Bill Bray, the retired Los Angeles Police Department officer whom Michael Jackson considered his surrogate father, died yesterday at Centinela Hospital. He was 80 years old and hadn’t seen Jackson in about 10 years.
I told you about Bray in October 2004 when I visited him in Los Angeles. He was bedridden and death-bound but somehow held on for a year. Maybe he hoped Michael or someone in the Jackson family would come see him after that piece ran. But no one did. Instead, they left him on the payroll and sent a basket of fruit and crackers.
I’m told that upon getting the news, Michael became “hysterical.” “There’s a lot of guilt there,” my source said. That’s an understatement.
Bray’s financial situation at the end of his life was dire, no matter how much money he made legitimately — or otherwise — with Jackson. Luckily, he was tended to by his longtime “wife” and friend, Gail; a plucky, sensible woman, she got him back and forth to the hospital and to doctor’s appointments on wit alone.
It was Bray who knew all of Michael’s secrets once Michael’s real father, Joe Jackson, hired him in the early '70s. He was constantly at Michael’s side on tour during the late Jackson 5 days, and he was there again through all the solo tours, too.
Gail could recall Bill literally carrying Michael in his arms to get him away from fans when he was a child performer. Later, it was Bill who formed what witnesses referred to as the “Office of Special Services,” a private security force at Neverland that was devoted to keeping Jackson out of trouble with his young guests.
But the side to Jackson that his fans don’t really understand is one marked by disloyalty and fickleness. Once Bray had been cut out of the Neverland picture by others whom Jackson came to trust, he was gone for good.
Considering the legions of stories I’d heard over the years about Bray — cunning, manipulative, protective — I was shocked when I walked into his bedroom last year. He was now a little old man, confined to a hospital bed in a tiny room. He couldn’t speak or move. His eyes followed the flicker of light from an old TV pushed up against the bed playing a John Wayne movie.
It was a sorrowful end to such a stunning saga. The llamas at Neverland were living better.
More tomorrow on Jacko doings…
Michele Lee is kicking up her heels and trying out her vocal chords for two weeks at Feinstein’s at the Regency. Don’t miss. She opened last night in front of friends like Sandra Bernhard, Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Lucie Arnaz, Lawrence Luckinbill, Elaine Kaufman, TV producer Fred Rappaport, Bobby Zarem, Joel Siegel of "Good Morning America" and Michael Filerman, the man who created “Knots Landing” and “Dallas.”
Michele, as you may know, was one of the stars of “Knots Landing” during its 14-year run. What you may not know is that before that, she was a Broadway music star in shows like “How to Succeed in Business” and “Seesaw.” Michele’s voice, like the rest of her, is in great shape. And she’s funny.
Here’s one story: her father, Jack Dusick, was a famous Hollywood makeup man whose clients included Richard Chamberlain, aka Dr. Kildare.
Visiting on the set one day, teenage Michele got her picture taken with Chamberlain. It wound up in a movie mag, with a gigantic headline: “The Teenager Richard Chamberlain Is Dating Now.”
Of course, the studio was probably thrilled, if not behind it. They had to protect Chamberlain’s secrets. And you think we invented all this stuff in 2005!
Anyway, call the Regency Hotel now and book your seats before they’re gone. Michele does a fabulous version of “Time After Time,” albeit the original one, not Cyndi Lauper’s … but that’s OK too.
Jesse Hilsen, the famed deadbeat dad who once managed the rock group KISS, may be getting out of jail soon.
A hearing has been set for Nov. 22 in New York Family Court to vacate an order that would imprison him for six more months if he gets out of federal prison.
Back in the early '90s, when Hilsen was helping himself to hundreds of thousands of dollars of KISS’s money, he was simultaneously crying poor and filing bankruptcy to avoid taking responsibility for his family’s well being.
In her testimony during the divorce case, the bookkeeper for KISS said that Hilsen had received $500,000 from the group in 1992 alone.
Hilsen, a psychiatrist, has been in federal custody for 17 months since finally being arrested in June 2004 after 10 years as a fugitive. He disappeared in 1994 after paying no child support or alimony.
