MJJC Q&A WITH BILL WHITFIELD AND JAVON BEARD,
AUTHORS OF REMEMBER THE TIME: PROTECTING MICHAEL JACKSON IN HIS FINAL DAYS
MJJC: What made you want to write a book?
Bill & Javon: We wrote Remember the Time because we had a story to tell about the Michael Jackson we knew. If you’re a Michael Jackson fan and supporter, you deserve to know him more on a personal side, not just who he was but what he endured as a man, and as a father. You deserve a true account from those that were there, not from those who can only repeat what they heard second hand.
We wrestled a long time with whether or not was should write a book. Fundamentally, we agree with those who say Mr. Jackson deserves his privacy and deserves to rest in peace. But ultimately we came to the conclusion that his fans deserve to know and, hopefully, in some way it will bring closure to some and truth to others. We also felt an obligation to tell the world about our time with Mr. Jackson because there really is no one else to tell this part of the story. During the time Mr. Jackson spent in Las Vegas, between his return from Ireland and the start of “This Is It,” there simply weren’t a lot of people around. Very often the only people there were us, Mr. Jackson, and the three children. Mr. Jackson has been robbed of the opportunity to tell his own story, and the children were too young to really know a lot of what was going on at the time. That leaves us. If the world ever wants to fully understand what happened to this beloved and incredible man, this is a story that needs to be told. We already know how Michael Jackson died. Our aim is to help people understand why.
MJJC: How long did it take you to write the book? Was it a challenge putting the experience of protecting Michael Jackson into words? Please tell us about this experience.
Bill & Javon: The longest and hardest part of the process was finding the right publisher who understood our approach and our philosophy. When he was alive, Mr. Jackson’s world was full of vultures looking to take advantage of him in every way possible. We saw that with him and we saw it again after he passed away, in the way people approached us about our story. There was a long, on and off process of interviewing possible collaborators, close to two years. Once we found the right partners, people that we trusted and felt comfortable with, the actual writing of the book actually took about a year. We spent several days sitting down, reminiscing and just telling our story, and then over the next several months, spent hours on the phone going over chapters, making edits, and so forth.
In the beginning, it was difficult talking about our experiences. Often times it made us angry, thinking, “Was there more we could have done?” It was also painful to relive some of the bad things that happened to him. He was not at peace a lot of the time, because of how bad he was portrayed in the media, because there were so many people he couldn’t trust. We always wanted to shield him from it, but there were some things you just couldn’t control. But the more we wrote and relived the moments we shared with Mr. Jackson, the more we knew we were doing the right thing.
MJJC: Most books about Michael are written with lots of sensationalism. Yours is not. Why is that, and why have you taken the approach of a general spoken account?
Bill & Javon: Sensationalism was the opposite of what we wanted to write. First of all, our time with Mr. Jackson was not “sensational” in either a good way or a bad way. There were no big tabloid scandals, but there weren’t any sold-out stadium concerts, either. Most of our two and a half years with Mr. Jackson were a quiet time when he was focused almost entirely on raising his children and giving them a home. There was a lot of tension and drama going on with his family and with his business affairs, but no big spectacle, so telling our story is an opportunity to see who the man really was away from the cameras.
We always tell people we didn’t work for the King of Pop. We worked for Michael Jackson. Those were two different people. It was only at the very end, when the machinery of This Is It started winding up in Los Angeles, that we saw the tabloid spectacle take over, and not in a healthy way. But we were not a direct party to that. We stayed in Vegas, handling some of Mr. Jackson’s business there, and we were slated to rejoin him in London to handle security on the estate he was going to rent.
We chose to tell the story in the way we did, through our own personal, conversational voices, to give readers the sense of being there as things happened. A lot of what you read about Michael Jackson either puts him on a pedestal or throws him in the gutter. We wanted a book that gave Mr. Jackson his proper respect and honored his legacy, but also a book that was down to earth and showed him as a real, everyday person, because that’s what most people misunderstand about him. The tabloids always wanted to paint him as some kind of cartoon, but behind the King of Pop spectacle there was a real human being who was full of great love and generosity, but who also suffered from pain and loneliness. We wanted to show the world that real human being, because Michael Jackson deserves to be treated like a person.
