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Interfaith Celebrities: Michael Jackson, Michael Douglas and Michael and Michael

July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson's Interfaith Family

No one expected Michael Jackson to die at the age of 50 on June 25. In the wake of his death there has been an explosion of rumor and speculation about everything related to the reclusive pop superstar--including what will happen to his three young children. Several articles in the Jewish press have latched onto questions about the status of Jackson's two older children, whom he had with his second wife, Debbie Rowe, who is Jewish.

Deborah Rowe and Michael Jackson 1996
Deborah Rowe and Michael Jackson in a wedding photo, November 1996. The photo was released by Jackson's publicist. Photo: Reuters/Ho New.

Here's what I've learned about Rowe, Jackson and the two children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., called Prince Michael, 12, and Paris Michael, 11. According to an article in the New York Times, all three of Jackson's children, including Prince Michael II, called Blanket, are in the temporary custody of Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, 79, but a custody hearing is pending.

Rowe grew up in the Los Angeles area, the adopted daughter of an affluent couple. According to some reports, she didn't have a serious romantic relationship until she was in her 30s. Roger Friedman, who has covered Jackson as an entertainment reporter for Fox News and other media outlets since 1999, wrote in 2006 that Rowe, a Catholic, converted to Judaism when she married her first husband, Richard Edelman, who was Jewish. In a more recent article Friedman refers to Rowe as half-Jewish.

Rowe was divorced and working as a nurse in the office of Dr. Arnold Klein, a Beverly Hills dermatologist, when she met Jackson around 1994. Jackson had a skin disease called vitiligo which causes the skin to lose pigment, so he was in the office frequently. Jackson and Rowe married in 1996 and Rowe quickly had two children.

Rowe seems to have said a lot of contradictory things to the press about her relationship to Jackson and their children. In a 2008 profile in the Daily Mail, Rowe said that she wed Jackson and gave birth to their two children because she felt he "should be a father." The article asserts that Rowe and Jackson didn't have a sexual relationship. The reporter expressed frustration that Rowe refused to clarify whether she'd been impregnated by IVF or with sperm. Rowe had problems with the birth of the second child and could not safely have any more children.

The couple divorced in 1999, and Rowe's divorce settlement was $8 million. In October 2001, Rowe signed away all of her parental rights to her children with Jackson. The size of the settlement contributed to public perception that Jackson married Rowe in order to buy her services as a surrogate mother. It didn't help that Rowe was quoted in the press essentially describing herself this way--though she also expressed a lot of affection for Jackson.

In December 2003, California prosecutors charged Jackson with child molestation. In 2004, Rowe went to court to try to get temporary custody of the children pending a psychological evaluation of Jackson. In 2005, Rowe testified in Jackson's criminal trial in his favor. In that testimony she said that that she had scheduled eight-hour visits with her children every 45 days, though these did not happen when Jackson was touring or out of the country. After the criminal trial, Jackson took the children with him to Bahrain for a year, which presumably made it difficult if not impossible for Rowe to visit them.

In the 2006 California Appeals court decision available on Lexis-Nexis, Rowe's counsel asserted that she was seeking custody in part "...because of concerns arising from Michael's criminal prosecution and press reports Michael had associated with the Nation of Islam, whose members Deborah believed do 'not like Jews.' Because she is Jewish, Deborah feared the children might be mistreated if Michael continued his association with the Nation of Islam." The court decided that Rowe's parental rights had been terminated improperly, but after a series of out-of-court negotiations, Rowe and Jackson agreed to let the children remain in his custody.

Since Jackson's death Rowe has had lawyers schedule a hearing about the custody of the children. She may petition the court to be made legal guardian. Because of the decision in the 2006 hearing, Rowe may have that right, even though she's never been the custodial parent and may have had very little contact with the children.

It's difficult to judge the authenticity of press about or interviews with Rowe since her lawyer has recently come forward to deny the truth of one such article. An article in US Magazine has asserted that Dr. Arnold Klein is the father of Jackson's children with Rowe. Klein has not commented, except to assert Jackson's right to patient confidentiality.

Michael Douglas Honored by AFI

Last month, Michael Douglas, 64, was honored with the prestigious American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. The multiple Oscar winner (best actor for Wall Street and an Oscar for best picture as the producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) was feted with speeches and songs. A tape of the evening's proceedings will be shown on the TVLand cable channel on Sunday, July 19th, at 9 p.m.

A highlight moment came when Douglas' father, Jewish actor Kirk Douglas, 94, who won the same award in 1991, gave a moving tribute to his son, laced with some humor. The Douglases are the only father-son duo to have won the award to date.

In his speech, Michael Douglas paid tribute to his father, and his mother, actress Diana Dill Douglas, 86, who isn't Jewish. Michael Douglas attributed his success to the "great genes" and "acting DNA" he inherited from his parents. Douglas identifies as Jewish in a cultural sense, but was raised in no faith and isn't religious.

An incredible collection of A-list Hollywood stars turned out for the gala, including Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, Anne Archer, Martin Sheen, Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, Warren Beatty, Sean Astin, and, of course, Michael Douglas's wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Zeta-Jones did a show-stopping performance of "One" from the musical, "A Chorus Line." Michael Douglas starred in the film version. There was a surprise musical performance by Jewish music legend Bob Dylan.

Karl Malden, who passed away on July 1, age 97, was too frail to attend the gala, but he appeared via tape to praise Douglas. Malden co-starred with Michael Douglas in the hit '70s TV series, Streets of San Francisco. Malden said he considered Michael Douglas "an adopted son." After the tape finished, Michael Douglas responded, "I'll be his adopted son anytime."

By the way, Malden, the son of non-Jewish Serbian and Czech immigrant parents married Jewish actress Mona Greenberg in 1938. They had two daughters. Last year, the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Mona survives her husband.

Michael and Michael

Comedians Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter have a new, seven episode series, Michael and Michael Have Issues, that premieres on the Comedy Central channel on Wednesday, July 15 at 10 p.m. You can learn more about the show, which is "one part sketch comedy, two parts show-within-a-show narrative, a behind the scenes look at the making of a fictional sketch comedy show aptly titled Michael and Michael Have Issues," at the show's website. Both actors are on Twitter, apparently playing the same exaggerated versions of themselves that they play on the show.

Black is the son of two Jewish parents, while Showalter, 39, is the son of a Protestant father and a Jewish mother. Both are members of the comedic trio, Stella, along with Jewish comedian David Wain.

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

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