In 1988, a judge had ordered him to pay Rita Hilsen, his ex-wife, $750 a week in lifetime maintenance, and another $200 a week in child support to his two underage kids (a third child, a daughter, was already over 18). Hilsen refused. Rita Hilsen wound up living in a shelter for abused women, where she remains today.
Today, some 17 years after their divorce, Jesse Hilsen owes his wife and kids nearly $2 million, including interest.
The story though has taken a unique twist, involving a prominent New York doctor and his wife, who is also a psychologist. When Hilsen left his family in the late 1980s, he immediately took up with a Dr. Joan Packles Johnson, a mother of two.
According to documents from the Hilsens’ divorce, Jesse Hilsen — while refusing to see his own kids or pay anything to them — allowed Packles’ kids to call him “daddy” and supported them instead.
Packles eventually married Hilsen in the Dominican Republic. But she testified in a deposition last year that she divorced him soon after, when she realized he was still married to Rita Hilsen.
Nevertheless, she and Hilsen continued to live together for five more years. And that’s where the story gets tricky.
Rita Hilsen is certain that Packles — now married to well-known NYU Medical Center Department of Pharmacology Professor Dr. Richard U. Margolis — knows where Jesse Hilsen’s assets are hidden.
Rita Hilsen doesn’t want Jesse Hilsen released from federal or state custody until Assistant District Attorney Thomas Brown digs up those assets. Otherwise, it is likely that a freed Hilsen will run. The woman he married after Joan Margolis left, Leona Grunenbaum, swore in an affidavit signed March 23, 2004, that Hilsen had at least six pseudonyms, including Jack Rockwell, a name important to Hilsen’s saga.
And Grunenbaum, who is Dutch and lives in Rotterdam, also swears to a key fact: “During my marriage to Jesse Hilsen … I became aware of his efforts to conceal marital assets from his ex-wife, Rita Hilsen and his ongoing efforts to defy and circumvent U.S. court orders and judgments.”
You’d think that statement would be enough to send the United States Southern District on a pursuit of Hilsen’s “hidden marital assets.” You’d also think Family Court would have their curiosity piqued as well. But so far, all signals are "go" for letting Hilsen walk out of jail on Nov. 22 a free man.
“We’ve taken his passport away from him,” said a spokesperson for the Southern District … as if that would stop Jesse Hilsen.
Rita Hilsen and her lawyer, Jackie Bukowski, each have an idea that Joan Margolis and Richard Margolis know some of the answers to their questions. That’s because Joan Margolis, who still sees patients, is thought to be holding several trusts that own land in Sullivan County belonging to Hilsen.
She was forced to give a deposition in the matter in January 2005, in which she showed her expertise at evading testimony.
The deposition makes for humorous reading: she dances around Hilsen’s lawyer’s questions about her connection to Hilsen. On page 16, the attorney asks her: “Are you a trustee or beneficiary of any business entity, corporation, limited liability corporation, or other entity that is being held in a trust?”
Margolis cannot say yes or no. Her answer: “It’s such a complicated question that’s being asked.” It takes her two more pages of bobbing and weaving to concede that she and her son are in charge of trusts that own real estate and that Hilsen is a beneficiary of the trusts.
It’s like pulling teeth, but in the end Margolis acknowledges enough to raise eyebrows.
Almost more alarming and ready for an episode of "Montel": She does explain that she had to divorce Jesse Hilsen because he was still married to Rita Hilsen. Margolis says: “I didn’t want to be married to a person who didn’t get a divorce immediately like he said he was going to.”
Joan Packles Johnson Margolis’s deposition testimony would be funny if it weren’t so serious. It’s clear from the deposition that Margolis knows something about Hilsen’s finances. Why ADA Thomas Brown has ignored this deposition is puzzling and alarming. Margolis obviously holds the key to Hilsen getting her life back.
Letters and calls to Richard and Joan Margolis have not been returned. Their lawyer says they refuse to discuss the Hilsen case. Of course, Rita Hilsen points out, Richard Margolis — who writes papers on things like developmental brain research — has dedicated his life to saving people, and she’s the one who needs to be saved.
Remember my interview from Sunday with Joaquin Phoenix about the frog in his hair joke? It’s running today, uncredited, on World Entertainment Network News. Once again, you read it here first.