Michael’s 1997 Barbara Walters Interview: Sad, Prophetic and Tender

Image(c) Steve Finn/ABC/Retna Ltd./Corbis

Michael Was At His Most Adorable In The '97 Barbara Walters Interview. But Behind The Smile, Also At His Most Sad And Vulnerable.

In September of 1997, just a few weeks after the tragic death of Princess Diana, Michael sat down with Barbara Walters at the George V Hotel in Paris, France. He talked about dealing with the press, fatherhood, what life was like from inside the fishbowl that had made up his world since childhood-and about his own premonition of death.

I had been thinking about this interview for awhile, and with all the negative stuff that has been in the news lately, it seemed a good time to revisit and reflect on Michael’s words. I have seen a lot of his interviews, but there is something about the raw vulnaerability of this one that always gets to me. So I thought I would go back and look at some of the highlights from this interview. You can read the entire interview transcript at:


The interview kicks off, interestingly and eerily enough, with a reminder from Walters who says that with the passing of Princess Diana, there is only one celebrity left who can possibly understand what that level of fame is like:

Barbara: Up until last week the most photographed people in the world were Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. Now only one remains to talk about what it means to live under that kind of scrutiny…

Re-reading those words now, I couldn’t help but reflect on the truth and sadness of them. Yes, only one remained who could talk about “what it means to live under that kind of scrutiny” but in the end, it all caught up with him and killed him, too. I remember someone (I am fairly certain it was Diana’s brother, but don’t quote me on that-it’s been too long ago) saying that Diana was like a deer chased down by hunters. Michael, too, was a hunted animal. If you watch his body language in the interview, his whole demeanor is that of a hunted deer caught in the headlights, cornered; perhaps even wounded, but still fighting; still running; still trying with everything he had to lash back. He even uses the animal metaphor to apply to himself and his relation with the press:

“You should not say, “He’s an animal…he’s a…” You should not say, “He’s Jacko.” I’m not a ‘Jacko’. I’m Jackson.”-Michael Jackson, to Barabara Walters.

In one of the interview’s most revealing moments, Michael confessed that he thought he would be the next one to die. Just as with the oft-quoted statement he allegedly made to Lisa Marie, that he would end up like her dad, it seemed Michael had been living for quite some time-at least since the mid 90′s-with the shadow hanging over his head. Contrary to what some of the tabloids will say, I don’t buy for a minute that he was suicidal or had a “death wish” or anything of the sort. But I think he had, for many years, lived with an uneasy premonition that his death WOULD occur young, that it WOULD be under tragic circumstances, and that, for him, there WOULD  be need for concern as to how his legacy and relationship with the press would affect the lives of his children once he was gone. (At the time, Prince was still an only child, but Paris was on the way).

Barbara: How did you hear of her death?
Michael: Um…I woke up (in a quiet and reflective voice) and my doctor gave me the news. And I fell back down in grief, and I started to cry. The pain…I felt inner pain, in my stomach, and in my chest. (his voice starts to break slightly) So, I said, “I can’t handle this…it’s too much.” Just the message and the fact that I knew her personally. Then on top of that one I said, “There’s another one…real soon…I feel it coming…there’s another one….it’s another one coming and I pray it’s not me…please don’t let it be me.” And then Mother Theresa came…
Barbara: Are you psychic…is that what you’re saying?
Michael: I don’t want to say that, but I’ve done it before.
Barbara: And you thought it might be you?
Michael: Yes. (looks down at his folded hands) I’ve been living that kind of life all my life. The tabloid press…that kind of press…not the press…the tabloids, the paparazzi, that type. I’ve been running for my life like that, hiding, getting away. You can’t go that way ’cause they’re over there…well lets go this way and pretend we’re going that way…and we’ll go that way. Someone should say, “Hold on! Stop! This person deserves their privacy. You’re not allowed to go in there!” I go around the world dealing with running and hiding. You can’t…I can’t take a walk in the park…I can’t go in the store…you can’t…I have to hide in the room. You feel like you’re in prison.

