The Allegations Against Michael Jackson: A Complete Timeline
There was a time when Michael Jackson was untouchable. After Jackson transitioned away from the Jackson 5 and linked with Quincy Jones for Off the Wall in 1979, his albums broke every conceivable sales record and established his reputation as the King of Pop. He was an unassailable cultural icon, and his music from that period, from Off the Wall to Dangerous in 1991, speaks for itself.
Jackson’s career was never quite the same after that. He’d been the subject of strange tabloid rumors involving skin bleaching and hyperbaric chambers since Bad in 1987, but it was not until the Dangerous era that Jackson’s increasingly detached and eccentric lifestyle began to take hold on his career. In 1988, Jackson purchased a sprawling property in Santa Barbara County that he named Neverland Ranch, after the “Neverland” of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, where children never grow up. Jackson was known for developing close friendships with young children and inviting them to the property for extended periods of time. In 1993, Jackson was accused of sexually abusing an underage boy at Neverland Ranch. For the rest of his life, he would be dogged by allegations involving pedophilia and sexual abuse, amounting to a sort of permanent asterisk next to his name. At the time of his death in 2009, Jackson had denied every accusation against him, and had never been convicted of any crime. Here’s a look back at all those allegations, and their implications for Jackson’s legacy.
1992-1993: Evan Chandler, Jordan Chandler, and the first allegations of child sexual abuse.
In May 1992, Michael Jackson’s car broke down in Beverly Hills. When he contacted a nearby rental car agency, the owner told his wife, June Chandler-Schwartz, to hurry over to the site of the stalled vehicle if she wanted to catch a glimpse of the King of Pop. Chandler-Schwartz did so, and brought along her 13-year-old son, Jordan, who was a big fan of Jackson’s. In the wake of that roadside encounter, Jackson exchanged numbers with the young Jordan Chandler, and the two developed a close friendship. Jackson flew Jordan around the world with him, and often invited him over for “sleepovers” at Neverland Ranch. In 1993, Chandler-Schwartz’s ex-husband Evan Chandler (father of Jordan) grew suspicious of Jackson’s relationship with Jordan. On August 17, Chandler took his son to a psychiatrist, where Jordan revealed the details of Jackson’s abuse, including fondling and oral sex. Per California law, the allegations were then reported to the police, who launched an investigation into Jackson.
September 1993: Evan Chandler files civil suit.
Evan Chandler filed a civil suit against Jackson on September 14, on behalf of his son. The suit alleged that Jackson had “repeatedly committed sexual battery” on Jordan Chandler, and that Jackson forced him to touch his nipples as he masturbated. In December, Jackson publicly refuted all claims via a satellite broadcast from Neverland Ranch. And on January 25, Jackson and his team settled the case for around $23 million. Jackson was never charged, though the allegations began to muddy his reputation, complicating the longstanding idea of Jackson as simply a harmless, eccentric genius.
February 2003: Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson airs.
In 2002 and 2003, BBC journalist Martin Bashir conducted a series of interviews with Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. The interviews were compiled into the documentary Living with Michael Jackson, in which Bashir revealed new details about Jackson’s relationship to the young boys he invited to stay at the Ranch. One of those boys, Gavin Arvizo, had started coming to Neverland Ranch in 2000; Arvizo had survived cancer, and Jackson had invited him to Neverland during his recovery. Asked about sharing a bed with Arvizo, Jackson called it a “beautiful thing.” Jackson also claimed that his closeness with Gavin was part of an effort to “heal” him. This detail, among others in the documentary about “sleepovers” with underage boys, prompted the criminal investigation that eventually led to Jackson’s criminal trial in 2005.
November-December 2003: Jackson is arrested and formally charged with child molestation.
By November, Arvizo had anonymously accused Jackson of molestation (though he was named in Living with Michael Jackson, he made his accusations as a “John Doe” after the documentary aired). The criminal investigation prompted by the documentary came to a head on November 18 when police raided Neverland Ranch, and then arrested Jackson just a few days later. In December, Jackson was formally charged on nine counts: “seven of child molestation and two of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing a felony.”
2004-2005: Jackson is tried in Santa Barbara County’s Superior Court.
