Wednesday, June 22, 2005
By Roger Friedman
Is Michael Jackson doped up at home on his ranch, cut off from friends and family?
This Howard Hughes scenario has been developing in the days since this column learned that the pop star, who was recently acquitted of child molestation charges, does not yet have his passport back and cannot leave the United States.
The reason? The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office hasn’t returned his passport.
Court papers filed on Friday show that the passport was still an issue as of Friday, June 17. Sources told me yesterday that no progress had been made.
But where is Michael? Is he hiding at Neverland?
Since his acquittal 10 days ago, Jackson has not made a statement or been seen in public. This has given rise to a number of theories, many of which center on an in-house tug-of-war between Michael’s brother Randy Jackson and the long-time Neverland nanny, Grace Rwarmba.
Rwarmba, said to be in her late 30s, started life at Neverland working in the administration office until Jackson promoted her to a nanny in 1997, when his son Prince was born.
Her influence over Jackson has increased over the years to the point where others in his family have been excluded, I’m told.
In fact, ranch insiders claim that Jackson’s woozy state during the trial and since might be due to Rwarmba possibly over-medicating the singer.
Sources tell me that Rwarmba is regularly dispensing prescription drugs to Jackson, keeping him isolated from his family and unable to make his own decisions. The situation, many claim, is dire and they would like some evidence that Jackson will rally enough to command his own crumbling empire.
More importantly, no one close to the family seems to have answers about Jackson’s exact location.
Unable to leave the country, Jackson can go few places without being recognized. He was offered a friend’s yacht to use, but even that would be hard to accept without some publicity.
The betting money is that he’s still at Neverland, which is up and running despite a cash-flow problem and fans lingering at the front gate hoping for a glimpse of the star.
But it’s the long-running power struggle over Jackson that’s keeping ranch insiders busy now that the trial is over.
“Michael is fine. He’s just taking care of himself. Nothing is wrong,” a source told me.
Those who tried to reach Jackson on Sunday, which was Father’s Day, had no luck finding him or getting past Rwarmba. Sources close to Jackson say that Rwarmba has long fantasized about being the First Lady of Neverland, and she’s working harder at it than ever before.
“The kids call her ‘mommy,'” a source said. “But Michael wouldn’t like it if he knew who else Grace has been close to at the ranch.”
Several sources confirmed for me Michael’s greatest fear: Rwarmba and Michael’s brother Jermaine Jackson had a romance for some time.
In fact, it was the two of them that brought in the controversial Nation of Islam in December 2003 after Jackson’s arrest. And even though the Nation was thought to have been purged from Jackson’s life, his bodyguards are said to be members.