Everybody was always confused by our relationship. Nobody got it, and I didn’t really care. My mom was always very positive in a sweet way about him, and he loved my mom. My mom would joke with him and rib him like he was a little kid, so he always got a kick out of her. He used to say, “It’s great you can be that close with your mom,” because she was also my manager at the time, where he had a very different relationship with his father, and I think he envied that.
We maintained our relationship for so long because it was never not real. People expect anything in entertainment or Hollywood to be transient, and it’s not as interesting a story for us to have been lifelong friends. People want sordid details or they want big blowups, and the truth of the matter is, from the time we met when I was 13, we understood each other and became very good friends, and that was it, we didn’t need to make it into anything else. I went to high school and college and I forced that into my life, and he didn’t have that luxury. He would laugh, I would tell him about whatever happened at college or high school, and I think he just always felt it was too unattainable for him, so vicariously, I would share with him football games or cheerleading.
What did I think of his marriage to Lisa Marie? I think we’re not dealing with convention, so somebody like Michael, he’s not going to just fall in love with somebody and get married. I think there were a few people that he could identify with, and what I know about Lisa Marie, she was very sweet, she could identify with him, they could talk about things that I’m sure she understood with regards to her father. So I think he tried to create a convention for himself. There were times when he would ask me to marry him, and I would say, “You have me for the rest of your life, you don’t need to marry me, I’m going to go on and do my own life and have my own marriage and my own kids, and you’ll always have me.”
He never actually formally proposed to me, though. He would sort of say, “Why don’t we adopt a child together? The way your heart works is what I want in my life,” and I said to him, “You’re always going to have my heart, we don’t need to adopt a baby, and I think it’s wonderful that you want to have children, adopt a child.” I wanted to fall in love and get married and have my own babies, and I said, “I don’t think that you need to necessarily do that.” This was just before he married Lisa Marie in the Nineties, I guess. He had discussed it with me, and I said, “I don’t think that’s the best thing to do for me.” I was just out of college, and wanting to fall in love and have a fairy tale, I was holding on to that. He just felt so bad that there were so many little children in Romania in these orphanages, and he wanted to try to give them homes, and I really wanted to be able to do that with him, but it would have divided my life too much.
I hope when you write this, it doesn’t sound freakish. What it was was a young man who kept reaching to try to find happiness. I think he wanted to take his resources and make a difference to other people in their lives, and he knew that I wanted to do that in the world, too, so he would reach out to someone like me and say, “How can we make a difference, it’s easier to adopt a child if you’re two people.” He never said, formally, “Will you marry me,” it was never that for me, he never was that definitive, but I think he was a guy who kept searching for happiness.
The problem is when you try to bring that out and in this society, it turns into a tabloid sentence, which is, “He wanted Brooke Shields to live with him and adopt babies,” and it sounds ridiculous. And it never was that clear-cut. He found people he loved in his life and he didn’t want to let go of them and he wanted them all to live together because he didn’t want to go out into the outside world, which was so cruel and too much to handle, and it makes sense. I’ve seen many people in this position where they try to bring people into their circle, because going out of their life, just walking outside on the street is too much for them. That’s why he created Neverland, because he wanted to bring people in so that he didn’t have to leave and he could feel their happiness and he could somehow regain something that he felt he’d lost. So of course I was going to be one of the people he was going to call.
I can’t really guess why his last years were so challenging. I think just cumulatively, when you distance yourself that much for that long, and if you don’t have the healthy outlet creatively, because there was a period of time when I think his music was his strength, and that was where he could filter and pour himself into it, and it was clear, and he knew what to expect and he could make it what he wanted. His life, I think, was very hard to grasp, and I don’t know if the people around him were helping at all.
I don’t think he was surrounded by healthy people. I think he just created a world that he felt safe in, and we went out to dinner a lot less. We used to go out to restaurants — it was madness, but at least we could get to a restaurant and be at a table. Entering and leaving the restaurant was a mess, but we could at least do that, and slowly but surely, he stopped going out to restaurants. And he got thinner and thinner … at first, he made fun of me because when I was in college, there would be keg parties or whatever, and he was like, “I can’t believe you were drinking,” and I would say, “It’s college, that’s what you do in college, you drink, you get sick, and you don’t want to drink anymore, that’s the way it happens,” and he swore off all alcohol and he swore off everything, and he was so clean. He would make fun of me because I wasn’t as healthy.
My heart broke for him because once he felt the need to run — I felt like he ran. I was worried about him financially, I was worried about the kids, I was worried about his health. I always worried about his health, because I thought he was just too skinny. He would make fun of me, especially when I was in college, because I gained weight in college — what freshman doesn’t gain the freshman 15? — and I’d say, “I know you’re going to think I’m fat, but …” and it was a joke, but he also became very, very conscious of everything, and I used to say, “I think you’ve lost too much weight.” So I started worrying about his health from the thin standpoint.
I saw him less and less as our lives became different. At every major event in my life, he reached out to me, whether if it was when my dad died, when I had my first daughter, and had severe post-partum, we’d speak, and then it got more and more difficult to reach him, and some of the people in his life that I could call to get him, they were fired or they left or they went away, and in the last few years, it was harder to get the right number to get through to him.
I like to think that I was a good friend to him. That’s the way it always was, and our friendship never altered, it just stayed the course. No matter what was happening, the one thing that whenever we got on the phone with each other, he would just giggle or laugh and say, “Oh, Brooke,” and I was consistent, and I think that was important for both of us. I wanted him to know my kids, but it became harder to take him out and bring him into … it was just a trauma. I feel like he shouldn’t have gone that way. I’ve always maintained what a pure soul he was.