We also chose to tell the story from our own point of view in order to avoid all the second-hand speculation and the recycling of tabloid stories that other Michael Jackson books always rely on. Given the way the media treated Mr. Jackson’s life, to this day we don’t really trust anything written about him that we didn’t witness first-hand. Other than referencing well-documented information about Mr. Jackson’s past (like how many albums Thriller sold) and using some basic facts established in public records (like how the mortgage on Neverland was handled) the book is strictly an account of what we saw and heard and what our reactions and feelings were. We wanted it to be as honest and real as possible.
MJJC: Lots of people from Michael’s past have used knowing/working with him to make money. Can you tell us if that was your motivation for writing this book?
Bill & Javon: Money was and never has been our motivation. We turned down cash offers from tabloids that wanted us to dish dirt on the more scandalous elements of Mr. Jackson’s life. (We didn’t actually have much dirt to give them, because that’s not the man that we knew.) As we discuss in the intro to the book, we did not sell this for a huge advance to a big publisher looking for tabloid secrets. We went with a small publisher who was willing to pay a modest advance to take a chance on the kind of book we wanted to write. We also did not take any of the upfront money ourselves. We invested it in making sure Mr. Jackson’s story was done well. We paid most of it to a writer, Tanner Colby, a New York Times bestselling author, who we felt would handle the story with the respect it deserves. The rest of it went to cover various expenses, like travel to meet with our editors and so forth. The only way we will make money from this book is on the back end. If you, the fans, decide that we have done a good job and this is a book you choose to support, that will be our reward.
MJJC: What was your opinion of Michael before you started working for him? Did your opinions change after working for him?
Bill & Javon: Both of us were always huge fans of Michael even before working for him. Bill still has all the old 45 singles from growing up with the Jackson 5. Javon literally had “Smooth Criminal” set up as his ringtone when he got the call to come and work for Mr. Jackson. Neither of us ever believed the allegations made against him, or any of the other crazy things printed in the media. He always seemed so sweet and soft spoken, like he couldn't hurt a fly.
Unfortunately, as with many celebrities whose lives are distorted by the tabloids, you don’t believe what’s being said but you you don’t have the personal knowledge to say different. So when we were given the opportunity to work for him, we paid more attention to him and his actions and we saw things that validated what we’d always wanted to believe about him. We saw how much of a hands-on father he was, how he cared so much for the less fortunate. So, our opinions of him didn’t really change, but it was nice to learn that that the Michael Jackson we supported as fans was not the Michael Jackson that had been reported in the media.
MJJC: Did Michael have a favorite radio station/songs to listen to while in the car/SUV?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson only listened to classical music in the car. Sometimes, if one of us had the radio on an R&B station, he’d ask us to leave it, but otherwise it was pretty much always classical—with one exception. There was one song that happen to come on the radio, and after hearing it he had us go to Best Buy and purchase it for him. Then he played it over and over again in the car, singing along in the backseat—and he sang that song with conviciton. It was song that really spoke to him and the challenges he was dealing with. But for that you have to read the book.
MJJC: Did Michael ever invite fans inside his home to hang out?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson often invited fans in to visit at Neverland, but the houses he rented in Las Vegas were not the same. They were not homes he wanted to show off and entertain in. They were just places to stay, really. So we never had the fans come inside. Most of the time we spent visiting with the fans was in the car, on the way in and out of the house. We’d always stop and he’d say hello and chat for a bit.
While living in Las Vegas, Mr. Jackson was looking for a new limousine, and one summer evening we arranged for him to take a test drive in an SUV stretch limousine. The vehicle seated sixteen people. As we pulled out from the driveway, there were about five fans sitting outside the gate. Mr. Jackson directed the driver to stop the vehicle, he rolled the window down, and asked the fans if they wanted to go for a ride. Then he opened the door and they jumped in. We drove around for about 45 minutes, and Mr. Jackson and his fans just casually chatted. As nerve racking as it was for us as security, all went well. He loved it and so did they.
