Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Michael Jackson's friends aghast

ABUSE CHARGES A former child actor who spent several nights with Jackson said he was drawn to young people because he missed out on a childhood

REUTERS , LOS ANGELES

Joanne Muk, 4, of Singapore touches Michael Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Michael Jackson's show business friends reacted with silence, skepticism and angry disbelief on Friday as they struggled to come to grips with the latest allegations of child molestation engulfing the pop star.

Some long-time Jackson pals, including veteran actress Elizabeth Taylor, fellow Motown sensation and The Wiz co-star Diana Ross, and former child actor Macaulay Culkin, declined to comment on Jackson's arrest this week on suspicion of sexually abusing a young boy.

Likewise, Lisa Marie Presley, who married Jackson in August 1994 in the midst of a criminal investigation of a previous pedophile allegation against him, had nothing to say publicly, her spokeswoman said.

Taylor's silence was particularly striking given that she flew to Singapore to lend support to Jackson on tour when he was last accused of child molestation.

Some of Jackson's most spirited defenders are those whose own careers have been roiled by run-ins with the law -- among them rap impresario Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and the self-styled "king of funk" Rick James.

"These accusations are clearly lies, they are untrue," James, best known for his 1981 hit Super Freak, said in an interview Friday on CNN. James has struggled to rebuild his own career since serving two years in prison for separate attacks on two women while under the influence of cocaine.

"If Michael's guilty of anything, it's the Peter Pan syndrome ... the same thing a lot of people are guilty of," he said. "We do not want to grow up. We do not want to get old. We love children."

Combs, who was acquitted in 2001 of bribery and weapons charges after a nightclub shooting, told the syndicated TV show Access Hollywood he empathized with Jackson.

"I saw him in the handcuffs and you know, I have been in similar situations where the jury has been out," the hip-hop star said, adding that the public should give Jackson the benefit of the doubt "until all the evidence is in."

Jackson's goddaughter, Nicole Richie, the daughter of R&B singer Lionel Richie and co-star of the upcoming reality TV show The Simple Life, said she spent much of her childhood at Jackson's Neverland Ranch in central California and never saw him behave inappropriately, though she and friends all slept in the same room with Jackson.

"It was like absolutely nothing more than just ... an adult kind of wanting to be a kid again -- just, you know, enjoying the company of children," she told the Access Hollywood program.

Former child actor Corey Feldman, who befriended Jackson at age 13 but had a falling out with the singer in recent years, said on CNN's Larry King Live that he, too, spent nights with Jackson on occasion -- in the same room but in separate beds -- without anything improper occurring. "I've never seen him act in any inappropriate way to a child," he added.

Feldman described Jackson as a "very intelligent" though "very eccentric" man who is drawn to young people in part because he feels he missed out on his own childhood.

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