WASHINGTON — Washington--Another unauthorized biography. Another no-holds-barred, warts-and-all portrait of a glitzy, high-profile, enigmatic figure. Another hefty tome of sex, lies and, in this case, videotapings. More luscious scandal. More good dirt.
But Michael Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, a white kid from Philly who used to dream of being one of the Temptations, wants to make one thing clear:
He's no Kitty Kelley.
On a tour to promote "Michael Jackson, The Magic and the Madness," Mr. Taraborrelli has heard it over and over again: "People like you and Kitty Kelley . . ."folks sneer. "Here comes another guy trying to make a fast buck at someone else's expense."
"I am not just another guy," insists the 34-year-old Californian, author of "Call Her Miss Ross" (about Diana Ross) as well as five other entertainment industry books. "I have a long history with this subject matter . . . I've interviewed Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. I've been out to the house. I have experiences with the subject that Kitty Kelley could not bring to her Nancy Reagan book or her Frank Sinatra book.
"This is not to say I don't have respect for Kitty Kelley because I do. The problem is this is not Kitty Kelley's finest hour. And I like to think it's mine."
For his 625-page biography, published earlier this month and already on at least one major bestseller list, the author says he interviewed 400 people and even hired a private detective to sniff out sources he'd been searching for and to help urge others, such as an ex-wife of brother Jackie Jackson, to tell all.
Obviously, many did. The book is so chock full of tales of unbridled ambition, abuse, betrayal, scheming and greed that one Jackson associate asked earlier this year if the author would XTC be interested in a cash settlement to squash publication, says Mr. Taraborrelli. And singer Stevie Wonder recently weighed in with his artistic assessment: "Randy Taraborrelli, get a life!"
Surprisingly, the life examined in "Michael Jackson" is not only that of the private, eccentric and mysteriously androgynous gloved one; the 32-year-old, $350 million entertainer who's had six nose jobs and a chin job, but no close relationships. It's also the story of the entire Jackson family and even, to a certain extent, the larger Motown family.
In fact, believes Mr. Taraborrelli, the Jackson family -- specifically patriarch Joe Jackson who reportedly smacked his children (especially Michael) around, had numerous affairs and one illegitimate child -- is at the root of Michael Jackson's bizarre personality and lifestyle.
"The Jackson family is quite dysfunctional," claims Mr. Taraborrelli, former editor and publisher of Soul magazine. "People want to know, 'Why is he so weird?' This is why he's so weird."
For instance, the repeated plastic surgeries, including the cleft carved into his chin, are not an attempt to mirror the singer's one-time idol Diana Ross as much as an attempt to look less like the father with whom he's always feuded, says the author.
And the reports of the superstar's sleeping in an oxygen chamber to retard aging, buying the Elephant Man's remains and trying to talk with his pet chimp Bubbles were all media hoaxes Michael and his associates engineered to get attention -- a skill he started honing at age 8.
"He doesn't like it when anyone becomes more famous than he is," says Mr. Taraborrelli.
But he believes the performer also creates these gimmicks as a smoke screen. "I think it's a diversion so people don't get too close."
Perhaps the foggiest smoke screen of all -- the question that remains unanswered -- surrounds Michael Jackson's sexuality. "He's a master of illusion and I think he wants people to question that," says the biographer of a man who once called a press conference to announce that he was not gay -- but failed to show up for it.
The subject is a theme in the book, as it's been in Michael Jackson's life since the late '70s when he was rumored to be undergoing a sex change so he could marry actor Clifton Davis.
"I interviewed people who feel he's gay. I interviewed people who feel he's straight," says Mr. Tarabor relli, who interviewed the singer himself in 1978, '79 and '80. "I feel he's probably asexual. My speculation is he's not having relationships with anybody because of the way he feels about the relationships he's seen within his own family. Not one of them has really worked out well."
The author says he ran across men who claimed to have had sexual relations with Mr. Jackson, but didn't find them credible enough to include in his book.
The entertainer "may have something going on that none of us knows about," says Mr. Taraborrelli. "Maybe one day I'll find out about it -- and then I'll update this book."
Known as the "Call-Her-Miss-Ross-guy" because of his naughty bio of Diana Ross, Mr. Taraborrelli also has written books about Cher, Carol Burnett and his first fascination, Motown.