In the past months, I’ve often seen criticisms of Michael for selling Prince’s baby photos to the tabloids. These “critics” will say, If he was always so concerned about his childrens’ privacy, and so against the tabloids as he claimed, why did he do it? Well, there is an old saying among my people that you can’t judge a man (or woman, either) until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. Few of us really have an inkling of what it’s like to live with that level of fame, nor the things it can drive you to do just to buy a little peace.

Barbara: You have said, “I grew up in a fishbowl. I will not allow that to happen to my son.” Yet, when your son was born, you sold pictures to the National Enquirer and to other European papers, tabloids. Why did you do that?
Michael: Why?
Barbara: Why?
Michael: Because there was a race. There were some illegal pictures out. Illegally, somebody had taken pictures of a baby…millions of dollars…said, “Here’s Michael’s son.”
Barbara: And it wasn’t, as I recall.
Michael: And it wasn’t. So, I took pictures of the baby. I said, “They’re forcing me to get his pictures.” There’s helocopters flying above us…flying over my house…flying over the hospital, um, machines and satellites all over. Even the hospital said, “Michael, we’ve had every kind of celebrity here…but we’ve never had it like this. This is unbelievable.” And so I said, “Here, take it.” And I gave the money to charity
Barbara: So, rather than…what you’re saying is…what you did was to get them off your back.
Michael: Yeah…and now they want to do it again…and I don’t want..maybe I don’t want to show him to the world like that. I want him to have some space…where he can go to school. I don’t want him to be called “Wacko Jacko” that’s not nice. They call the father that. That isn’t nice…right?
Barbara: You said you don’t want your child to be called “wacko jacko’s son”. How are you going to prevent it, so they don’t do it to him?
Michael: That’s the thing…that’s the idea. Maybe you should come up with a plan to help me.
Barbara: You’re his daddy.
Michael: There you go. They created that. Did they ever think I would have a child one day…that I have a heart? It’s hurting my heart. Why pass it on to him?

Image (c) Steve Fenn/ABC/Retna Ltd./Corbis

Michael Was Coy When Pressed With The Question Of Whether He Wanted More Kids...Little Did We Know That Paris Was Only A Little More Than 6 Months Away!


That part of the interview really tugs at the heart because it reminds me so much of the things that have indeed come to pass since his murder, and what is being done now to his children. I see it happening, just as he predicted. Just today, on one of the forums, I saw a tabloid story posted about how Paris had cried after seeing the story about her dad and Jason Pfeiffer on the internet. You can see it in the way the media has reacted to their leaked webcam videos. You want to scream, “They are just babies…leave them alone!”

One has to wonder, did Michael, in fact, spend the last decade of his life with these thoughts always in the back of his mind: What’s going to happen if I have to leave my kids? What kind of legacy will they inherit as the children of Michael Jackson (or “Wacko Jacko” as he must have thought bitterly at least a million times). I’m sure he didn’t plan on leaving them at age 50. But like most parents who start their families late in life, there must have always been the nagging fear of “What if I can’t stick around long enough to see this through?” As a single parent, it had to have been an even more heavy burden on his mind and heart. In most family units, you can pretty much bank on at least one parent still being there, should something happen to one of them.

But Michael didn’t exactly have that option. True, it was by his own choice. But it was what it was.

Every time I see this interview, I come away feeling sad for him on the one hand, yet also with renewed admiration for his tender spirit and the love he expresses for his son and children-to-be.

One of my favorite answers he gives is when Barbara asks him what he would say if his son wanted to be a performer.

Barbara: Michael, if this little boy says, “Daddy, I want to go on stage.”
Michael: (laughs and slaps his leg)
Barbara: After what you’ve been through?
Michael: I’d say, “Hold on, now. Hold on. If you do go that way, expect this…expect this…expext that.” (counts on his fingers)
Barbara: You’d lay it all out?
Michael: I’d lay it all out. I’d say, “See you’re gonna get all this, (points to one of the cameras) and all this (points to another camera) and all this (points to a third camera) You ready to do that?” “Yeah, I can’t wait.” Then I would say, “Go…and do it better than I did.”

