Is Michael Jackson doped up at home on his ranch, cut off from friends and family?
This Howard Hughes scenario has been developing in the days since this column learned that the pop star, who was recently acquitted of child molestation charges, does not yet have his passport back and cannot leave the United States.
The reason? The Santa Barbara District Attorney's office hasn't returned his passport.
Court papers filed on Friday show that the passport was still an issue as of Friday, June 17. Sources told me yesterday that no progress had been made.
But where is Michael? Is he hiding at Neverland?
Since his acquittal 10 days ago, Jackson has not made a statement or been seen in public. This has given rise to a number of theories, many of which center on an in-house tug-of-war between Michael's brother Randy Jackson and the long-time Neverland nanny, Grace Rwarmba.
Rwarmba, said to be in her late 30s, started life at Neverland working in the administration office until Jackson promoted her to a nanny in 1997, when his son Prince was born.
Her influence over Jackson has increased over the years to the point where others in his family have been excluded, I'm told.
In fact, ranch insiders claim that Jackson's woozy state during the trial and since might be due to Rwarmba possibly over-medicating the singer.
Sources tell me that Rwarmba is regularly dispensing prescription drugs to Jackson, keeping him isolated from his family and unable to make his own decisions. The situation, many claim, is dire and they would like some evidence that Jackson will rally enough to command his own crumbling empire.
More importantly, no one close to the family seems to have answers about Jackson's exact location.
Unable to leave the country, Jackson can go few places without being recognized. He was offered a friend's yacht to use, but even that would be hard to accept without some publicity.
The betting money is that he's still at Neverland, which is up and running despite a cash-flow problem and fans lingering at the front gate hoping for a glimpse of the star.
But it's the long-running power struggle over Jackson that's keeping ranch insiders busy now that the trial is over.
"Michael is fine. He's just taking care of himself. Nothing is wrong," a source told me.
Those who tried to reach Jackson on Sunday, which was Father's Day, had no luck finding him or getting past Rwarmba. Sources close to Jackson say that Rwarmba has long fantasized about being the First Lady of Neverland, and she's working harder at it than ever before.
"The kids call her 'mommy,'" a source said. "But Michael wouldn't like it if he knew who else Grace has been close to at the ranch."
Several sources confirmed for me Michael's greatest fear: Rwarmba and Michael's brother Jermaine Jackson had a romance for some time.
In fact, it was the two of them that brought in the controversial Nation of Islam in December 2003 after Jackson's arrest. And even though the Nation was thought to have been purged from Jackson's life, his bodyguards are said to be members.
Maybe you're reading about Miranda July.
Her wonderful movie, which I wrote about last January from Sundance, has just opened in limited release. It's called "Me and You and Everyone We Know."
If it's playing in your area, go see it right now. If it's not playing, demand that your local theater call IFC Films and get it.
You know, pretty much no one is named "July." Her real last name in fact is Grossinger. New Yorkers will recognize that name — Grossinger's was a famous hotel in the Catskills for eons.
Miranda, a performance artist from San Francisco, is a great-granddaughter of that family. Grossinger's, if you can't picture it, was the kind of hotel at which "Dirty Dancing" was set: lots of cake, comedy and ice-skating.
The funny thing about Miranda, who is charming, is her parents didn't go the Grossinger's route — maybe that's why it eventually went out of business. They're tie-dyed Berkeley hippies who own a kind of crunchy publishing company called North Atlantic Books.
Their Web site says: "Our mission is to develop new ideas, nurture practical education, spread timeless wisdom and to help turn destructive energies into positive forces."
Well, their mission was accomplished. "Me and You and Everyone We Know" was the most refreshing Sundance film in years.
July, I hope, will have a long, happy future making offbeat comedies with heart. And she's third-generation, so she's learned to leave off the schmaltz. She wants us all to live long enough to see what she's doing next.
So much has gone on since I left for Santa Maria.
For one thing, our old friend Patricia Corrigan, the very best writer on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has written a new and important book: "Chemotherapy and Radiation for Dummies."
It sounds serious and it is. But Pat, a breast-cancer survivor, has teamed up with Dr. Humberto Fagundes and Alan P. Lyss to make a terrifying experience seem human.
Now if only book publisher John P. Wiley would put the always-funny and real Pat on a national TV tour. She's perfect for "Ellen," "Regis," etc.
I am happy to announce here that my pal, Jim Moret, has been signed as chief correspondent for "Inside Edition." The always-great Deborah Norville remains anchor of this successful, low-key show.
Moret toiled as anchor of a great cable entertainment-news show until shortsighted execs pulled the plug. He won kudos at the Jackson trial as legal analyst for the pool reporters. Now that "Celebrity Justice" has bitten the dust, "IE" would be wise to put Moret on the big-picture legal beat.
And just in case you didn't know, Moret's dad, legendary James Darren, was the star of my favorite TV show of the '60s: "The Time Tunnel." Forget "Bewitched" and "The Honeymooners" — how about a big-screen version of that golden oldie?