"People accused him of trying to be white, which is ridiculous," he says. "When I first met him, his vitiligo (a skin disorder that causes pigmentation loss) had gone to the right side of his face and down his neck. Most of his right hand was white. Stark white patches. He used makeup because he had to. Without it, he was speckled all over."
Nordahl never witnessed drug use by Jackson but was keenly aware of pain problems that lingered after the star's hair caught fire on a Pepsi ad soundstage.
"When they were trying to repair that burned spot, he had a balloon under his scalp that was inflated," Nordahl says. "He let me feel it. It was a huge mound. As the skin got stretched, they cut it out and stitched the scalp. He was in excruciating pain."
Jackson seemed an unlikely addict, Nordahl says, noting his avoidance of cigarettes, alcohol, soft drinks and sugar.
"He was mostly a vegetarian," he says. "When he was on tour, the cooks would make him eat fish and sometimes chicken. He loved little chicken wings. He always drank water. I shared wine with him only twice, once with (ex-wife) Lisa Marie (Presley) and once at Ron Burkle's house. Michael had one glass."
The clearest evidence of Jackson's responsible nature emerged in his parenting of Prince, Paris and Blanket.
"Michael was a real dad, not a Hollywood dad," he says. "He'd get up at night to feed them bottles. He'd change them, bathe them, everything a mother does.
"All the time I spent with those kids, I never heard them beg for anything or throw a fit. I never heard them cry. They were so well-adjusted."
Jackson took pains not to spoil his children, says Nordahl, recalling a modest eighth birthday party in L.A. for Prince. (Jackson's mother, Katherine, and sister Rebbie came over but skipped the festivities because of their Jehovah's Witness beliefs, he says.)
"I was curious to see what Prince was going to get," Nordahl says. "I figured it would be pretty extravagant, but he didn't get one thing that cost over $2. He got Play-Doh, little action figures, things we'd call stocking stuffers.
"The kids were not allowed to watch TV or DVDs or play video games" except through points earned by their schoolwork. "Nothing was given to them. Michael said, 'I want them to grow up as close to normal as possible.' Those kids were so respectful and courteous, just sweet."
Surprise visit to Santa Fe
Nordahl grew close to all three. Typically, the artist spent time with the Jackson brood on the West Coast. But over Memorial Day weekend in 2004, the star and his tykes surprised Nordahl by visiting Santa Fe via Jackson's plush private bus (with a 60-inch plasma TV). Jackson suggested a movie outing.
"I thought we were going to a screening room," Nordahl says. "His driver pulled into DeVargas Mall. He was friends with (Roland Emmerich), the director of The Day After Tomorrow, and it was opening weekend. The mall was jammed, and there was no place to park. I took the kids, got the tickets and popcorn, and we went in. Michael came in after the lights went down.
"The lights came up, and nobody noticed him. He had on a baseball cap and these Chinese silk pajamas. The kids had no masks on. Any of those rags would have paid $100,000 for that picture."
Paintings' future unclear