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Jackson's 'Peter Pan' image slipping away
Updated: 2005-04-04 09:46

It turns out Peter Pan grew up after all. Saying he never had a true childhood, Michael Jackson made his home into a children's fantasy, called it Neverland and once insisted to an interviewer "I am Peter Pan," referring to the boy who refused to grow up.

Entertainer Michael Jackson waves to his supporters while his brother Jackie, left, looks over his shoulder as they arrive for Michael Jackson's child molestation trial at the Santa Barbara County Superior Court Wednesday, March 2, 2005, in Santa Maria, Calif. [AP]

But the image Jackson has worked so hard to preserve slips away during his criminal trial with each new reference to drinking and each new display of his many adult magazines.

"He's a 46-year-old guy with a bad back who likes to watch porn and drink wine. Who would've thought?" said J. Randy Taraborrelli, a CBS News analyst and author of "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness."

Jackson has labored for years to control his public image and protect his privacy. He has worn surgical masks, covered his children's heads with veils and lashed out at intrusive news media in songs such as "Leave Me Alone."

Jackson's fans credit him with extraordinary openness, noting he has welcomed thousands of visitors to Neverland, where he is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2003.

But even during those visits, he has protected his privacy by requiring most guests to sign a lengthy document promising not to talk about what they saw at the ranch. Jackson's employees, like those of many celebrities, are often bound by confidentiality agreements.

Jackson has understood the importance of image since he was a small child performing with his brothers in the Jackson 5.

For the sake of marketability, he shaved two years off his age and falsely told the press that Diana Ross discovered the group, according to Taraborrelli.

And in 1986, according to Taraborrelli's book, Jackson helped spread the widely reported but false story that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber — a ploy to promote his short film "Captain EO," which was debuting at Disneyland and Epcot Center.

Michael Levine, a prominent Hollywood publicist, confirmed in an interview that he helped Jackson and his manager Frank Dileo plant the story but would not comment further. Dileo would not make any comment about Jackson.

During his trial, Jackson's only breaks from the rigorous court schedule have been for medical reasons, including a bout with the flu that delayed jury selection and a back injury that twice made him late for court.

Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain has insisted that the medical problems were real and not ploys intended to generate sympathy.

"He knows the seriousness of this," she said after Jackson blamed his back for a late arrival. "He's not play-acting."

Jackson is accused of molesting the boy in February or March 2003, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to make a video rebutting a documentary in which the boy appeared with Jackson. In the footage, Jackson said he let children sleep in his bed but maintained it was innocent and non-sexual.

Prosecutors have presented dozens of magazines seized at Neverland, including Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler's Barely Legal. They contend the singer showed them to his accuser, which Jackson denies.

On Tuesday, a flight attendant testified that Jackson routinely drank wine from soda cans because he didn't want his children to see him consume alcohol. She said the singer, like countless other nervous passengers, used wine to relax.

Fans who gather outside the courthouse each day say details about drinking and adult magazines don't damage their image of Jackson.

"Men will be men," said Angel Diaz, 24, of Santa Maria. "He's an adult. He has the right to do anything he wants."

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