The interview can be seen in two parts:

Part 1


Part 2




Comments: 8 Comments

8 Responses to “Michael’s 1997 Barbara Walters Interview: Sad, Prophetic and Tender”

  1. Squish says:

    Most adorable is correct. Look at that smile! But the sadness…it’s mixed emotions watching this one.
    I love the outtake when Barbara asks him if Debbie is pregnant; he gets so embarrassed and jumpy. “Can I say I’m not sure?” Awwww. :)

  2. mjangel says:

    I just can stop my tears again………..and again,I see the sadness in his beautiful yes…….
    Words can never say , how much I miss Michael eveyday……….

  3. Cherry says:

    Aaaw, you are right Raven, this is where he is at his most adorable in an interview since the old days. But yes, the sadness is there. Look at his face when Barabara criticizes him for his looks, the way he dresses etc., he is tugging at his jacket…his eyes look…I can’t even describe it. He looks really alone and wounded in that moment.
    But so sweet the way he talks about Prince. And I love how he says “Hold on now”! :D

    Great interview, really.

    The other interview that I’ve come to really love is the one with MTV in 1999. That feels like he’s going back to his roots. At first I didn’t like the way he looked there so much but no I can’t stop watching this interview and just listening to his voice and staring at him…

  4. admin says:

    I know. If I were sitting there asking him that question, I would have had to at least say something like, “Don’t get me wrong, you look adorable” to take the sting out of it a little bit. His eccentricities in the way he dressed, etc was part of what made him unique. Do we really want our celebrities to look like the people next door? Michael understood the magic of mystique and the appeal of being unique. If you quizzed a hundred people and asked them, “Who was known for wearing one glove and glittery socks?” every one of them would know instantly that the answer is Michael Jackson. But nobody remembers what Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown or Usher wore last year.

  5. Cherry says:

    Totally, she sounds so patronizing in that moment, so superior. And he looks absolutely gorgeous, clothes look well on him. I love those pants, especially at the end when he walks out. I also love the shoes he wears. There is such a natural grace about him. So what about the way he dresses?? I really don’t remember what Usher, Justin T. oder Chris Brown have ever worn and I don’t care because it’s all been there before. I love the way that Michael knew how to play with wonderment and magic and mystery because he himself loved it so much.

    The way he looks…well this has been discussed over and over ever since he got his first nose job. She says that the media HAS to be tough sometimes and look into things, ha! I’m sure he did regret some of the plastic surgery later on and the last thing he needed was the medialoid constantly making jokes about his nose or his skin. Anyway, I’ll stop here before I put myself into a rager over Barabara Walters…
    It’s a great interview because he is so bambi-like in it, that’s all that matters.

  6. Cherry says:

    Oh, I see a German word slipped in there, haha! :D I meant to write “or” but it became “oder” because that’s “or” in German, sorry about that!

  7. Daryn says:

    The way Barbara was speaking to Michael seemed to me like she was mocking him. What I got from her was that she was almost looking down on him , like this guy is really unbeliveable or stupid. Just her body language, expressions, and tone make me angry because there were really
    adorable answers, and illustrations, that Michael did and she didn’t even respond. It’s like she tried to keep herself from smiling when he did cute stuff by asking a tough question, trying to break him.

    Now the way she portrays herself on the view is almost similar. She’ll barely speak on Michael or about him unless it’s in someway negative like bringing up his abusive childhood, or his murder. I haven’t heard her say any uplifting thing about him. It’s always something somber or a
    negative issue or topic that surrounds him.
    I think very low of her.

  8. Susan says:

    Hi Raven and friends;

    You can see the absolute joy in Michael’s face as he speaks of his son. His whole demeanor changed! I love how he talks with his hands and his sound effects. Michael is a song.

    When Miss Walters says that it’s not the media’s job to be kind – well maybe so – but they don’t have to be so cruel either; and it would also help if they would tell the truth, occasionally.

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