Published February 07, 2005
Michael Jackson checked himself into New York's Lenox Hill Hospital for two days back in 1999. The exact dates were April 17 and 18, and the alias he used was "James Walker."
The reason for Jackson's sudden hospitalization was not given, according to one report I received last week, but it said he had been in the psychiatric ward.
It turns out he was in a private suite in the Wollman unit at Lenox Hill, and ostensibly for exhaustion and dehydration.
"He was over-tired from making his 'Invincible' album and needed fluids," a source told me.
"Invincible" was not released, however, until more than two years later.
At the time, he was still married to, though not living with, his second wife, Debbie Rowe, and he already had custody of their two children, Prince and Paris.
Rowe, according to sources, did not know of the hospitalization. Neither did most of Jackson's close associates.
One Jackson insider who did know said she guessed his treatment was somehow drug-related. Jackson had a well-publicized dependence on prescription drugs in the past.
Yesterday, I spoke to the doctor who treated Jackson. Dr. Len Horovitz, who counts many celebrities among his patients, reluctantly answered some of my questions about Jackson and his stay at Lenox Hill.
The most important thing he told me: Jackson really does suffer from vitiligo, the medical condition that has caused his skin to turn white over the years.
Horovitz said, and I think we have to believe him, that Jackson does not do anything to overtly lighten his skin.
"He has not had chemical peels or used any drugs to do it," he said. "He is blotchy in places that you can't see, and he does wear makeup in public. But the vitiligo is real."
Horovitz conceded that he treated Jackson a few times in New York before the hospitalization. At the Four Seasons Hotel, where Horovitz met him, Jackson traveled with his then-very-young children, as well as collections of mementos.
"He had a lot of mementos of Judy Garland and 'The Sound of Music,'" Horovitz said. "He was really into 'The Sound of Music.'"
The children, Paris and Prince, did not resemble Jackson, Horovitz recalled.
Paris, who was then a toddler, resembled Shirley Temple, with curly reddish-brown hair. Recently, I confirmed that Jackson has been dying Prince's dark-brown hair blond for years. He will turn eight on Sunday.
When he finally checked into Lenox Hill, Jackson was alone most of the time, without any entourage, assistants or pets. Horovitz treated him with IV fluids.
"My job was to hydrate him quickly," the doctor recalled. "I put the IV in myself, and there was no one else around."
He ran blood tests, but not for drugs. He said he did not see pill bottles with Jackson, and there was no indication that he was medicating himself at the time. Jackson's only diversion in his overnight stay was a boom box.
"He wanted to talk about music," Horovitz, who is a pianist, said.
The two even struck up a little friendship, with Jackson occasionally inviting the doctor, a married father of two, over to the Four Seasons, simply to chat.
"He liked Debussy very much," Horovitz recalled. "He passed some CDs on to me that people had given him as gifts."
But the doctor observed, "He's very isolated."
Alan Alda is 69 years old, has starred in, directed and written several movies and has a bunch of Emmys for playing "Hawkeye" Pierce on "M*A*S*H."
But he doesn't have an Oscar, and has not been nominated for one until now. He plays the villain in "The Aviator," Sen. Ralph Brewster, so deliciously that he should be the winner of the Best Supporting Actor award without too much trouble.
But what about him don't you know? How about the fact that he almost died about 14 months ago?
Alda was shooting a TV travel special in a mountain village in Chile when it was discovered he had an intestinal blockage. There was discussion about flying him to Santiago, the capital.
He would have died -- however, a surgeon in the town wound up saving his life with an operation that would have given Hawkeye and his buddies pause.
Now Alda is on his "second" life.
"The way I look at it, this is all gravy," he said.
We had lunch last week at the Cafe des Artistes off Central Park West in New York City. Alda had just been on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" the night before.
The other guest on the show had been, coincidentally, Jeffrey Tambor, with whom Alda will appear on Broadway this spring in a new David Mamet play.
Alda's been very busy doing Broadway plays such as "Art" and making his own movies like "The Four Seasons" and "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" in the 20 years or so since "M*A*S*H" went into daily syndication.
He's also starred in three Woody Allen movies: "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and the musical "Everyone Says I Love You."
The first was the most memorable, the second was the most popular but my favorite was his performance as a harried patriarch in the third.
Just watch the scene where he delivers a serious speech at the top of the stairs in his townhouse while the maid and kids play hockey in the foyer below. It's classic.
Alda has been married for nearly 48 years, has three daughters and grandchildren to boot.
You might think he had it all after reading this, but his life has not been a cakewalk.
He was the only child of the famous Broadway music man and movie actor Robert Alda, who won the 1951 Tony Award for creating the role of Skye Masterson in "Guys and Dolls." But little has ever been said of Alda's mother Joan.
"She was psychotic," Alda told me suddenly. "That was a hard thing to put up with. Her paranoia was extreme. She thought everyone was trying to kill her. Including me. It was very frustrating."
He's writing about it now, at last, in a memoir commissioned by Random House called "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed."
"You wouldn't have heard much about this," he said. "In the beginning, I never talked about it. Times have changed. When I was a kid, we didn't even talk about in the family," Alda said. "It was such a mysterious, awful thing to live with. And there was something disgraceful about it. It's only recently that mental illness is regarded as a real illness. It was a sign from God, originally, a curse. Nobody would talk about it."
Alda's mother's illness, he said, made him a keen observer. Like most actors, it probably fueled his talent.
"It made me pay attention to what was really happening, what was reality and what was fantasy. From a very early age, I had to test her reality against mine," Alda said. "And she was a loving mother despite it. She encouraged me. But she had no idea how much trouble it was to be her child."
"It's interesting how life takes turns that are unexpected," Alda said.
That's what his book is about. The title, by the way, comes from a true episode from his childhood. His father actually had his dog, a cocker spaniel named Rhapsody, stuffed when it died. Alda was eight years old.
"He came back looking ferocious," Alda recalled. "And he scared everybody who came into the living room. They'd back out. They thought it was a live, rabid dog that just was very still. We put him on the front porch and delivery men were afraid to make deliveries," he said.
Tomorrow, I'll have part two of my conversation with Alda, and the beginning of my talk with "Vera Drake" star Imelda Staunton.