Two men who knew Michael Jackson as young boys allege similar stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the King of Pop.
HBO dropped the first part of its two-part docuseries "Leaving Neverland" on Sunday night, filled with detailed and disturbing allegations of sexual assault against Michael Jackson.
At the heart of the series are Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Both men had public relationships with Michael Jackson when they were young boys, making appearances with him in commercials and performing on stage during his concert tours. But it was behind closed doors that the men allege the King of Pop sexually assaulted them over and over again.
Choreographer Wade Robson went on record during Michael Jackson's 2005 trial on child sexual abuse charges and said Jackson had never assaulted him. In 2013, he reversed his position. Safechuck, also previously publicly denied he had been abused by Jackson.
It is because of these earlier testimonies that the Jackson estate has spoken out against HBO's newest series and filed a $100 million lawsuit, saying in a press release, "The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations."
The first part of the documentary covered their earliest alleged interactions with Jackson, as they became close to him at his Neverland Ranch, among other places. By the end of the chapter, they claimed they had effectively been replaced in Jackson's life, from their perspective, by Macauley Culkin and Brett Barnes.
Both of the latter men have denied any inappropriate behavior on the part of Jackson, with written denials shown briefly during the documentary. And Jackson also maintained his innocence throughout the years. He settled one case out of court in 1993 and was acquitted of all charges in another case in 2005.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to watch this documentary and not see similarities between it and Lifetime's recent "Surviving R. Kelly" series. This one had far fewer alleged victims, but it painted a similar picture of a superstar using their celebrity to prey on young fans.
And while Lifetime's documentary has led to a reexamination of both Kelly and his music, it's too early to say what, if any, impact this series will have on Jackson's legacy. Kelly is now facing charges related to his alleged abuses, but Jackson is dead, so that's not an option. At stake instead is his place in popular culture, his legacy and his music.
On Monday night, the stories of Robson and Safechuck continue, following the aftermath of the years they spent in the company of the King of Pop, including and beyond the point they testified in court that Jackson had never molested them.
Below are the most shocking allegations the men made against Jackson. Some of these allegations are very graphic.
7 Years a Victim
Robson claims that he and Jackson maintained a sexual relationship for seven years, beginning when Robson was seven years old.
The pair first met when Robson was five and had just won a Michael Jackson dance competition in his home country of Australia. The top prize was meeting Michael Jackson while he was on his "Thriller" tour down under. Robson got to perform onstage with Jackson for one night, but it would be two years later before they would reconnect.
According to Robson, Jackson paired the sexual abuse with genuine kindness and caring. "He was one of the kindest, most gentle, loving, caring people I knew. He helped me tremendously," he said. "And he also sexually abused me. For seven years."
He "Auditioned" Boys
One of the stranger stories came from Safechuck, who claimed Jackson sent a camera crew to his house in order to film him. Safechuck had first met Jackson when the two filmed a Pepsi commercial together, but they hadn't spent much time together on the set.
Safechuck's mother Stephanie said it was Jackson who reached out to the family, saying he wanted to congratulate Jimmy on the commercial. And after speaking briefly with Jimmy, he allegedly asked if he could send a camera crew out to the Safechuck's house to film the boy.
"Now that I look back on it, it's almost like an audition for him," Safechuck said. "He sends his film crew out." And he never explained why he did it, either, according to the family. And yet, they say they never asked.
Stephanie admitted that she and her husband were feeling a bit starstruck that this pop icon seemed interested in being friends with them. "For him to want to be our friend was like, 'Oh my god, how lucky are we?'" she said.
Fairy Tale Spell
In both stories, the filmmakers talked to the families of the men involved and both mothers shared a similar story of the fairy tale wonder of interacting with Michael. The same for the kids, who just felt unusually comfortable with him from the moment they met him.
"For some reason it didn't feel strange to let me, a seven year old, and my sister, a ten year old, sleep in this man's bedroom," Robson said.
He was described as "larger than life" and his Neverland Ranch was like a dream away from the real world. Jackson was also described by both mothers as so innocently childlike they started thinking of him as another child, rather than a grown man.
The world he brought them into was so magical, their inhibitions would drop. After spending just a weekend with Jackson at his Neverland Valley Ranch, he said he awoke to see Michael crying in the corner of the bed.
"I'm just so sad that you guys are gonna leave me and I don't want to be alone. I don't want you guys to leave," he said, according to Robson. And so the seven year old convinced his family to leave him in Jackson's care and continue on their vacation without him. That's when Robson claimed things became physical.
"This was all so overwhelming and like a fairy tale and I got lost in it," Stephanie Safechuck said. "I know my husband got lost in it, too."
According to the men, Jackson used psychological manipulation on them to start to drive a wedge between them and their own families, to strengthen the bond between him and them. And always, they say, he made them feel special, as if they were the most important little boy in the world.
"First day at Neverland was Michael making physical contact with me, like his hand on my thigh. Hugs, you know. It felt great," Robson said. "And out of all the kids in the world, he chose me to be his friend. ... within the context of what was going on, it seemed normal."
