Chris Tucker, the star of the two "Rush Hour" movies, and Brett Ratner, the director of the same two films, are suddenly at the center of the Michael Jackson child molestation case. I'm telling you this exclusively.
Tucker, it appears, plays a major role in the case along with his girlfriend, who is also the mother of his 5-year-old son. The two, I am told, often babysat the 13-year-old accuser as well as his brother and sister.
Indeed, a picture is becoming clearer of a mother who often deposited her children with anyone who'd take them — grandparents, friends, acquaintances — so she could spend time with her boyfriend. The mother is also said to have been inattentive during her son's bout with cancer.
One byproduct of parking her children with so many different people: lots of witnesses who can describe her then 12-year-old son's relationship with Jackson, as well as the boy's attitude and mental state if he were approached by a potential molester.
The boy, for example, was a frequent guest on the set of Ratner's comedy, "Rush Hour 2" which starred Tucker and Jackie Chan. This was long before the boy and his family logged time at Jackson's Neverland Ranch.
Ratner recalled for me what it was like to make the hugely successful comedy with a 12-year-old boy by his side. (Calls to Tucker were not returned.)
"[The boy] would sit in my director's chair. When I told him to get up, he'd tell me to go to hell." Ratner said, "He used to tell me, 'Brett, I don't like the last shot' while he was watching us make the movie. He's telling me how to make my movie! He's more street smart than I was at that age. If someone tried to fondle him, he'd punch them in the face. He's an adult. I think the jury will see that."
Ratner confirmed for me what I've heard a lot now from others: that actor/comedian Chris Tucker bonded with the boy when he was ill. I've told you before that it was Tucker and Adam Sandler who the boy wanted to meet when he was at a camp for sick children. It was through Tucker that he met Jackson.
What will come out in testimony, if there is ever a trial in this case, will be the story of how Tucker and his girlfriend/fiancee flew with the boy and his family from Miami back to California on Feb. 7, 2003, after the boy and his brother appeared on the Martin Bashir TV special, "Living With Michael Jackson." Both Tucker and his fiancee will testify, I am told, about the family, in particular about a mother who often dumped her star struck kids with Tucker so she could be with her boyfriend.
One major bombshell: contrary to previous reports in other places, it will come out in court that it was Tucker's girlfriend — and not Jackson employee Marc Schaffel — who accompanied the mother on her interview with Los Angeles County Child Protective Services one year ago. Some reports had named Schaffel as a witness to the interview. "They're wrong," my sources said.
The whole issue of Tucker's involvement with the family is going to be central to Jackson's defense. I told you two weeks ago that the mother encouraged her kids to call her boyfriend, Jay Jackson, an Army Reserve officer, "daddy." She also told them to do the same thing with Michael Jackson, I reported. Sources said she was equally enthusiastic about Tucker filling that role.
Interestingly, two sources who don't know each other both told me stories about the early days of the family's involvement with Michael Jackson. Both of these sources claim that initially it was the father — who has appeared on TV under his first name, David — and not the mother who seemed to be caring for the children. "She couldn't deal with the boy's illness," my sources said. "It was the father who was there when he had the cancer treatments."
"I always had a weird feeling that the mother would set Michael up," Ratner told me yesterday. He's directed several of Michael's music videos, including "You Rock My World."
"I always liked the father. But the mother was an opportunist.
I'm sorry that the great soul singer Doris Troy died last week, but her funeral last night was so terrific it was almost worth it.
Last night a bunch of Doris's friends and her family gathered in Harlem at the William Institutional CME Church and sent the singer off in style. Doris's sister, Vy Higginsen, organized the service with her husband, Ken Wydro, the producers and composers of "Mama, I Want to Sing," a famous touring musical inspired by Doris's life.
Doris, of course, wrote and recorded one of the all time great R&B pop hits, "Just One Look (That's All It Took)" in 1963. The Hollies and Linda Ronstadt had hits with it later, but Troy's version is the primo. Later, in the '70s, she was a popular vocalist on many rock records including Pink Floyd's mega hit "Dark Side of the Moon." It's Doris's voice that you can hear all over the album.
Cissy Houston (Whitney's mother) and her niece, Dionne Warwick, were special guest stars for the evening, sneaking in from New Jersey to pay their respects. Accompanied just by a piano, Cissy sang a solo gospel number that sent chills down the spines of the audience. Dionne did not sing, but she was one of the four featured special speakers who eulogized Doris. The others were Valerie Simpson, who stayed right til the end of the two-and-a-half hour service, writer David Nathin, and Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.
There haven't been many nights when Ertegun, 80, is the closing act, but among the four "special" speakers at Doris's service, Ertegun was chosen to finish. (He also stayed, remarkably.) Before Ahmet spoke, Simpson recalled how Doris had her play piano for her at the Apollo, thereby validating her early career. Warwick — who called her "DT" — remembered when the pair sang back up on other people's records and "DT" would step on Dionne's note. "She said, You'd better get your own part," Warwick laughed.
Ertegun called himself "one of the lucky people blessed to have known Doris Troy when started out." He said, "She had one of the greatest voices of all time... she was one of the heroes of the Atlantic family, whose voice had a rich, high register that blended gospel, blues, and rock and roll."
It was a gorgeous night for music, with gospel offerings by the Walker Memorial Baptist Church Mass Choir, selections from "Mama, I Want to Sing," and lots of good old-fashioned hell-fire preaching. Britney Spears has never heard of her, Pink, Christina, Avril, and Beyonce don't care, but Doris Troy got a better send off than they will ever know.
Now, if only someone can straighten out Doris's estate. I'm told that Chuck Rubin's Artist Rights Group is still getting half of all her royalties.
But that's for another column...