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MJ: I want to go out like Elvis

By Arthur J Pais
June 29, 2009 16:10 IST
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Michael Jackson and Deepak Chopra'If the media calls me weird, what word would the media have for so many things going on around us,' Michael Jackson once asked his friend, the holistic guru and best-selling author Deepak Chopra. 'People think my behavior is weird. Isn't the world more weird?'

Chopra had introduced the poetry of sufi poet Rumi and Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore to Michael Jackson, not to forget meditation.

He had also helped the pop star produce Dancing the Dream in 1992. It was a collection of poems and essays that discussed issues like world hunger, homeless children and world peace. He introduced Grace Rwamba to Jackson, who would become his children's nanny and surrogate mother. 

Chopra says he cannot forget the anguish in his friend's voice as Jackson discussed the word 'weird.'

"He talked about what was happening in Sudan," Chopra continued. "He talked about global warming. He felt the cruelty in Sudan, the degradation of the environment, and he was convinced that those things were far more weird than his own alleged weirdness.

"He was a very delicate person, a very innocent soul," added Chopra whose advice is sought by some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Nicolas Cage. "I have never seen him get angry and say a bad thing about anyone."

But Chopra also watched, with certain amount of helplessness, the self-destructive side of the singer. His son Gotham Chopra had traveled at the age of 13 with Jackson as a roadie on his Dangerous tour.

'Will it matter that Michael behaved with discipline and impeccable manners around my son?' Chopra mused in a blog. 'It sends a shiver to recall something he told Gotham: 'I don't want to go out like Marlon Brando. I want to go out like Elvis.''

Chopra's admiration for Jackson included the performer as well.

"As a performer and singer, Michael was unsurpassed," said Chopra. "He took millions of people, including my children and me, into an ecstatic state. He had many great qualities as an individual and I have always felt he was greatly misunderstood, and many people were not fully aware of a Jackson who really cared for his fellow beings."

Since Jackson's death, Chopra has been besieged by the media. In an exclusive interview with Rediff, he talked at length on how some people, who lead complicated lives, resist holistic advice.

Chopra also spent quite a bit of time looking at the positive side of Jackson. "He was very concerned about nature and ecology and thought deeply about man's relationship with nature," Chopra said, adding that he had given Jackson a copy of Tagore's Gitanjali.

Chopra remembers how, many years ago, after an exhausting performance in Bucharest, Jackson sat backstage with Chopra chatting about Sufi poetry. Tagore soon joined the list of writers Jackson admired. "He was reading a poem by Tagore when we talked the last time, just about two weeks ago," Chopra said

Recently when Jackson and Chopra chatted at the former's request to discuss the lyrics for a new composition, the singer and performer talked about creating a spiritual relationship with the nature. "It was like, we ought to look at the world as the extension of ourselves," Chopra mused.

And yet Chopra confesses, he had watched with sadness, Jackson's inability to overcome his deep psychological problems, and even as he remembers Jackson for his humanity and exuberance, he adds that he had felt the tragedy lurking behind the singer for a long time.

"And that is why I wrote in my blog my heartfelt feelings," Chopra added. He wrote: 'Michael Jackson will be remembered, most likely, as a shattered icon, a pop genius who wound up a mutant of fame. That's not who I will remember, however. His mixture of mystery, isolation, indulgence, overwhelming global fame, and personal loneliness was intimately known to me. For 20 years I observed every aspect, and as easy as it was to love Michael -- and to want to protect him -- his sudden death yesterday seemed almost fated.'

He sees in Jackson's troubles life lessons for celebrities. Jackson, he says, became a victim to the image the media crafted, and fell prey to doctors who were merciless in the pursuit of their high living. 'He was surroundered by enablers,' Chopra writes on his Website, 'including a shameful plethora of MDs.'

"Addiction is the number one disease of the civilization," he mused, as he discussed Jackson's dependence on painkillers. "You can't blame the addict but instead, we ought to look into the complex situations that create addicts. Addictions have cost the lives of many people in the entertainment industry. Jimi Hendrix and Heath Ledger among them. Addiction cost Michael dearly. And the ravages of addictions just won't stop unless we seriously address the root causes, and make sure the medical establishment won't make the situation worse by its prescription drugs.

"With hindsight, one could say this could have been done or he could have behaved differently or sought different advisers. But the situation (with Jackson) was incredibly complicated," he added.

Recent studies have shown in the case of adults who were physically or sexually abused as children, a number of intense psychological problems lead to trauma and illnesses, he added. In some cases, the pain is in the mind but the victim feels as if he is undergoing intense physical pain. Often, people like Jackson, who had a traumatic childhood, undergo a lot of self-loathing and shame, he added. 'They think of all the bad things that happened to them in their childhood and in adult life, and they ask themselves, what did we do to deserve this?'

Even success cannot help them overcome the self-loathing and shame, unless they go for holistic healing. But it has to be done consistently

Chopra's children, Gotham and Malika, adored Jackson, and in return, he responded in a childlike way. Jackson had also visited the Chopra home near San Diego.

