If there is one author out there that is living the surreal life it is Montreal-based investigative journalist Ian Halperin.
Halperin is no stranger to controversy, some might even say he courts it with his provocative assertions and bold positions. After all, it was Halperin that first wrote a book exploring the very real possibility that Kurt Cobain did not actually take his own life but was murdered. Ian also went undercover posing as a male model for his expose on the dark, seedy side of the fashion industry and wrote a book detailing the troubled life of Celine Dion.
But nothing compares to the 2009 that Ian Halperin is having.
A couple months ago Ian saw the release of his book on Guy Laliberté, the creator and driving force behind the phenomenon known as Cirque du Soleil. The book was an instant lightning rod of controversy and Guy Laliberte himself was said to be furious because of it. Guy Laliberté – The Fabulous Story of the Creator of Cirque du Soleil was excerpted for a cover story in Maclean’s magazine, which just added national fuel to the fire.
Ian’s next book, a book he has been working on since 2002, was also scheduled to hit bookstores within a month of the Laliberté book – that book was orignally titled – “Michael Jackson – Back from Exile”. The book has now, as Jackson died literally five days before the originally scheduled release date, been retitled Unmasked – The Final Years of Michael Jackson and it has just now been released to worldwide media attention.
“Once word of the book and some of the stuff in it got out, there were over a thousand requests by media outlets for interviews,” Halperin told me.
First on the Laliberté book – yes, the book details the behind the scenes drug use and sexual indulgences of not just Laliberté but of the overworked Cirque performers as well. Yes, the book details the multi-year, ugly split from and custody battle with his ex-girlfriend Brazilian Rizia Moreira – and yes, Laliberté, being a very private man would naturally take exception to his life being laid bare like this. But the book I read left me filled with admiration for Laliberté. This guy was a street busker doing magic and playing music on the streets of Quebec for change to pay for his next meal – from that he built one of the most successful entertainment enterprises in history and has never sold out and never relinquished control of his dream.
The wild times come off as being celebratory, not destructive. The book is a tightly written, sometimes very personalized biographical journey that is as entertaining as it is informative.
“The thing about Guy is that he is a very powerful guy – he had enormous wealth and influence,” Halperin told me. “Add to that his control-freak nature and no matter what I wrote about him he would object to because he had no control over it.”
Then came the tragic death of Michael Jackson and the eerie convergence of the timing of his death and the long-since scheduled release of the book. Originally the publisher, Simon and Schuster (Canadian rights are held by Transit Publishing) delayed the release of the book by one week and then for a second week).
“I started to seriously delve into this story after Jackson’s trial and it was my intention to get him,” said Halperin. “I was angry after the trial – I thought it was another OJ-like scenario where a celebrity had literally gotten away with a very serious crime simply because he was a celebrity.”
The amazing thing about this book is that Halperin’s point of view slowly changed over the course of the researching and the writing of the book.
“As I got deeper into the story, spoke with a lot of insiders in the Jackson camp, I began to see quite clearly that in fact he wasn’t guilty and that he was under a near-constant barrage from people trying to take advantage of him – both from outside his circle and sadly from within it as well.”
As Helperin got closer and closer to the Michael Jackson story, the picture began to darken even further – the drug use, the depression, the anorexia, the effect the greed and avarice of those around them was having on Jackson’s fragile mental state.
Much has been made of the fact that Ian had predicted that Jackson would be dead in six months in his book – but that was not a ghoulish, Dead Pool kind of prediction, it was based on solid information. He had information from sources deep inside the Jackson camp that told him that Jackson told his daughter Paris that he had as little as two weeks to live and that he would often hole up in his room writing his memoirs – which were really, in essence, a long suicide note/memorial for his daughter.
Halperin details in the book that Jackson himself was terrified of the 50-show tour that his handlers had cornered him into – the original plan was for 10 shows and even that was thought to be taxing for the frail Jackson. It was years of drug dependency and the coinciding depression that killed Michael Jackson, “And it simply was not necessary,” said Halperin. “Not necessary but saddle inevitable given the way he was living and given the fact that he was surrounded by people that saw him as nothing but a cash cow.”
Ian Halperin is an investigative journalist that has chosen to delve into the lives of the people that fascinate us all (he writes in the Laliberté book introduction that it was in fact British biographer Andrew Morton that suggested he do the Laliberté book in the back of a cab in New York one night). He does not seek to smear his subjects but to humanize them, bring them from their PR machine manufactured stratosphere down to the earth that the rest of us inhabit, and in the case of Guy Laliberté humanizing him just serves to makes his story that much more interesting.
In the case of Michael Jackson Halperin’s book serves to illuminate the tragic life of a hugely gifted man that was taken advantage of virtually every minute of his life. Perhaps after reading Halperin’s book people will stop thinking of Jackson as a freak and think of him as a tortured soul that was turned into a freakish character by the legions of bloodsuckers that attached themselves to him because of the money they could make from him.
Like writers Dan Brown or JK Rowling, that see their work collide with events and the ebb and flow of cultural evolution and renewal in a spectacular fashion, my friend, the Montreal author Ian Halperin, will have to carefully manœuvre this weird scene. He is going to be called upon in the coming weeks to defend his book, to defend his point of view to an audience that has been deeply effected by the death of Michael Jackson (and Ian Halperin never backs down and never qualifies what he writes – if he wrote it, he stands by it), and once he does, it will be interesting to see what he tackles next… I think perhaps a look inside the mysterious world of Brad and Angelina is on the way, perhaps.