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Friends Fear Michael Jackson May Kill Himself

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Insiders Fear Jacko Will Commit Suicide

Michael Jackson's close friends now really fear that he will commit suicide. I am not kidding.

The scene yesterday morning at the courthouse in Santa Maria has convinced people who ordinarily do not say these things that Jackson is in serious mental trouble.

One thing is for sure: The combined pressures of his financial peril and seeing his accuser on the stand have undone Jackson.

My insider says: "He does not have back trouble," as Jackson claimed. "He's making it up. But he's definitely in pain. He's creating it."

Jackson's publicist, Raymone Bain, insists that Jackson called his lawyer, Tom Mesereau, at 5:15 a.m. PST Thursday morning to tell him of his severe back pain.

But I can tell you that Jackson also made other calls to a variety of people. He didn't sound like he was in pain. He sounded like someone who'd been up all night and was frantic.

That's because Wednesday night, as we reported earlier, a meeting took place at Neverland concerning the dire financial situation. Staffers have not been paid in two weeks. Some have walked off the job. Others are holding on for the moment, but as one said to me yesterday: "When does loyalty become stupidity?"

Another Jackson source put the dilemma succinctly: "Michael is most terrified of people thinking he's broke. And now there's proof of it."

Neverland Staff Gets Paid — for Now

Good news for the 120 or so laborers at Neverland Ranch. Don Stabler, Randy Jackson's accountant, tells me they were paid yesterday.

Other sources confirmed that Randy came up with the needed $150,000 to pay off two weeks' worth of the overdue payroll. Stabler insists that no staffers walked off the job this week, but more objective sources claim there was indeed a walkout two nights ago.

Now the questions remain: Where did Randy get the money, and where will more money come from in two more weeks?

With all traditional sources of funding unavailable, speculation is that Randy may have borrowed money from the Nation of Islam. The group still has personal bodyguards who take Michael to court and back every day.

As for the future finances: Things don't look bright. Unless a miraculous deposit occurs at the Bank of America from royalties and other music income, Jackson will be forced to scramble. The pressure is on him to agree to an existing deal for some portion of his ownership in Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Push has come to shove at the most inauspicious moment in his career. But there's almost never a good time when you have to do something unpleasant.

Did Jacko Make Up or Break Down?

"His hair is a mess and uncombed, but he had time to put on all his facial makeup, do his eyes, and put on lipstick," a Michael Jackson expert noted as the pop star finally arrived at court yesterday.

A good point.

"The hair, the pajamas, the slippers, it was all an act. Michael learned from James Brown," the source said. "All he needed was James's cape and it would have been perfect."

Indeed, the effect Jackson went for was breakdown, as in sympathy. But who has time during a breakdown, or extreme back pain, to gussy up? And if he did, why not do the complete job? Jackson, as many know, travels with a full-time makeup artist named Karen Faye.

So what was going on yesterday? To paraphrase Tina Brown from her column yesterday: Is Michael crazy, or crazy like a fox?

New Jobs for Rather and Brokaw?

Now that Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw have some time on their hands, Albert Brooks has a possible job for one of them.

Brooks has just put out a casting notice for a real-life newscaster for his new untitled film. The pay is $2,652.10 for 5 days in Atlanta. This actually constitutes one day's work and two days of travel.

Of course, the casting director is looking for someone between 45-50, but I'm sure either of these former newshounds (see Ted Baxter reference below) can play younger.

If they're not available, Albert, the guy you're looking for is New York anchor Jim Watkins. Call me and I'll hook you up.

This film, by the way, would be Brooks' first directorial effort since 1999's "The Muse" with Sharon Stone and Jeff Bridges.

No one seems to know what it's about, but the new project shoots in L.A. and New Delhi, and has a lot of Indian characters. Hmmm...

Anyway, for vintage Brooks and a great weekend, rent the brilliant "Lost In America," "Mother" (with a hilarious star turn by Debbie Reynolds), "Modern Romance" or the flawed but funny "Defending Your Life."

Or, Maybe, Mike Walker

No, the National Enquirer doesn't have the same punch these days. Maybe you've noticed their curious tame approach to stories lately.

But that means that Mike Walker, resident columnist, had time to write a book about the life and times of Dan Rather. It's called, wittily, "Rather Dumb: A Top Tabloid Reporter Tells CBS How to Do News. "

Walker told us all about it the other night at Riingo restaurant in the hot new Alex Hotel on East 45th St. This is a good read, no matter what you think of Rather or "Memogate."

I am flattered that Walker cited an item from this column, which, coincidentally, we reprinted the other day about Mike Wallace.

Among the dinner guests, by the way, was FOX News's own intrepid newsgal (as Ted Baxter used to say) Rita Cosby, producer Craig Rivera, Vanity Fair's John Connolly and the Daily News' Ben Widdicombe.