'He declared often, as former child stars do, that he was robbed of his childhood,' Chopra wrote in his blog. 'Considering the monstrously exaggerated value our society places on celebrity, which was showered on Michael without stint, the public was callous to his very real personal pain. It became another tawdry piece of the tabloid Jacko, pictured as a weird changeling and as something far more sinister.'

Was Jackson's compulsion with cosmetic surgery a form of self-mutilation, Chopra wondered. "And then the media calls this compulsion bizarre," he added. "The behavior (of the person under media scrutiny) then becomes even more bizarre  It is a very tragic situation."

'Unbounded privilege became another toxic force in his undoing. What began as idiosyncrasy, shyness, and vulnerability was ravaged by obsessions over health, paranoia over security, and an isolation that grew more and more unhealthy,' Chopra wrote in his blog. 'When Michael passed me the music for that last song, the one sitting by my bedside waiting for the right words, the procedure for getting the CD to me rivaled a CIA covert operation in its secrecy.'

The most tragic thing that ever happened to Jackson was getting trapped in a web of prescription drugs, Chopra said.

Chopra, trained in Western medicine, has for many years criticized the medical establishment for doling out prescription drugs. He was reminded of an interview with India Abroad over 20 years ago where he had declared that the drug problem in America was not created by Colombians or Mexicans but doctors who liberally doled out prescription drugs.

"That continues today, and even very young children are given loads of prescription drugs," he said. "This is very shameful. Michael became a victim to this phenomenon.

"Some doctors are clearly narcissistic," he said. "Some of them develop codependency with the patients." He called them 'designer doctors' who 'just won't let their patients go.'

And the patients in turn start believing that not getting the prescribed drug 'would be suicidal,' Chopra added  "In fact, the drugs make your condition worse and this was also the case with Michael."

Jackson's dependency with prescription drugs could have started over a decade ago when he had been sued for sexual molestation of a young boy. Though he would be exonerated in the court, he suffered quite a bit of trauma, and began believing he was physically suffering too. He even asked Chopra for prescription drugs in 2005 and the holistic guru flatly refused. When Chopra pressed him over the dependency, Jackson became quite agitated, and then very defensive.

"I brought up the subject of drug use as recently as six months ago," he said.

Does he feel bad that he could not do more to help Jackson? "With hindsight, one can feel and say so many things," he said with a sigh. "In a way, this was coming, and it's frustrating that we couldn't do anything about it. But it is the person, who is suffering who should take the initiative and the people around him, the doctors who let him have the prescription drugs should have acted honorably."

He said in another interview: 'The problem has been going on for a long time but we didn't know what to do. There were attempts at intervention, and it didn't succeed.'

He also said Grace Rwamba, the nanny of Jackson's children repeatedly contacted him with concerns about Jackson's drug use but Jackson avoided his calls whenever the subject came up.

As many times as Jackson would candidly confess that he had a problem, the conversation always ended with a deflection and denial, Chopra said. As Chopra was writing his blog, the reports of Jackson's drug abuse were spreading across news channels. 'The instant I heard of his death this afternoon,' he wrote, 'I had a sinking feeling that prescription drugs would play a key part.'

Chopra and his family are trying to remember the humanity and music of Jackson but they are not glossing over his troubles and the price celebrities often pay. Chopra's thoughts are also very much with people who were close to Jackson and who are also known to Chopra.

'His children's nanny and surrogate mother, Grace Rwamba, is like another daughter to me,' he remembers in his blog. 'I introduced her to Michael when she was 18, a beautiful, heartwarming girl from Rwanda who is now grown up. She kept an eye on him for me and would call me whenever he was down or running too close to the edge. How heartbreaking for Grace that no one's protective instincts and genuine love could avert this tragic day.'

What were the closest moments Chopra has had with the late Jackson? Jackson wanted to produce a book to sell primarily as a concert souvenir, Chopra said, going back to the 1990s. "It would contain pictures for his fans but there would also be a text consisting of short fables," he recalled. "I sat with him for hours while he dreamily wove Aesop-like tales about animals, mixed with words about music and his love of all things musical. This project became Dancing the Dream after I pulled the text together for him, acting strictly as a friend. It was this time together that convinced me of the modus vivendi Michael had devised for himself: to counter the tidal wave of stress that accompanies mega-stardom, he built a private retreat in a fantasy world where pink clouds veiled inner anguish and Peter Pan was a hero, not a pathology."

Chopra introduced Jackson to his editor at Doubleday which published the book in 1992 with an impressive pressrun of 150,000 copies. The book was a success but Jackson felt it could have become a bigger success.

"There is renewed interest in the book now that he is gone," Chopra said. "The book could soon be reissued. There was a feeling that people did not really understand at the time what Michael was trying to show through the poems and reflections. It requires a higher consciousness to appreciate the thoughts in the book This time around people may look deeply into the book -- and into themselves."

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Arthur J Pais