As befit his unique lifestyle, a number of strange characters moved in and out of Michael Jackson's orbit over the years. None, however, was more elusive and mysterious than a gentleman by the name of Dr. Tohme Tohme, who served as the late singer's adviser and confidant in the final years of his life.
Over the weekend, Tohme, a native of Lebanon who claims to have helped Jackson rescue Neverland Valley Ranch from foreclosure last year, broke his silence about the death of his friend for the first time and spoke to The Associated Press, describing his relationship with the late singer and how he briefly entered the star's orbit.
Tohme, described by the news service as "a financier with a murky past," said he was contacted last year by Jackson's brother Jermaine, who asked if Tohme could help rescue Neverland from falling into foreclosure. The pair traveled to Las Vegas, where Jackson was living at the time, and Tohme said they instantly bonded. For the next year, Tohme would server as Jackson's final business manager and spokesperson.
"For the last year and a half, I was the closest person to Michael Jackson," said Tohme, who added that he was inspired to help because he saw that Jackson was a "wonderful human being" and a fine father to his three children. Tohme said he helped negotiate a deal with his close friend, the chairman of Colony Capital, who was hesitant to get involved until he was persuaded to go visit Jackson in person. Impressed by Jackson's "intelligence and focus," Colony agreed to buy the mortgage on the home and keep it out of foreclosure.
That deal brought Tohme, believed to be in his late 50s, and Jackson, 50, together in a partnership that included the contract for what was scheduled to be Jackson's triumphant return to the top of his game: a 50-show run at the O2 arena in London that was to begin next Monday.
He said Jackson was excited about the concerts because they would be a chance for his three young children to see him perform.
Though he's often described as being mysterious, Tohme — his double name is not uncommon in the Middle East — said he hates being referred to that way. "I'm a private man," he said, reportedly ignoring a barrage of cell phone calls during the interview, though taking one from the Reverend Jesse Jackson. "A lot of people like the media, and I don't. I respect the privacy of other people, but lately nobody respects mine."
Tohme would not reveal any information about his life or career other than to confirm that he is a U.S. citizen, a "self-made man" who works in the world of finance and was raised in Los Angeles. MTV News was unable to contact Dr. Tohme for comment for this story.
Denying he is affiliated with the Nation of Islam, Tohme said he actually fired some representatives of the religious sect who had taken over handling affairs for Jackson, who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. The AP report described him as being on the verge of tears several times while discussing Jackson's death and said he was breaking his silence now because it is what Jackson wanted.
"He always said to me, 'I want people to really know who I am after I'm gone,' " Tohme said, noting that he dropped everything else he was doing and took no salary while working with Jackson and that he helped to begin turning Jackson's finances around after years of poor management.
Among the deals he said he negotiated were ones for a "Thriller" Broadway show — the subject of a lawsuit from the director of the song's iconic video, John Landis — as well as one for an animated series based on "Thriller," a clothing line that was to include "moonwalk shoes" and other deals. He also said he was working to renegotiate the terms of some of Jackson's main assets, including the singer's share of the very lucrative Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog — which includes music by the Beatles, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers — against which Jackson had taken out massive loans to support his expensive lifestyle.
One of the first things Tohme, an avowed music business neophyte, said he did when he took over was to fire many members of Jackson's staff, including security guards, in order to build a fence around the singer and protect him from nameless others who wanted to control the pop star's finances. He also claimed to have twice fired, on Jackson's orders, the longtime nanny of the singers' children, Grace Rawaramba.
Though he apparently uses the title "Dr." and has a medical degree, there is no record of Tohme practicing medicine in the U.S. He said he thought the singer was in perfect health the last time he saw Jackson, two days before his death, and that as far as he could tell, Jackson didn't use drugs and kept himself on a strict, healthy diet that included no red meat or alcohol.
It does not appear that Jackson will be buried at Neverland, but Tohme claimed that in the singer's final months, the two talked about the star's wish to create a special place "10 times bigger than Graceland" — referring to Elvis Presley's home/memorial — where fans could come to view Jackson's memorabilia and awards.
Tags: jackson, Lebanese American, Lebanon, Music