The dangers of being a celebrity
URI GELLER reflects on the sudden death of the woman who was with him every step of the way…
I KNEW as I placed my hand to her door that my mother had passed and that when I stepped into her room I would find, not her, but only her body.Half the planet thought, “Of course he’s mad. He’s famous. Sends them all crackers.” And the other half thought, “He obviously isn’t mad, because he’s famous. That excuses anything.”
It isn’t a crime to mistreat the furniture on a worldwide chatshow. And there’s nothing illegal about calling a press conference to announce that, two hours ago, you proposed to your girlfriend, as Cruise did after popping the question at the top of the Eiffel tower.
(The joke doing the rounds among green-eyed celebs this week, as we marvel at the publicity Tom and Katie are creating for their latest movies, is that when Katie said “Yes”, she added: “You can stop kneeling now.” And Tom said, “I’m not kneeling.”)
Nobody who doesn’t know the happy couple personally (and I don’t) can really be sure whether their exuberant happiness is for real, although I feel they truly are in love – their bizarre statements are just the kind of frantic chatter that actors use when no one is writing their scripts.
These are people who call their most casual friends “darling” and “you wonderful thing”. What kind of language is left to describe genuine emotions? There’s no choice but to start punching the cushions.
The same instant judgments we make about celebrity trivia are applied when stars are accused of crimes.
Nobody waited for the verdict before deciding whether Winona Ryder was guilty of shoplifting, for example; half the world started kvetching about megastars who thought they were above the law, and the rest pointed to the pressures of celebrity, which could make anyone innocently scoop the contents of the perfume counter into their handbag before walking out of the store whistling.
I’m always careful never to carry money, because that ensures I won’t be tempted to buy anything when I’m out. That way, nobody can ever accuse me of plotting a shoplifting expedition – no matter how trumped up the accusations, I know that half the public would be automatically convinced of my guilt.
That’s not antisemitism, it’s anti-celebritism. I’m not Jewish, I’m famous.
Unimaginably worse than claims of pilfering from department stores, the charges against my friend Michael Jackson were appalling.
His horrendous ordeal through the Californian courts has seemed endless. I can hardly believe it’s over, and I know it will be many months before he begins to feel that the lies and libels are in the past.
The trial dragged on for 14 weeks, even though it was quickly clear that prosecutor Tom Sneddon had no evidence worthy of the name.
If Michael had not been so celebrated, the case could not possibly have gone to court, even in America. He was, in effect, on trial for being famous.
My lawyer son Daniel agrees with me that in Britain the case would have been dismissed – assuming the Crown Prosecution Service could have been reckless enough to press charges.
As Dan says, “British justice must be seen to be done. American justice must be seen to be believed.”
I knew with complete certainty that my friend was innocent of all charges, because early in our friendship I quizzed him under hypnosis. This was during the last stages of the recording of Invincible, and he was under intense stress.
At his request, I put him into a trance and planted positive ideas of calmness, peace and spiritual tranquility deep in his mind.
And then I did something which was certainly not at his request: I probed his psyche for skeletons. Maybe I was behaving unethically, but if I was to be this man’s friend I had to know the truth about the rumours that had dogged him for years. “Michael Jackson,” I commanded, “tell me with total honesty what was the real story behind the allegations of sexual abuse made against you by the boy Jordy Chandler?”
He answered without hesitation. “It was all made up. His family just wanted my money.”
“Why did you pay the family?”
“It was the easiest thing to do.”
The statement was simple and unembroidered, made without pause to invent a lie.
“I couldn’t take it any more. I’d had enough.”
“Have you ever touched a child or a young person in a way that you shouldn’t?” I asked. And he replied: “Never. I would never do that. My friendships with children are all very beautiful.”
At the outset of the trial in Santa Maria, Michael’s legal team handed over a list of stars whose testimony might be called upon during the defence.
They included Jay Leno and Macauley Culkin, who both gave evidence on Michael’s behalf. Culkin, the former child star of Home Alone, was particularly convincing as he crushed suggestions that Neverland’s sleepovers had ever involved any hint of sordidness.
Like Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minelli, I was among those named but not called. I believe that Tom Mesereau, Michael’s chief lawyer, feared the defence could degenerate into a celebrity parade.
If I had taken the stand, I would have used all my energy to convey to the jury how certain I was of Michael’s innocence. But there was a danger the jury would automatically discount anything I told them: “You would say that, wouldn’t you… you’re famous, like him!”
Michael’s trial has convinced me more than ever of the dangers of celebrity. I’m used to the crank calls, the oddball fans and the grafitti outside my home.
What happened in Neverland was different: the stalkers were the police, the lawyers, the establishment.
It isn’t only the fans who are obsessed with the cult of fame: it has reached into the heart of the justice system.
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