Before Wade Robson even met Michael Jackson, the pop superstar was a giant in his mind.
“I saw the ‘Making of [Michael Jackson’s] Thriller.’ Just instantly became obsessed. I wanted to be just like him. I dressed like him every day, I had my hair permed to look like him and all that stuff.”
James Safechuck met Jackson around his ninth birthday while shooting a Pepsi commercial.
“I wasn’t necessarily a big fan before I met him and then when I got the commercial … when you see me meet him is actually my first time seeing him. At that point, I was pretty excited. It was otherworldly, I guess,” he said.
In a shocking new HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” Safechuck and Robson allege that Jackson sexually abused them for years – claims the Jackson family has repeatedly denied – and discuss the intimate details of their relationships with him. Throughout his life Jackson always denied any inappropriate behavior with children.
Both men have sued the Jackson estate over the alleged abuse, but their lawsuits were dismissed because of the statute of limitations. They are appealing.
For their first TV interview about the documentary, the men spoke to “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King about their time with Jackson, including very graphic allegations of abuse, and what it was like at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, where Robson claims seven years of sexual abuse with the world famous performer first began.
“This was just the most magical thing I’d ever seen … And that first night Michael, he just kind of took us on a little bit of a tour. And he said to me and my sister, ‘You can stay in one of the guest rooms or you can stay with me if you want.’ And my reaction was, ‘Of course, I want stay with you,'” Robson said. “We had one more night that way myself and my family were going to leave and go on another kind of vacation to the Grand Canyon. I was devastated to leave Michael. Michael was devastated for me to leave. He actually sobbed.”
So, Robson got to stay. He said his parents allowed him to spend the next week with Jackson at Neverland Ranch.
“Within either the first or second night of Michael and I being alone at Neverland, the night started changing. One of the ways I remember it starting is, you know, Michael just sort of starting to touch my legs and touch my crotch over my pants … It progressed to him performing oral sex on me, him showing me how to perform oral sex on him,” Robson said.
“Did it scare you? Did you think it was wrong?” King asked.
“A couple days prior to the abuse starting, he started touching me just in the sense of, like, hand on my leg, lots of hugs, kissing my forehead, rubbing my hand. So it’d been this kind of development of physical closeness that was happening already that felt like a father. It just felt amazing,” he said. “As Michael started doing these sexual acts, he started talking to me about, God brought us together. We love each other … And this is how we show each other our love.”
Safechuck, nodding his head as Robson spoke, said his alleged abuse began similarly.
“He introduced me to masturbation … he said I taught him how to French kiss … and then it moves onto oral sex,” Safechuck said.
“Were you frightened or thinking, ‘This is weird or wrong?'” King asked.
“No. No,” Safechuck said. “It’s in the context of a loving, close relationship … there’s no alarm bells going off in your head or any thoughts like that. Really, it’s just, ‘I love this person and we’re trying to make each other happy.’ And he said I was his first. But even as a kid, you don’t even know what that means … So you’re lovers and you’re best friends.”
Asked what being in a “relationship” meant to him at such a young age, Safechuck said, “You just feel really connected to someone, and you just love them intensely.”
The men both said the pop icon’s attention, despite the age difference, wasn’t strange to them at all at the time. It made them feel special.
“Yeah, that was the thing is that the way Michael approached the abuse, the sexual activity with me was always extremely tender,” Robson said. “There was never – I mean, he didn’t beat me. He didn’t, you know, he’d never said mean things to me. It was all, ‘We love each other.’ It was all tender.”
In spite of what they’re claiming now, in 1993 both Robson and Safechuck denied being molested by Jackson when allegations were brought by another boy, Jordan Chandler. That case settled out of court.
In 2005, when Jackson faced criminal charges, Robson took the stand and his testimony is often credited with helping Jackson win in court.
“The training – Michael’s training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me,” Robson said. “He started telling me thatif anybody else ever finds out, we’ll both go to jail, both of our lives would be over.”
The 2005 criminal trial of Jackson centered on molestation charges brought by a child cancer survivor named Gavin Arvizo. Court testimony shows that from the stand Robson denied ever kissing, showering, or even cuddling with Jackson. He withstood a blistering cross-examination and was called a star witness. Robson said he does harbor some guilt about that now.
“Yeah, I do think about that. I have and I do, you know, I wish that I was ready. I wish that I could’ve helped Gavin Arvizo receive some justice and some validation for what happened to him that was just like what happened to me and just like what happened to James. And I wish that I could have played a role in, at that point, stopping Michael from abusing however many other kids he did after that,” Robson said.
Both men believe there are other boys out there that Jackson abused.
“But I don’t expect them to start coming out the way we are coming out. It’s such a difficult thing to do. To come out,” Safechuck said. “You have to do it when you’re ready.”
“Yeah, I believe there are many other boys that Michael abused. I find it hard to believe that he had boys around for any other reason than to sexually abuse them,” Robson said.
“We can’t change what happened to us. It happened. It’s done. But what can we do with it now? How can we provide comfort for other survivors? … That’s what this is about. And Michael just happens to be the guy, the abuser in this child sexual abuse story,” Robson said.
The Jackson family has denounced Robson and Safechuck as “opportunists” and “admitted liars” and in a separate interview told King they believe the men’s allegations are motivated by money, something they both deny.
Robson, Safechuck said they were not compensated for participating in the documentary and have no stake in its success.
The documentary has faced criticism for not seeking comment from the musician’s family or estate, which sued HBO last week, calling the film a “one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”
Asked to address that criticism, director Dan Reed told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday, “We know that the family and the estate[s] and Jackson during his lifetime and his lawyers all deny that any sexual abuse took place and those views are strongly represented in the film. We give those views a lot of time in the film on screen and we have people casting doubt on Wade’s change of heart.”