MJJC: Did you ever hear Michael talk without his falsetto?
Bill & Javon: No. Mr. Jackson always spoke in the same quiet, soft-spoken voice he used in public.
MJJC: Michael loved reading a lot. As far as you know, did he like novels or did he prefer to read autobiographies or books that tell real stories? If he preferred novels, what was his favorite genre?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson read just about anything he could get his hands on. We were constantly taking trips to Barnes & Noble, dropping five, ten thousand dollars on books in a single night. If there was a particular preference he had, we couldn’t say. If there was one book we saw him reading most frequently, it would be the Bible.
MJJC: Can you tell us the differences between the public Michael and the private Michael?
Bill & Javon: The public Michael Jackson was an entertainer. The private Michael Jackson was a father, a son. The public Michael was very image conscious. When he knew he was going somewhere and there were going to be a lot of cameras, he would fly in his hairstylist and get a one-of-a-kind outfit made by a top designer.
He would spend 4 to 5 hours just preparing himself for the cameras and the bright lights. The private Michael just loved being with his kids, watching movies, eating popcorn, and walking around the house in pajamas without a care in the world.
MJJC: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Michael Jackson?
Bill & Javon: The business side of Mr. Jackson’s life was an ongoing machine. Through his management and his legal representatives, his days were often pre-scheduled with conference calls and meetings. Each day an itinerary was prepared for Mr. Jackson of where he needed to be, who he needed to talk to.
Sometimes he followed the schedule the the letter, and other times he said the hell with schedule and he did whatever he wanted to do.
MJJC: In protecting Michael, what was the scariest thing you saw him do that caused you to worry about his safety?
Bill & Javon: To be honest, in the beginning the biggest challenge was you guys: the fans. As with every celebrity we’ve worked for, it’s always about keeping the fans and the crowds at arm’s length. Everybody is a potential threat. Of course, Mr. Jackson’s relationship with his fans was different. He’d roll the car window down and wave people over to chat, to hang out. Being security, our natural instinct was to try and get in between to act as a buffer, but Mr. Jackson would always wave us aside and say, “Be nice to my fans. They’d never let anything happen to me.” He knew that his fans were his greatest supporters and protectors.
Other than that, because of his children’s safety, Mr. Jackson was hyper vigilant about security. Having been one of the most famous men on Earth his whole life, he knew everything there is to know about personal protection and privacy, so it was rare he put himself in any kind of dangerous situation. He was mindful of the fan who shot and killed John Lennon. He knew some people were overly obsessed with him and he was afraid of someone using their being a fan to get close enough to harm him. So Mr. Jackson may have let his guard down to be close to his fans, but as his security team we never did.
MJJC: How did Michael cope with all the tabloid trash that was written about him? How computer savvy was Michael? Did he use the internet often? What websites did he visit? Were his children allowed to use the television or the Internet?
Bill & Javon: He didn’t cope with it. He refused to. He shut it completely out of his life. He didn’t want his children exposed to it. Since various talk show hosts still mocked and joked about him, there was no broadcast or cable TV in that house. They only watched movies and shows on DVD. The only newspapers he read regularly were the Wall Street Journal and the Robb Report, because neither of those have tabloid news in them. Whenever we went to newsstands and bookstores, his managers would let us know if any current newspaper or magazine was saying negative things about him. If there were, one of us would go in advance to remove all those issues from the racks. For the same reason, he never went on the Internet and never allowed the children on it unless they were monitored. The only web surfing he did was a few times after Bill showed him how to shop and bid on eBay for collectable items.
Having cut himself off from the media, one of Mr. Jackson’s primary “news” outlets was you, his fans. He read every single letter he received; we’d take him on long drives and he’d sit in the back and go through the mail. He’d get letters from people telling about their personal experiences in China, in the Middle East, from all over the world. They gave him suggestions on what he should sing about. Those letters were his inspiration and his connection to the outside world.
MJJC: Tell us a little more about Michael's relationship with his kids. How did Michael discipline his children?
