Michael Jackson is known for wanting to heal the world and help children, but he has abandoned his oldest employee and confidant in the man's waning days.
Bill Bray, who was Jackson's head of security for most of his career, is bedridden, ailing and in grave condition. He has not seen or heard from anyone in the Jackson family for at least five years — even though he still is loyal to them.
Bray went to work first for Motown around 1968 and then for the Jackson Five as head of security in 1971. Bray was hired by Joseph Jackson, Michael's father, and instantly vested with one task: Keep Michael out of trouble and harm's way.
He did that for the next two and a half decades, leaving Motown when the Jacksons did in 1978, and staying with Michael through his solo career.
Michael wrote in his 1988 memoir "Moonwalk": "Bill is very careful and immensely professional in his job, but he doesn't worry about things after the fact. He travels with me everywhere and occasionally he's my only companion on short trips. I can't imagine life without Bill; he's warm and funny and absolutely in love with life. He's a great man."
Now Bray is living in dire circumstances at the age of 79 on Medicare and supplemental health insurance, which his 64-year-old wife, Gail, says is paid for by Jackson's office. Otherwise, he says he receives no compensation from the Jacksons and has no contact with them.
Calls to Jackson's manager, his brother Randy, were not returned.
When I went to see Bray a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, he was confined to a hospital bed in a cramped first-floor apartment rented by Gail, his longtime companion and wife.
He's had cancer and strokes. Most of the day he lies in bed and watches old John Wayne movies on TV. His cognition level is minimal at times and he has trouble speaking. Even though he probably made good money with the Jacksons, those days are long gone.
Bill Bray hasn't heard from any Jacksons in at least five years, Gail told me recently on a visit. Their apartment is a block away from the Santa Monica Freeway in a clean, but nevertheless dicey, neighborhood near South Central.
It is a far cry from Neverland or even from the Jackson family estate in Encino, Calif. Gail sleeps on a couch across from Bray's room so she can hear him during the night.
If Bray squirreled away a lot of dough from his days as Michael's guy in charge — as Jackson insiders insist — there's no sign of it now.
I told Gail, who has known Bray since the late '60s, that everybody involved in the current Michael Jackson scandal says: "Where's Bill Bray? He would never have let this happen."
"Michael and Bill were so close he was like his real father," Gail told me. "That's what he called him. There was one time at the beginning when Michael finished a show, he would run and jump in Bill's arms when he got off stage."
Bray traveled with the Jacksons, and then with Michael, with a devotion that often upset Gail. "When I needed him he would come back off the road for a day, then he'd have to get back to Michael."
In fact, Bray's name is listed as head of security on all the big Jackson tours of the '80s and '90s: the Victory, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory tours.
But times have changed. Jackson has been caught up in a child-molestation case for almost a year. Prior to that, he was involved in several other scandals and tabloid headlines.
Gail said calls she'd placed to Michael through his office at MJJ Productions had gone unreturned.
"I used to tell Bill, 'You need to watch your back,'" Gail said. "Several people were jealous of Michael's relationship with Bill and wanted to get him out."
Among those she cited were Norma Staikos, Jackson's secretary, who vanished from contact after the 1993 child-molestation case, and Wayne Nagin, Jackson's security man, who has also disappeared from contact since that case.
"It's not even that Bill wants money from Michael," Gail said before we parted company.
Unlike Bob Jones, a longtime Jackson employee who was recently terminated without notice, Bray has no plans to write a book or file a lawsuit.
"He'd just like him to visit," Gail said.
And that's the thing, you see. Bill Bray remains loyal to Michael Jackson despite his circumstances.
"I don't want to say anything that would hurt Michael," he told me.
When I did ask him if it was possible that Michael had a grown child no one knew about — as Jackson asserted to friends and I wrote about recently — that was the one time Bray let his guard down during our time together.
He laughed out loud and said: "If Michael told you that, he's a big liar. If he told you he had a son, he's not telling the truth."
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