Burning questions about king of pop linger for fans, family


By Andy Goldberg

Los Angeles, June 28 (DPA) The enigma that surrounded Michael Jackson's life continued in his mysterious death as his family gathered at their compound Saturday in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino to demand answers from the doctor who was with the singer when he died.

"When did the doctor come? What did he do? Did they inject him, if so, with what?" asked civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, after meeting with the grieving family.

Outside the walled compound, fans had questions too.

"We grew up with Michael - it's like we are his family too," said Linda Hunt, 35. "How could the people who were close to him, the people who were looking after him, how could they let this happen?"

Her daughter, Hailey, 12, observed: "People are saying that he was in great condition for his comeback shows - and then he drops dead. The whole thing just doesn't make sense."

Across town at ground zero of the public mourning for Michael Jackson, Geraldine Hughes was not having a good day. The self-described "street missionary" - who tries to keep kids out of gangs in the rougher districts of Los Angeles - was braving the midday heat a few metres from the Michael Jackson star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She stood by a box of books she had written more than years ago about the pop superstar, but no-one seemed interested in buying.

"Twenty bucks, or 25 (dollars) if you want a signed copy," her brother shouted to the crowd.

Business was hardly better for the dozens of other vendors trying to hawk newly printed Michael Jackson memorial T-shirts for $10. But Hughes wasn't discouraged.

"This book proves he was innocent," she said. "That's what's so horrible. His whole life he was set up and framed."

As she spoke, a steady stream of visitors filed past the makeshift shrine that had grown around the star - a small mound of flowers, teddy bears, cards, posters, candles, rosaries and, bizarrely, a flat-panel TV screen.

But there was nothing like the crush that had brought traffic on the surrounding streets to a halt a day earlier, and in their cordoned off area in the road, relieved TV crews were packing up their equipment after two days in the broiling LA sun.

Hughes has a unique perspective on the travails that marred Jackson's life. Sixteen years ago, she was a legal secretary for the lawyer representing the 13-year-old boy who sued the pop superstar for child molestation in a case that was never brought to court, with Jackson settling for millions of dollars.

"It sounds funny to say it now, but this story is only just beginning," said Hughes, 50.

She recounted how mainstream publishers had never wanted to publish the book, and how TV stations had ignored her evidence for years.

"They didn't want to know. They were making too much money trying to show a dirty side to Michael Jackson," Hughes said. "But that boy wasn't a child molester."

Now, she claims to be close to finalising a film deal: "Only now they want my book. It's such a shame."

According to Hughes, the bizarre behaviour that has led many to label Jackson a kind of "manboy" was little more than an exaggerated version of the midlife crisis other men have.

"They buy open-top sports cars and leave their wives. Michael liked other kinds of toys. So what? You have to remember that he needed to create his own world because normal society would not let him in," she said.

Hughes said that her contacts with the family had corroborated the concern that Jackson's father Joe had expressed about the people who were surrounding the reclusive pop idol, and who according to speculation had been allowing a regime of powerful pain killers.

"Michael was dulling his senses, but no one did what was necessary," she said.

"But maybe it was all part of Michael's plan. Now people are listening to his music. They are discovering him through his music, through his message of love, rather than through the lies and smears put out by hateful people."