Media always paid a lot of attention to rumors about Michael Jackson’s personal life, his financial troubles and lawsuits thrown at him, issues of his skin color and plastic surgeries. Sometimes they were generous enough to write about his music. But very rarely did the media report on what Michael considered his main mission and purpose on Earth – on his efforts to help suffering and unfortunate children. This side of Jackson’s activity remained unpopular with the press – partly because Michael himself never flaunted his charitable acts. He believed that by publicizing a good deed you are devaluing it – that’s why he never invited journalists to cover his charitable efforts and never talked about them on press-conferences (unless it was required for raising money for a good cause). And only because media followed him relentlessly, there were occasional reports about his visits to hospitals and orphanages. But many testimonies to his kindness were never printed in newspapers or filmed by TV crews. They remained known only to live witnesses of those events – to people, some of which spoke about their experience with Michael Jackson for the first time after his passing.
This article is a compilation of stories of people who received help from Michael Jackson. Often, these are touching and sad stories. Stories that show the side of the artist rarely seen by the general public.
Leslie Robinette was 6 years old when she first met Michael Jackson. An ailing little girl with barely any hair and a swollen stomach, Robinette suffered then, as now, from aplastic anemia caused by the genetic disease fanconi anemia, which she describes as being “like a little Pac-Man going after all your bone marrow.” Robinette received a bone marrow transplant, which at the time was an experimental surgery. She was one of the youngest to ever have the procedure. She went through chemotherapy, radiation and an ever-changing plethora of medications. But worst of all, she was kept in isolation for three months. She spoke to her sisters through walkie-talkies, and only her mother was allowed in the room. Doctors told the family they had done all they could do, but her condition just wasn’t improving. “After you go through all of that, you just get tired and want to go home; you kind of give up the fight,” Robinette said.
She listened to her favorite group, The Jackson 5, on a sterilized record player doctors allowed her to have.
On March 7, she received her first visitor. “I was sitting in my room looking out the window, ironically listening to ‘Looking Through the Window’ by the Jackson 5, when I heard all the nurses going wild and carrying on,” Robinette said. She looked through the plate-glass that was her only connection to the busy hospital and saw The Jackson 5 standing there. “They asked me which one I wanted to see, and I said I wanted to see Michael – he was the cute one,” Robinette said, laughing.
Jackson was only 15. She described the teenage Jackson as obviously shy but incredibly kind and sincere. He gave her an autographed picture, held her hand and asked her how she was doing. “It had been so long since I’d touched someone not wearing gloves, and I saw hair instead of just a green cap with eyeballs peeking out,” said Robinette.
After that visit, Robinette started getting better. “I would never say that he saved her life – that’s crazy – but he gave her back a little of her will to live because she had lost it,” said Trine Robinette, 49, Leslie’s sister.
When Leslie was 17, she met Jackson again. The Jackson 5’s Victory Tour came to Knoxville in August 1984 for a two-night concert that was extended a third night because of its popularity. Leslie Robinette received free tickets to the concerts, and on the third night, she went backstage to meet the whole Jackson gang. She brought Michael Jackson a hand-written birthday card. “I asked him if he remembered me, and he said yes. We talked about my singing in chorus and how I was getting my back brace off soon,” Robinette said.
When Robinette left Seattle Children’s Hospital three months after her first meeting with Jackson, doctors said she might live 10 years. Still struggling with her disease, she is less than 4 feet tall and weighs about 60 pounds, but she is now 42 and lives an active life.
In 1984, 14-year-old David Smithee, who was terminally ill with cystic fibrosis, met Jackson at his California home. The visit was part of a weeklong California trip for David made possible by a nonprofit organization that fulfilled the dreams of terminally ill children. During the afternoon visit at Jackson’s Encino, Calif., home, David watched a movie with Jackson in his home theater, played video games and learned how to moonwalk. Of the video games, David said, “I played two games with him and beat him both times.”
The visit was topped off with Jackson giving David the red leather jacket he had worn in the “Beat It” video and a beaded glove he had worn to the American Music Awards, where he collected eight awards. David wore the jacket and glove on the plane home, his mother recalled. “He was just in heaven,” she said.
David went straight to the hospital after arriving home. While in the hospital, he showed visitors the jacket, glove and pictures of himself and Jackson. David died one month later. “Michael Jackson gave us the happiest last month of our lives,” his mother said. “(David) died very happy.”
The visit must have made an impact on Jackson, too; he later dedicated the Jacksons’ “Victory” album to David.
