawyer to discuss married life, but Sawyer also made a point to press Jackson about the molestation allegations. Jackson denies them again, and Presley defends him as well.
Sawyer asks, “Did you ever, as this young boy said you did, did you ever sexually engage, fondle, have sexual contact, with this child, or any other child?”
Jackson responds, “Never, ever. I could never harm a child, or anyone. It’s not in my heart, it’s not who I am, and … I’m not even interested in that.”
Sawyer goes on to press him about the reportedly large settlement, and he claims he settled because his lawyers could not guarantee him a fair trial.
February 2003: Living With Michael Jackson Documentary
British journalist Martin Bashir spent eight months interviewing Jackson to make Living With Michael Jackson, which was released in 2003. In the documentary, Jackson describes sleeping in the same bed as children, and is shown holding hands with a 13-year-old boy.
Bashir asks Jackson how he felt about the 1993 allegations, without delving into specifics. “I was shocked because God knows how much in my heart I adore children,” Jackson said.
Pressed further on the point of children sharing his bed with him, Jackson responds, “They make that sexual. It’s not sexual. We’re going to sleep. I tuck them in … It’s very charming, it’s very sweet.”
Jackson goes on to say that he settled in the 1993 case because he didn’t want to do a “long, drawn out thing on TV like O.J. [Simpson].”
Jackson felt betrayed by his portrayal in the documentary. In the wake of its release, he issued a statement, claiming “Everyone who knows me will know the truth which is that my children come first in my life and that I would never harm any child.”
November 2003: Allegations are “predicated on a big lie”
As a result of the documentary, the Santa Barbara DA reopened the investigation into Jackson in June 2003, and the boy featured in the doc eventually accused Jackson of molestation.
Jackson was arrested at Neverland in November 2003, but released on a $3 million bond. In a statement, Jackson called the allegations “predicated on a big lie.”
December 2003: 60 Minutes with Ed Bradley
After his release, Jackson discussed the allegations on 60 Minutes, calling them “totally false.” He also said he still thought it was okay to sleep in the same bed as children, because he’s not a murderer, or anything of the sort.
Read a transcript of the interview here.
February 2005: Interview with Geraldo Rivera
The People v. Jackson criminal trial took place from February to June 2005, but Jackson was found not guilty on all counts. In the midst of the trial, Jackson sat down with Rivera on Fox News. Rivera disclosed at the start of the program that because of the ongoing trial, he was barred from asking Jackson about it specifically. Instead, they talk about “sensationalism” in the media.