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Shana Mangatal idolized Michael Jackson as a teenager. But as an adult, she says she had something only fans of MJ could only dream of: a romance and, even more so, a friendship with him.
Mangatal, now 46, has written a book, Michael and Me: The Untold Story of Michael Jackson’s Secret Romance, about her time with the late artist. Thanks to the detailed diaries she began keeping years before she met him, Mangatal recalls her experiences with Jackson over two decades, from the first time she attended one of his concerts in 1988 to the years when she worked as part of his management team. During that time, Jackson would regularly breeze through the door of her office, and she worked alongside him as an extra on two of his short films. Mangatal recalls that the two shared phone calls, her first kiss (at 26!) and several steamy nights in the summer of 1996.
The author says that when she read through her old diaries over the last couple of years, she was glad her younger self had kept them.
“After he passed away, it was really difficult for me to look at his pictures, watch his music videos or even listen to his music, so I definitely couldn’t read those diaries, until about, I’d say, a year or two ago, when I finally got the strength to do it,” Mangatal says about the years following Jackson’s untimely death at the age of 50 from “acute propofol intoxication” in 2009. “As I was reading the diaries, I was, like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much good stuff in here.’ [I thought] if the public knew these things, maybe they would think a little bit differently about Michael and have a different perspective on him.”
Read on for some nuggets from the book.
His vibe was the opposite of asexual
“Anyone that I talk to, most of them believe that he was asexual, and I tell them no,” Mangatal says. “All you have to do is spend five minutes with him, and you know instantly that he was not asexual. He was quite the opposite, because he was extremely flirtatious — he was always flirting with me, at least. He could flip any conversation into something flirty. From the very first day that I met him [as a fan] at the afterparty for his concert in New York, he was flirting with me — from the very moment I met him. That told me a lot. And from then on, I knew that there was more to him than meets the eye, because it was clear that he loved the ladies. And he couldn’t hide it. Even if he tried to be child-like and innocent, he had that manly, macho thing in him that made him the flirtatious, sexy guy in real life.”
However, she notes, he showed a very different side when he was around children. Because of the sweet behavior she witnessed, she never questioned her friend’s innocence after allegations of child molestation were brought against him.
“When you were with Michael, and you saw him with kids, you saw the relationship, and it was just so pure and innocent,” she says. “It was really a wonderful thing to see, because … he became like a kid when he was with them. He was like a peer to them. So it was never like he was this adult preying on the children. He was literally one of them. He loved playing what they loved to do, which was play video games, watch cartoons, talk about girls even.”
He carefully chose his nickname, the King of Pop
As an artist, Jackson was skilled at branding himself. For example, he was the one who came up with his nickname, the King of Pop, and insisted that others refer to him that way at awards shows or on MTV for a very specific reason.
“He wanted to be respected,” Mangatal says. “He felt that Elvis [Presley] was called the King, and Michael felt like he had just as many hit singles as Elvis, and he wasn’t getting the respect that Elvis was getting, simply because of his race. So that’s why he started loving it when people called him the King of Pop and demanding that people do so.”
As big as he was onstage, he was unassuming in real life
Mangatal wants fans to take away from her book that Jackson was more than an icon.
“He was down to earth, he was a real man, he wasn’t Wacko Jacko,” she says. “He was just a normal guy who had an immense amount of talent. A lot of time when I was with him, I had to keep reminding myself, ‘This is Michael Jackson, this is the King of Pop.’ It was very easy to forget that when you were with him, because he was really unassuming. He never put on any airs, like he was a superstar in private. Yeah, onstage he did. He was the most magnificent star to ever live, but in real life, he wasn’t like that.”
He cared much less about his skin color than everyone else
It’s well documented that Jackson’s complexion changed over the years due to the skin disorder vitiligo, but some speculated that he also bleached his skin to lighten his complexion. Mangatal says that Jackson never wanted to change his race.
“He had gone through the music industry since he was a child, and he experienced so much racism and, almost to prove a point — this is my theory — that that’s why he didn’t mind that his skin was changing, because it made him colorless, not raceless,” she says. “Because he was always extremely proud of being a black man. That was always very important to him, and it was very important that people knew that. But being black and having a different skin color were two different things for him. Those had nothing to do with each other, and I think that is where the public gets that mixed up. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be black, it’s just that he wanted to be universal. He didn’t believe in color.”
When it came to his plastic surgeries, Mangatal theorizes that Jackson was more interested in the pain medication that came along with the surgeries.
Russell Crowe was, um, not alone in being pranked by the King of Pop
Mangatal’s favorite memory of Jackson is when she worked as an extra on his short music film, Ghosts, which he did with Stephen King in 1996.
“He was just so great and so down to earth and friendly, and that was important to me as [I was] falling deeper in love with him, and seeing what a great sense of humor he had,” she says. “We played practical jokes on each other every day, and he was amazing. Watching him dance up close like that was the most amazing experience ever.”
But Mangatal noticed a sadness come over Jackson that never quite went away after the first child molestation allegations were brought against him in 1993. He was also hurt when many of his celebrity friends weren’t there for him during and after his highly publicized 2005 trial on the same charges, she recalls.
“After the trial was over, he didn’t even want to come back to the United States, because he felt like no one loved him here,” Mangatal says. “He felt like if he did a concert or a show in America, no one would show up — that’s how traumatized he was from that event, where a lot of people didn’t support him that he expected would. And then to see them after he had passed away [at a public memorial for him at L.A.’s Staples Center], sitting there smiling, some going onstage giving speeches, as if they were his best friends, it really made me sad.”
Mangatal saw Jackson for the last time when he took his kids to see a magic show by David Copperfield — who was her boss at the time — on New Year’s Eve 2006 in Las Vegas. He was back to his “bubbly” self, she says. His death two-and-half years later devastated her. It took several years before she could listen to Jackson’s music or look back on her time with him, and she still doesn’t expect to find anyone else like him.
“It’s been tough. I foresee myself being alone forever, unfortunately,” Mangatal says. “It’s hard when you’re with someone like Michael Jackson. It’s hard to go and start dating the guy next door. It’s nearly impossible, because you become almost addicted to this excitement, to almost the non-availability of him at all times becomes the exciting aspect of it. You’re constantly wondering, when is he going to call, when am I gonna see him, and that becomes the part of the whole roller- coaster ride that is kind of thrilling. And then to sort of go to a normal existence is just not, I can’t even become attracted to that. I need someone with that same excitement and that same charisma that he had. And it’s rare that people have that, so it’s been extremely tough for me.”
Michael and Me: The Untold Story of Michael Jackson’s Secret Romance hits bookshelves on Monday, Aug. 29.