Even after it allegedly became more inappropriate, with Jackson purportedly fondling his penis, Robson said, "It just didn't seem that strange."
Another approach both stories share is their claims that Jackson would disparage their families to them, and especially target women as being untrustworthy. "He had done so much talking to me about not trusting people, any people," Robson said. "Especially women."
Safechuck said that Jackson took advantage of his parents' crumbling marriage. "At the time you just hear your mom yelling at your dad and Michael feeds into that," he said. "You start to think that your parents are bad and Michael is good."
Both men also claimed that Jackson told them that if anyone found out about how they were expressing their "love" for one another, it would ruin his life and their lives, with all parties going to jail forever.
Considering how busy Michael Jackson's life always seemed, it's crazy to imagine that he would spend hours of his life communicating with these random boys, but those are the claims of both men. Robson had several bits of evidence to back up his claims of this constant communication, including a barrage of fax messages from Jackson.
"He called every day for two years," Robson said, with his mother Joy saying that they'd talk for hours every day after school. She also felt that she had a special relationship with Jackson, and there were faxes directly to her as well.
Safechuck also claimed extensive phone conversations lasting hours, with both families saying that Jackson would tell them how lonely he was and how important their friendship was to him. He would even visit the Safechucks in their house on many occasions for dinner or to spend the night.
There were two details that stood out in both men's stories because of their striking similarities.
In this case, both Robson and Safechuck described a penchant for nipple fondling on the part of Jackson. And even more specifically, they both claimed that Jackson would ask them to bend over and hold their ankles with their exposed buttocks facing toward him as he would pleasure himself.
"I was just kind of on display," Robson recalled.
Another shared claim is Jackson's alleged disparaging of women as people who could not be trusted.
Both men share similar stories of an escalation in the nature of their contact with Jackson. In both cases, they claim it started simply with physical contact and eventually genital contact. It then allegedly escalated to open mouth kissing and then oral sex.
Safechuck said that Jackson taught him about masturbation in a hotel room in Paris. But as he was only ten years old at the time, his body was not fully equipped to handle it. And even today, he seems to have uncertain feelings about the encounter.
"I don't have any unpleasant memories other than not being able to pee," Safechuck said. He claimed Jackson offered him a glass of warm water to insert his penis into to help with this. "It felt like we were bonding, in a way."
Later, the men claimed that Jackson introduced them to graphic pornography. "I remember that feeling in my stomach being really heavy, like a nervousness," Robson said of how he felt after watching it for the first time as a young boy. "I just didn't know how to deal with it."
He Wanted to Keep a Boy
Another parallel to the R. Kelly story is Joy's claim that Jackson actually asked her at one point if Wade could just come live with him. "Michael said to me, will you leave 'Little One' [his nickname for Robson] with me for a year, Joy," she adamantly refused, though he did convince her to keep the family with him a little longer.
"After it was all over, he looked at me and said, 'I always get what I want,'" Joy said. "I said, 'Not this time. I will share Wade with you, but I am not going to leave him with you.'"
He "Married" Another Boy
Safechuck's hands were visibly shaking as he held up various piece of jewelry that he claimed Jackson gave him in exchange for sexual acts. Safechuck said he's always enjoyed jewelry. "I think something I enjoyed was used against me and so I think that causes discomfort. It's still hard for me to not blame myself," he said.
According to Safechuck, one of those pieces of jewelry was a wedding ring of sorts. He alleged that Jackson performed a marriage ceremony between the two of them in his bedroom. He was visibly shaken by the pieces of jewelry on camera, finally putting them away.
"Yeah, I don't like looking at the jewelry," he said.
Both stories ended the same way, with Jackson slowly severing ties with Robson and Safechuck as he allegedly moved on to new "best friends" in Macauley Culkin and Brett Barnes. There is, of course, plenty of footage of Jackson with these two boys, just as there is with Robson and Safechuck.
For Robson, that moment came when Jackson allegedly told him he couldn't go on his "Dangerous" tour because children weren't allowed. Barnes would then very publicly join Jackson on that whirlwind tour.
While he hasn't made any comments on the documentary, Culkin defended his friendship with Jackson as recently as January of this year. "At the end of the day, it's almost easy to say it was weird or whatever but it wasn't because it made sense," he said in a podcast interview. "At the end of the day, we were friends."
In Culkin's mind, people only think there's something odd about it because Jackson "was the most famous person in the world." As for the age gap, he added, "I was a peerless person. Nobody else in my Catholic school had even this much idea of what I was going through and he was the kind of person who'd been through the exact same frickin thing and wanted to make sure I wasn't alone."
Barnes also tweeted about the situation in January as well:
Not only do we have to deal with these lies, but we’ve also got to deal with people perpetuating these lies. The fact that they fail to do the small amount of research it takes to prove these are lies, by choice or not, makes it even worse.— Brett Barnes (@IAmBrettBarnes) January 30, 2019
"Leaving Neverland" wraps up Monday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.