14-year-old Donna Ashlock from California had a romantic and tragic story. The girl suffered from a heart disease, and a classmate who had a crush on her wanted her to have his heart in the event of his death. Ironically, he died from a stroke a few weeks later, and his heart was a good match for Donna.
After having had the heart-transplant, Donna got a call from Michael Jackson. He had heard that she was a big fan of his. Michael invited her to his home as soon as she was feeling better. The visit took place on March 8th. Donna stayed for dinner and watched a movie together with Michael.
Unfortunately, Donna’s body rejected the transplant, and she passed away three years later.
In 1987, Michael Jackson meets 4-year old wounded Angela Darlington and her mother in Melbourne Children’s Hospital.
The mother of the girl has this to say on the visit 21 years later: “My daughter, Angela, was in hospital with head injuries after being hit by a car. One day we were told by the nurses that Michael Jackson was coming to visit. We had to keep it a secret, so the hospital wasn’t overwhelmed with fans. There was a big flurry, as his assistants handed out T-shirts and signed copies of his Bad album to everyone on the ward. Then he just walked around and talked to the patients. […]
I said hello. He said he was pleased to meet me. I was gobsmacked. He was very gentle and seemed shy. I got the sense he had a deep love for children, especially those who’d been hurt. Then he crouched down and said ‘Hello, Angela’. She couldn’t talk, because she’d just come out of a coma, but she started smiling. After that day, she started to get better. I think of him as an inspiration. We’d been having a terrible time – Angela was in hospital and I’d been ringing Lifeline to keep myself together, but he was a total inspiration for the whole ward. I thought: ‘Thank God for sending him’. He just had a presence about him – this great empathy with people who needed to get better.
Now, Angela is 25, at university and full of life. There was another boy on the ward who was about 15 and was a huge fan. After Michael’s visit, he started getting better too. His mom thought it was a miracle. I believe many of the children got better after meeting him. I think people should know about this side of Michael. I’ve never believed he was anything but a good person.”
In 1989, Michael met an HIV-positive boy Ryan White. Ryan became a national symbol for HIV/AIDS in the United States after he was expelled from school because of his illness. The boy suffered from hemophilia and was infected through a blood transfusion (HIV was not widespread at that time, and donor blood was not commonly checked for the virus).
Michael and Ryan became friends: they often talked on the phone, and Ryan visited Neverland ranch several times. Trips to California gave him strength to live and fight the disease.
In April 1990, Ryan was hospitalized and the doctors said his chances of survival were low. Having heard that Ryan was in critical condition, Michael immediately flew to Indianapolis. Unfortunately by the time he arrived, his friend had already passed away.
Michael visited White’s house to express condolences to the family. Ryan’s red Mustang – a gift from Michael – was parked in the driveway, and the CD player was paused on song “Man In The Mirror”. It was the last song Ryan listened to.
Michael dedicated song “Gone Too Soon” from his next album to Ryan.
Nicholas Killen lost eyesight at the age of 6 after a surgery that saved his life. A rare form of retina cancer attacked the boy’s eyes one after the other. The last person Nicholas saw was his mother Susan who was allowed to stay in the operating room.
1.5 months after the surgery, on August 16, 1992, Nicholas met his idol Michael Jackson who visited Leeds with his Dangerous World Tour. The boy beamed with happiness. Michael shook his hand, hugged him and gave him a baseball cap that had an embossment in Braille, “To Nicholas with love, Michael Jackson.”
Unfortunately just a few days after the meeting, the house of Killen family was destroyed by a fire, and the boy lost not only all his toys, but also Michael’s present. Michael found out about the accident from Sony people and sent two new baseball caps and a Dangerous tour jacket to Nicholas. “They’re great,” Nicholas said trying on the new caps. “I knew Michael was my friend and I want to thank him very much.”
At the tender age of 8, David Sonnet’s life forever changed when he suffered a brain aneurysm. While he was unable to write or talk, he could communicate through a device which helped him convey his thoughts through a specialized computer. David was granted his wish when he was invited to Neverland Ranch in Nov. of 1992. One of only four kids to go to Neverland Ranch with Make-A-Wish foundation (which was sponsored by Sony), Sonnet met his hero on Nov. 25. David was given a “Beat It” jacket from a local charity, which he wore for this special encounter.
Michael came down from the second floor of his Neverland home and made a bee-line for David who was on the first floor saddled in a wheelchair. He said to the excited youngster, “I see you have my jacket on.” Because David was unable to talk or walk, although he did try getting out of his chair, the two shared an “I Love You” in sign language.