The People v. Michael Jackson was a long, heavily publicized affair, thanks in large part to Jackson’s increasingly strange antics throughout the case. On the day of his arraignment, Jackson climbed on top of a car and started dancing and waving to fans. Toward the end of the trial, Jackson was showing up to court in his pajamas. Martin Bashir was called to testify, as was the then-unnamed Arvizo and his family. Per a New York Times report of the testimony, Arvizo stated that when he first arrived at Neverland Ranch, Jackson showed Arvizo and his brother “several pornographic Web sites depicting naked women and girls, some of them about 15 years old.”
In addition to the claims involving pornography, the prosecution alleged that Jackson had masturbated in front of Arvizo and tried to ply him with wine. Arvizo’s brother told the court that he saw Jackson molesting his brother on two occasions. The prosecution also brought in Jackson’s housekeeper, Blanca Francia, who testified that she saw Jackson taking a shower with Wade Robson, another young companion of Jackson’s. Robson testified in defense of Jackson, and according to Jackson’s attorney was “adamant that he had never been improperly touched or molested.” Francia’s son Jason testified independently that Jackson had tickled his crotch area. On June 13, 2005, Jackson was acquitted of all charges after his defense lawyers painted a thorough portrait of the Arvizo family as “con artists, actors and liars” looking to make money and ruin Jackson’s reputation. One juror told The New York Times that she believed Gavin Arvizo’s mother “had taught her children to lie to gain money or favors from celebrities.”
June 2009: Jackson dies in Los Angeles.
May 2013: Wade Robson, who had testified in defense of Jackson during the trial, alleges sexual abuse.
In May 2013, choreographer Wade Robson alleged that he was molested by Jackson when he was seven years old. Robson first met the King of Pop when he was only five, after winning a dance competition run by Jackson’s company, MJJ Productions. Robson had been a key witness in Jackson’s trail back in 2005, refuting a housekeeper’s claim that she had seen him in the shower with Jackson. In 2013, claiming that MJJ Productions and Jackson’s other company, MJJ Ventures, were child sex operations “specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims,” Robson filed a claim against Jackson’s estate and sued both MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures. The claim was thrown out in 2015, with the judge stating that too much time had passed between the alleged abuse and the filing of the claim. The suit against the MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures was dismissed in 2017 when a judge ruled that neither company was liable for Robson’s exposure to Jackson.
May 2014: James Safechuck files claims against Jackson’s estate alleging sexual abuse.
In 1987, ten-year-old James Safechuck was cast in a Pepsi commercial promoting Jackson’s solo world tour. Jackson became close to Safechuck in the following years, and frequently invited him to Neverland Ranch. Jackson invited Safechuck and his mother out on tour with him, where the first incidents of abuse occurred. According to The LA Times, Safechuck cited “hundreds” of sexual encounters with Jackson. Safechuck also claimed that Jackson invented a complicated series of sexual code words in an attempt to promote secrecy. (“Bright light, big city” was apparently code for “erection,” while “duck butter” meant “semen.”)
Safechuck said that in 1993, during the case involving Evan and Jordan Chandler, Jackson’s lawyers “rehearsed questions and testimony” with Safechuck, and had him give a witness statement to the police. Safechuck had been mentioned in the court documents for Jackson’s 2005 trial, and Jackson allegedly “threatened” Safechuck to get him to testify on his behalf, but unlike Robson he never appeared in court. In May 2014, Safechuck filed a formal complaint alleging Jackson sexually abused him as a child. Safechuck also added his name to the suit originally filed by Robson against Jackson in 2013. His complaint was dismissed in 2017.
January 2019: Leaving Neverland premieres at Sundance, featuring detailed testimony from Robson and Safechuck.
When Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland premiered at Sundance on January 25, the reaction from critics was instantaneous. Early reviews called it “devastating” and “overwhelmingly powerful and convincing.” David Ehrlich of IndieWire writes: “In the wake of Reed’s film and the shattering interview footage that it exists to share with us, there’s no longer a reasonable doubt. There’s no longer any doubt at all. Not only do the documentary’s two main subjects perfectly corroborate their separate accounts in all of the most tragic of ways, but they do so with a degree of vulnerability that denies any room for skepticism.” The impact of Leaving Neverland Jackson’s reputation as a cultural icon has yet to be seen. When the documentary airs later this year on HBO, the asterisk next to Jackson’s name could grow into something much larger and more significant for the history of American pop music.