Thousands of Michael Jackson's friends, fans and family members attended a memorial for the pop icon Tuesday in Los Angeles, but one person who was conspicuously absent from the ceremony was a woman to whom he had once been married and who bore his two oldest children -- Debbie Rowe.
For nearly a decade, Rowe had almost no contact with those children -- an estrangement, she told a court in 2001, of her own choosing. But increasingly, it looks as though Rowe will seek custody of Jackson's children, defying the singer's will and wishes that his two sons and daughter, ages 7 to 12, be cared for by his mother, Katherine Jackson.
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As with the death of any monarch, the passing of the King of Pop has caused chaos in his empire. But of all the rumors whispered and speculation spread, of all the questions left unanswered surrounding the death and life of Michael Jackson, perhaps most intriguing of all is how the most famous man in the world married and started a family with a cipher who worked in his dermatologist's office.
It was 30 years ago that Rowe, a nursing assistant in the office of Dr. Arnold Klein, a Beverly Hills, Calif., dermatologist, first met one of his famed clients -- Michael Jackson.
"I go 'Hi'. And he goes 'Hi,' and I said, 'You know what? Nobody does what you do better, and nobody does what I do better. Let's get this over with.' And he laughed, and we just became friends. It was just right away," said Rowe in a 2003 interview. The interview, much of which had never been aired before, was obtained exclusively by ABC News from F. Marc Schaffel Productions. Schaffel is a friend of Rowe and former associate of Jackson.
The interview, like many of her statements in the first few years after her marriage and amicable divorce from Jackson, painted the singer as a loving father, to whom she was happy to turn over her children.
Not long after the 2003 interview, however, Rowe would take Jackson to court to have her parental rights reinstated. That legal maneuver, some say, may prove critical if she chooses to fight for custody of Jackson's children.
Before their chance meeting, the closest Rowe, a Washington state native whose father was in the Air Force, had come to celebrity by being on the swim team at Hollywood High. Now, there were invitations from one of the biggest stars in the world.
"He'd call and say, 'Hi what are you doing? Do you want to get a video?' We'd sneak out without security. We got caught. I thought, 'Oh my God! This is like a Beatles film. We're getting chased by people.'"
Rowe says that her early relationship with Jackson was fun and friendly but basically frivolous. She had recently come out of a first marriage and Jackson was about to wed Lisa Marie Presley.
There was plenty of talk suggesting Michael's 1994 marriage to Lisa Marie Presley was merely an attempt to boost an image that had been tarnished by accusations of child molestation and a general perception of weirdness. But some who knew the couple together said it was the real thing.
Michael and Lisa Marie talked about having children together, and Lisa Marie's recent blog speaks of true love. During their marriage, Michael had a musical rejuvenation, releasing "HIStory," a best- selling CD that included the ballad "You Are Not Alone."