David gave Michael a stuffed lion and a picture of himself. Michael told him that he would keep the photo in his room.
Later David wrote to Michael on various occasions and sent him a wedding card when Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. Michael would write back and include photos and other personal mementos.
David died in 2004. Things given to him by Michael were recently sold at an auction.
During their visit to a children hospital in Budapest in 1994, Michael Jackson and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley saw little Bela Farkas who needed a liver transplant. Bela was orphaned, his mother had abandoned him at birth, and the boy had no chance for recovery. His life was saved by a surgery that Michael and his foundation ‘Heal The World’ paid for.
Michael and Bela in 1996, during Michael’s next visit to Budapest:
Adrian Grant, the author of “Michael Jackson, The Visual Documentary”, recalls, “I once asked Michael what he considered to be his greatest achievement. ‘Saving Bella’s life was definitely one of the most important moments in my life,’ said Michael honestly.”
Today Bela Farkas is alive and doing well. Recently he became a father of a beautiful newborn girl. He avoids publicity, but when Michael died, he said the following words to the media: “I know who Michael Jackson is, and I know that I owe him my life.” More about Bela’s story – in article “Why did you choose me?”
Daniele Parisi, a boy from Latina, Italy, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 8. The virus was transmitted from his biological mother. Daniele was a big fan of Michael Jackson and in 1997, when he was 14, he had the opportunity to attend a concert of the HIStory World Tour in Milan on June 18.
During the concert, a team member gave Daniele a gift bag including the tour program. Towards the end of the concert, during the song “Heal the World”, Michael went to Daniele who was sitting in a chair unable to walk due to weakness caused by his illness, knelt before him and filled his hands with kisses. Then he picked him up and walked to center stage posing for several photos.
After this experience, Daniele health has noticeably improved so fast that the doctors called it “a miracle”. It was as if Michael had given him a few years of life. Daniele started to walk again — sometimes even running — eating better (gaining weight), but most importantly of all, he gained self-confidence to keep fighting and keep going. Unfortunately, Daniele died two years later from a brain infection due to influenza. His adoptive mother later recalled:
“Our meeting at the concert in San Siro 18 June 1997 was magical and marvelous. Michael met us in his dressing room decorated in red, with a large mirror and lights around it. He seemed thin and frail, but he possessed sweetness and infinite humility. He wore a white shirt with black pants and his hair was loose, locks falling on his shoulders. What a vision it was for Daniele! Michael was very attentive and bent to Daniele with his hands folded… He left many autographs for him and his friends in Latin America. His bodyguards took Daniele up on stage where he could watch the fantastic concert. But the best moment was when Michael took Daniele on the stage with him in his arms, in front of 40 thousand people.”
In 2005, during the difficult time for Jackson, the boy’s mother sent him a letter of support:
“I’ll never forget what you did for my son, Daniele. After meeting you, the doctors called it a miracle, because for some months it was like he never had AIDS […] My child is not here with us anymore, but I know that from up there he’s always looking over you. He’s never forgotten what you did for him. God bless you,
“Neverland is Disneyland meets the San Diego Zoo, gates open wide to a steady stream of children. Some youngsters were fighting off cancer, others were bussed in from inner city schools to enjoy a day of rapture, and all were rendered speechless by the personal attention that Michael gives to each and every child. One 10-year-old child, ashamed to take off his hat and reveal his chemo-ravaged bald head, finally removed the covering after Michael spent a day building up his confidence.”
– Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson’s friend
That 10-year-old boy, Gavin Arvizo, suffered from a severe form of cancer. He lost his kidney and spleen and went through several cycles of chemotherapy. It was his last wish to meet Michael Jackson.
After spending time with Michael, he was able to miraculously beat the disease. He is alive and well today; he recently got married.
As evident from these stories, Michael Jackson was a man of exceptional kindness and empathy. But what also deserves to be mentioned in this context, is his courage. The courage to become a voluntary witness to one tragedy after another, heartbreaking scenes that a rare person is able to handle without stepping out and turning away. The courage to carry on, withholding pain and emotions, and continue doing what he considered to be his purpose in life – bringing a smiles to the faces of dying children and granting their last wish.
Michael’s friend, artist David Nordahl once asked him, “Michael, how can you do that? How can you spend the time with these children who are dying and then go from that, on stage and give that kind of performance?” Michael said, “How could I not? If these children want to see me. I know I’m not important, but Michael Jackson the superstar is, and if I can make a child live an extra minute or an hour or a day or a month, then wouldn’t that be worth it?”