Michael Jackson's personal photographer shares intimate insight into his personal life
As far as musical legends go, there's arguably no one bigger than Michael Jackson. The late-singer, who is often regarded as the King of Pop, was the biggest star on the planet during his time on earth. And, despite the controversies that marred that latter part of his career, MJ still has millions of followers and fans who are obsessed with the Billie Jean hitmaker.
However, for all that we saw of Jackson throughout his career, he often kept his cards close to his chest when it came to his personal life. Jackson was seen as a closed book who kept plenty of secrets, but one person who knows more about him than most, is Harrison Funk.
Funk was Michael Jackson's personal photographer for Jackson, with the duo beginning their working relationship in 1981 while the Jacksons' were on their Triumph tour. Speaking about the tour, Funk says he quickly sensed the media circus that was starting to form around the singer: “Rupert Murdoch’s people called and practically begged me to sneak out a photo of Michael from rehearsals. I told Michael and we laughed about it – but the fact I told him built up a trust.”
Funk gained unprecedented access to the singer and his family. One photo captured by him shows Michael putting on his own makeup, something which the photographer says he took great pride in. "It wasn’t so much femininity on Michael’s part as androgyny – he was fluid around gender. Michael had no interest in assigning a gender to anybody. … he didn’t overtly identify as one particular gender."
While the singer was known for his softly-spoken and reserved nature, Funk claims that Jackson as prone to agressive outbursts: "Don’t be fooled. Michael had very demanding moments. If he didn’t like something, he let you know.
"Michael was never ridiculing to me ever, but if someone messed up the design of his stage, then he would yell at them. He expected perfection.
"His shyness and introversion never hindered his ability to work with me as a photographer.
"Michael knew exactly what he wanted artistically, right up until probably the last two years of his life, where he got swayed by the wrong people and got in way over his head.”
Jackson passed away in 2009 from a cardiac arrest. The singer was set to embark on his This Is It tour but died 20 days before the opening night. "As much as I don’t like talking about the end,” says Funk, “I will say he got destroyed by people who only had their own financial interests at heart. I can tell you that a big part of his plans following the This Is It tour was to do charity work and use his influence to better mankind.”
In 2003, Jackson was charged with child molestation, only to later be acquitted. Recalling the charges, Funk is still angered by the accusations. “All the accusations and crap he went through,” he says. “Let me ask you this: what is a better way to ruin someone who is going to make massive positive changes to the children of the world than to discredit them?”
The accusations aimed at Jackson were not the only stories to have annoyed the photographer. Funk also disputes claims that Jackson bleached his skin and wanted to be white, saying that the singer was "suffering from a cruel skin disease."
“It was all a load of bulls**t,” Funk says of these reports. “He didn’t want to look white or find a way out. He was immensely proud to be a black man. Michael was suffering from a cruel skin disease, which changed his appearance, and I had to rise to this as his photographer and adapt his lighting.
"I think the problem was Michael wanted badly for his skin to look even-toned. I didn’t have Photoshop back then so I lit Michael myself and had specific techniques to make him look at his best."
Funk's insights into the life of Michael Jackson are incredibly interesting a revealing. While he may have seemed like a softly spoken, shy character, it seems like he was prone to the odd dive outburst.