Bill & Javon: It won’t come as any surprise to MJJCommunity members that Mr. Jackson was a kind and loving father. What people may not know is just how attentive and engaged he was in every single aspect of their upbringing. He was up on all the state-mandated homeschooling requirements, and he sat down every week with the school teacher to go over her lesson plans, making sure the kids were meeting and exceeding all the necessary goals. If we left the house and it was cold out and Blanket didn’t have his hat and mittens, we’d get a call, “Come back to the house. You forgot the mittens.” He was present for everything, in every way. It’s safe to say that being a father was the most important thing in Mr. Jackson’s life at that point, more than recording, performing, you name it. The kids came first no matter what.
To be honest, Mr. Jackson didn’t have to discipline the children very often. For the most part, they were very well-behaved, very courteous, always “please” and “thank you” for everything. Blanket was the wild card, the rebel. When one of them did misbehave, or if one of them did poorly on a school assignment, he might sit them down and give them the responsibility talk, or he might take away some of their privileges, like canceling a movie night or something like that. But even that was rare. He was an excellent father and he raised those three kids with good character and good values, and you can see that in the way they’ve dealt with the enormous pressures that have been put on them since he passed away.
MJJC: Did Michael ever go to nightclubs while living in Vegas?
Bill & Javon: In Vegas, Mr. Jackson was very focused on being a father, helping the kids with their homework every night and being up early to make them breakfast and get them dressed for school in the morning. So there weren’t a lot of big nights out. We went to one Prince concert on the Strip, and Mr. Jackson declined an invitation to go backstage and talk with Prince. It was late and his kids were still up, and he knew they wouldn’t go to sleep until he got home. So we took him straight home.
We did go to one nightclub when he was staying at the Palms in January of 2008. Mr. Jackson just wanted to hang out and do some people watching. This club had a VIP balcony that overlooked the crowd, so we set it up for him to go down there. We were in the club for maybe two to three minutes when the deejay started playing one of his songs; they were mixing it, cutting it together with a bunch of other tunes. Mr. Jackson was bopping his head along, and he said, “Wow, I didn’t know that they still played my music.”
We were like, what?! We told him, “Sir, they still play your music all the time. In bars, clubs, everywhere.”
He said, “Really?”
He seemed surprised. He’d been out of the spotlight and beaten up by the tabloids for so long, at that point that he was really worried that maybe the world had moved on, that he wasn’t as popular anymore. It really made him happy to hear his songs in the club like that.
MJJC: What was the happiest you saw him? What was the saddest?
Bill & Javon: The happiest we ever saw him was during the quiet, simple moments, like when we’d sneak him and the kids into the movies so he could see a big action movie on opening day and enjoy it with a big audience like a regular family, or during the months we spent in Virginia, when he and his kids stayed in this house with a huge backyard. From a distance you could see the four of them running around the house, playing and laughing. It was good hearing him laugh. He did so loudly, too.
The saddest we ever saw him, hands down, was when his brother Randy crashed through the front gate with his car and sat in the driveway, demanding money, ruining Mr. Jackson’s chance to attend Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday party. You have to read the book to get the whole story, but after that happened, Mr. Jackson disappeared into his room and we didn’t see or hear from him for three days.
MJJC: Did Michael ever teach you the moonwalk?
Bill & Javon: He never showed us how to moonwalk, but he did tell us how he did the lean in on “Smooth Criminal.” Amazing!
MJJC: Who in your opinion was a really good friend of Michael’s? Who stood by him through good and bad? Who was the person Michael spoke to most often on the phone?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson’s mother was probably the only one who unselfishly stood by him through all the madness. There were those like Miko Brando, Chris Tucker, Eddie Griffin and Rev. Jesse Jackson that visited him a few times, and their friendships appeared to be genuine, but it was his relationship with his mother that he cherished and valued most.
MJJC: Did Michael tell jokes?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson had a great sense of humor. He would often joke and laugh with his kids and with us. We definitely made an effort to capture that in the book, because a lot of what’s written about him doesn’t show that wonderful side of him.
