There was a time when Michael Jackson was accused of being more of a child feeler than a child healer, but now the King of Pop has two tykes of his own, and he wants to teach the world all about parenthood.
Jackson brings his Heal The Kids program to England's Oxford University with two unlikely friends — Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has become an international talk show celebrity by expounding upon the virtues of kosher sex, and Uri Geller, a self-proclaimed psychic who claims he can bend spoons with his mind.
Jackson hopes his March 6 speech at Oxford will jump-start a campaign to spread the word about the importance of parenthood. His Heal The World charitable foundation is planning star-studded public service announcements, book clubs, and events at his "Neverland" ranch.
Jackson recently broke his foot, but he won't delay the event. "The message of Heal The Kids is far too important," he said in a written statement.
Jackson Goes to Temple
Believe it or not, this reporter was present at one of the first meetings of this unlikely trio — at a Manhattan temple on Oct. 1, 1999, when Jackson had the urge to experience Jewish services. As one of the two reporters invited to the event, I witnessed the man who sang, "I'm bad, I'm bad, You know it," praying among 150 of New York's most religious Jews.
Sure, it was strange. But there he was, in the third pew of the Carlebach Shul with his dark sun glasses, black fedora, red silk shirt and iridescent tie.
To be sure, Jackson looked as bizarre up close as he does on TV. For one thing, he was the whitest man in temple, and his lips glowed unnaturally red, much like the greasepaint of a clown.
But Jackson had found an ally in Boteach. "We all have eccentricities," said the rabbi. "If you judge Michael by his acts of charity and his compassion, you will see that he is truly an admirable person — and a great father." Jackson has two children, Prince Michael and Paris Michael Katherine, from his brief marriage to Deborah Rowe. The couple never lived together and separated a year after Paris' birth.
That evening at the temple, Boteach said he and Jackson wanted to help engender family love, and now we find them at Oxford.
Had this project come from anyone but Jackson, nobody would bat an eye. But he's had a major public image problem since 1993, when a 13-year-old boy accused him of sexually abusing him during a sleepover date. The allegations, which he always denied, devastated his once-pristine reputation. He canceled a tour, lost a promotional contract with Pepsi, and became even more reclusive.
Jackson settled out of court with the boy's family, reportedly for $20 million. And after the boy declined to testify in the criminal investigation, the matter was dropped. But Jackson has had a tough time shining his tarnished reputation.
Boteach says Jackson has already proven his commitment to charitable causes. "People will ultimately judge Jackson by his deeds," he said. "This is the man who gave us 'We Are The World' and has done so much."
The Superstar and Kosher Sex
While in Britain, Jackson is expected to attend the official book launch in London of Confessions of a Rabbi and a Psychic, a collection of letters between Boteach and Geller. The singer will also act as best man when Geller and his wife renew their wedding vows, a ceremony officiated by Boteach.
The story of how these three men became friends is as bizarre as the friendship itself.
Jackson and Geller met four years ago through Mohamed Al Fayed, the fabulously wealthy owner of Harrod's department store and father of Princess Diana's late boyfriend, Dodi Fayed.
Geller is known for demonstrating what he calls psychic abilities on TV. He stares at a spoon and it bends. Critics say it's nothing more than sleight-of-hand magic. "Imagine having psychic abilities and all you could do with it is ruin silverware," said paranormal investigator James Randi.
But Geller maintains what he does is real. He told The Wolf Files last year, "I use my powers for good." And he has thousands of believers — such as Al Fayed.
Two years ago, Jackson asked Geller through Al Fayed to instruct him in telekinetics. "Michael has great concentration and he is a great learner," Geller said. "I think he has potential."
In the course of his studies, Geller gave Jackson Boteach's sex manual. And suddenly, the King of Pop found another tutor.
Jackson Likes Bagels
Boteach's run as the rabbinical answer to Dr. Ruth began with the 1999 publication of Kosher Sex, a best seller that shook the Orthodox Jewish community for stressing, among other things, that oral sex can be very good for a marriage.
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One of Boteach's big crowd pleasers is reminding folks that "rabbis long ago made the female orgasm an obligation incumbent on every Jewish husband."
Detractors call Boteach a shameless publicity seeker who condemns pornography yet allows his book to be excerpted in Playboy. Those folks are sure to say he latched onto Jackson to keep his name in the news.
"I would hardly call myself Michael's spiritual adviser," Boteach said modestly. "I'm just a friend."
But the rabbi and the psychic both think Jackson has the makings of good Jew. "Michael is loving and compassionate," said Boteach.
Also, the rabbi joked, "Michael really likes bagels."
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.