Besides his three children and millions of fans, Michael Jackson has also left behind less likely progeny – a dancing chimp, four giraffes and other exotic pets.
To the delight of tabloids and the dismay of some animal rights activists, Jackson created a private zoo at Neverland, his 1,050-hectare (2,600-acre) fantasy estate in California.
While the fate of his opulent personal theme park hangs in the balance, nearly all of the animals have already been moved to new homes in the past few years as Jackson’s personal and financial woes worsened.
Jackson’s most famous pet was Bubbles, a chimpanzee he adopted from a medical laboratory in 1985. Like Jackson himself, Bubbles has generated years of intense press speculation, some of it perhaps apocryphal.
As a young chimp, Bubbles was said to have shared Jackson’s bedroom and bathroom and learned to dance the King of Pop’s signature moonwalk.
Bubbles was even rumored to have attempted suicide after Jackson parted ways with his ape companion, whose growing size made him a danger to the King of Pop’s young children.
The chimpanzee’s trainer said he was alive and well at a California animal sanctuary, denying a tabloid report that Bubbles died and his body carefully preserved by a German doctor.
Trainer Bob Dunn said Jackson thought of Bubbles as “his first child” and regularly visited the chimpanzee, who recognized him.
“Chimpanzees are intelligent. They remember people and stuff. Bubbles and Michael were close friends and playmates,” Dunn told Britain’s News of the World tabloid. Contacted by AFP, Dunn declined comment, saying he was negotiating a deal to speak publicly about Bubbles.
Jackson’s two tigers, Thriller and Sabu, were taken in at another sanctuary in California run by former actress Tippi Hedren.
The Voices of the Wild Foundation, which runs an animal preserve in Arizona, adopted Jackson’s four giraffes along with reptiles and exotic birds including the King of Pop’s purported favorite, the Amazon parrot Rikki.
Freddie Hancock, the founder and director of the non-profit group, said it was appealing to Jackson fans to send donations in his memory so that the preserve can shelter more animals in need of homes.
Hancock said the foundation also hoped to put up a plaque dedicated to the superstar, for whom she had nothing but praise.
She toured Neverland to arrange the animal adoption two years ago when Jackson’s entourage advised him to downsize. She said the animals had “beautiful facilities” in Neverland.
“I think he just loved animals. And when you’re an individual who loves animals, the animals know that,” Hancock told AFP. “He loved watching all of their different characteristics.”
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was much more critical of Jackson. The animal rights group filed a complaint to US authorities in January 2006, charging that the exotic animals in the Neverland zoo were being mistreated.
Department officials inspected the estate’s menagerie but found no evidence of abuse or neglect.
Michael Jackson’s interest in animals was a constant throughout his life.
When he was 14 years old, he had his first number-one hit single with “Ben,” inspired by his pet rat.