MJJC: Was there ever a time when you saw Michael get particularly angry for one reason or another? Can you tell us about a time when he lost his temper?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson was famously non-confrontational. He didn’t like conflict, but given the way he was treated by the paparazzi and some people in the industry, he had a lot to be angry about. Sometimes it would come out. Most of the time, we worked for the sweet, gentle man who sang “Heal the World,” but every now and then we’d see the guy from “Scream.”
One afternoon in the spring of 2007, Mr. Jackson was on Bill’s cell phone for a conference call with his manager and his lawyer. We heard a loud crash in the security trailer and ran around to the kitchen to see that he’d hurled the phone through the plate glass door, shattering it into a thousand pieces. He had his head in his hands, saying, “They’re all devils. I should have my father come and kick their asses.” Then he offered to buy Bill a new cell phone.
There was one other occasion, in Washington, DC, when Mr. Jackson saw a security camera that he thought was taking secret video footage of his children. “Lost his temper” doesn’t begin to describe his reaction, but for that you’ll need to read the book.
MJJC: How often did Friend and Flower visit Michael? Have you heard from either of them since the memorial?
Bill & Javon: Friend and Flower only visited while we were staying in Virgina, and separately of course. Since the memorial, Bill has occasionally communicated with Flower via email, usually around the anniversary of Mr. Jackson’s passing or on his birthday.
MJJC: Did he appear healthy/ready for the This Is It concert? Was he scared? Apprehensive? Didn’t want to do it but had to commit?
Bill & Javon: For the most part, Mr. Jackson always appeared in good health, but he often mentioned that he wasn’t up for the same kind of rigorous, athletic performances he gave during the Bad and Dangerous tours. He was fifty years old, and some of those years were pretty rough on him. His voice was in great shape, as amazing as ever, but these promoters were making physical demands that he knew he couldn’t live up to. When the idea was floated of doing fifty shows, we heard him on the phone saying, “I can’t do fifty shows.” He said it like these people were crazy even for asking him to do it. But whatever was going on with his business affairs, he’d been backed into a corner where he was being told he had no choice. It was not something he did with great enthusiasm.
MJJC: You said you spoke with Michael just before he died. Did he seem happy? Can you talk about your last phone call with him? What is the last thing that Michael said to you?
Bill & Javon: Our last conversations with Mr. Jackson were just brief calls about everyday, work-related matters. Nothing terribly significant was said, because nobody knew what was going to happen. Javon’s last conversation with Mr. Jackson was several weeks before he passed; Mr. Jackson called to check up on some things he had in storage in Las Vegas and asked how Javon’s family was doing, which he always did. Bill’s last conversation with Mr. Jackson came a few days before his passing. He seemed to be in good spirits. We were in Vegas, working on plans for security at the London estate, and Mr. Jackson called because he said he wanted us in LA and wanted to make arrangements for us to get there. We didn’t get to LA in time.
MJJC: What do you miss most about him?
Bill & Javon: We mostly miss the quiet, simple moments, just watching him enjoy life as a father, like watching him trying to comb Paris’s hair and not doing it that well, or telling Blanket not to wander off, or helping Prince and Paris with their little sibling spats. We also miss taking long rides with him and just talking about whatever came up. He’d ask us to turn the radio down and he’d ask us about our families and how our kids were doing. We’d see a girl walking up the street and he’d ask if we thought she was cute and if we said she wasn’t our type he’d say we needed glasses ‘cause she was fine. We also miss the excitement of being around him and never knowing what the day would bring.
MJJC: Finally, is there any message you want to send to the members of MJJCommunity and Michael Jackson fans in general?
Bill & Javon: The fans should know that, other than Mr. Jackson’s mother and his children, they were the number one priority in his life. He always cherished the support they gave him through all the ups and downs, and he loved them for never turning their back on him. He always knew that without the fans, there would be no King of Pop. He owed it all to you. And we owe you, too. As stated in the book, there would be no book without the support and love of Mr. Jackson’s fans. We wrote Remember the Time for you. It feels good knowing we are supported, and without you none of this would have been possible. Much love to all of Mr. Jackson’s fans and supporters.
Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days is on sale June 3rd in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It will be available in India on June 15th.
Visit Bill & Javon at: