1986: Michael invites David Rothenburg to Encino. His father had set fire to him in an act of revenge against his former wife leaving his body with 90% burns.
One day Michael phoned and said, “I want to know if you’d like to bring your family up for dinner. I have a friend here that I’d like you all to meet.” I always knew when he said that sort of thing that it was bound to be something interesting and that I would be glad I’d done it afterward. I told him that we’d be happy to come. He said, “First, I need to ask you something. Do you think your children would be upset by meeting someone who has some deformities from an accident?”
I told him, “Michael I can assure you, my children will treat this person as if they had no deformities. I’ve taught them from a very early age that you never say anything to anyone that would hurt them. Especially about things they can’t help. But I will tell them about this before we get there.”
Michael said, “Good. Then I’d like you to come out for dinner to meet David Rothenberg.”
By this time, having been to the Ranch so frequently, we were usually waved on through rather than stopping to sign in. This visit was no exception and upon arrival we parked out in front of the house. Although I had told Michael many times that he didn’t need to, he always had the maids and cooks lined up outside the front door to greet us as we entered the house. Michael insisted that this was protocol and they were always to follow it.
I told him, “Really, I already know everyone by name since I’m out here so often. I feel kind of guilty for making them drop what they’re doing and stand out here and greet us.”
Michael replied, “You mustn’t feel bad. It’s one of the things that I pay them to do.”
Anyway, going to the house was always a treat. It was a lovely assault on all senses. Through the front door we turned to the left through the dining room. Two steps down the opposite end was a large fireplace that faced a bar making up the south side of the kitchen. On this night, Michael’s guest was sitting to the right of the fireplace. Michael looked at as and said “You guys, this is David Rothenberg,” and he introduced us one by one. Greetings went around my family. The kids ran off to do their own thing around the house leaving Criss, Michael, and me to talk with David. I imagine there are pictures out there of David for those who want to see him but suffice to say he had been ravaged by flames at some point in his life. What I remember clearly now was that there was a long tuft of hair on the back of his head and there was a young girl, apparently a cousin of Michael’s, who was meticulously braiding the tuft while David told us about his day at the Ranch.
When we all sat down to dinner, Michael turned to him and asked, “So, David did you paint today?”
David replied, “Yes, I did. I think I did some of my best work ever.”
Michael said, “Good. I need you out there painting every day that you’re here. I want you to express yourself.”
David assured him he was.
Later in the evening Michael and I went by the lake where he had an easel and paints set up and he showed me some of David’s paintings. They consisted of stick figures and V’s for birds. Michael told me, “I don’t care if he doesn’t become a great painter. I just think it’s important for him to do this while he’s here. I always want to keep him occupied.”
I asked Michael, “So, how did you and David meet?” Michael said, “Well, when he was quite young, his father spread gasoline on him and set him on fire. The reasons don’t matter. And actually there are none. Anyway, he ended up living through it and I’ve kind of watched through the years. Not long ago, I read in the paper an article saying that David Rothenberg tried to commit suicide. He was despondent over not being able to get a job. So I sent for him. One of my drivers went and got him and brought him back to the Ranch. When he got here, I told him that I heard what had happened. David told me that it was true and he was just depressed because, ‘Who would hire something that looks like me?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I would. I want you to work for me. Would you do that?’ David said, ‘Yes. I would like that.’ So I put him to work.”
I asked Michael, “Did you really have a job for him?”
He said, “Not really. I kind of made one up.”
I asked, “What was it? What did you have him do?”
He said, “I give him letters and packages and I have him take them to other cities telling him that it’s important that they be mailed there. So for example, I send him to Los Angeles or San Diego and tell him to mail something when he gets there. I gave him a car to take him everywhere he wants to go and he has a place to call home. He’d lost his sense of purpose and I wanted him to know he had one.”
I never saw David again after that and I never asked Michael what happened to him. I now know, from old news stories, that when David was six back in 1983 his father, Charles, who was in a custody fight with David’s mom, Marie, set him on fire and burned him over 90% of his body.
There’s a video on YouTube in which David, who changed his name to Dave Dave (which to me sounds like a name Michael would’ve given him), told Larry King just before Michael’s burial in 2009 about Michael’s kindness to him – which Dave said began when he was just seven years old and which his mother had always kept a secret. Dave told King that Michael opened Neverland to him and provided emotional support and was like a father he never had.
Fox 411, March 04 2005
Also on the list is David Rothenberg, a young man who was severely burned by his own father many years ago. He was taken in by Jackson, and has the full run of Neverland and may prove to be a dramatic character witness.
Leeza: “Is there any celebrity you can relate to? Because celebrities say things like you’re saying, like they think that they get friends for the wrong reasons, that people treat them differently, that even their own family when they get to that level treat them strange. Is there anyone you identify with?”
Dave: “Yes, I relate with one person I know. He’s been my friend throughout everything that I’ve been through and he’s the only friend that I can say has been there for me always. Let’s call him ___. I think he’s really had an impact on my life, not because he’s a celebrity but because he’s been through kind of the same things I’ve been through.”
Leeza: “Not fitting in…”
Dave: “Yeah, definitely, definitely.”
Michael Jackson Laid to Rest, CNN LARRY KING LIVE, Aired September 3, 2009 – 21:00 ET
KING: That was when we were up at Neverland with Jermaine Jackson. What an incredible night that was.
Joining us now here in Los Angeles, Miko Brando, who was with us almost every night after this untimely passing, long time Michael Jackson friend, attending the funeral.
And Dave Dave — yes, that’s his name, Dave Dave. He was David Rothenberg. He was set on fire in 1983. He suffered, as you can see, terrible scars. Michael Jackson befriended him and paid for a lot of his surgeries. Dave Dave is also attending the burial.
Why Dave Dave?
DAVE DAVE, MICHAEL JACKSON’S LONGTIME FRIEND: Well, to liberate myself from the confines of my father’s criminality.
KING: He caused the fire?
DAVE-DAVE: Yes. He — he is a criminal and he caused all this. To — to free myself of his name and his legacy, I decided to become my own person through changing my name.
KING: We’ll find out how Michael helped you.
But, Miko, is that a typical story of Michael, helping people like this?
MIKO BRANDO, MICHAEL JACKSON’S LONGTIME FRIEND: Absolutely. When he — when he’d hear about stories of people in need, who needed help, or when we’d watch the news together, he’d — he’d reach out to them, send them a basket, send them a, you know, a note — get well or whatever the incident would be. And he’d always reach out to people and help people. Even driving around town, he’d stop and help people.
KING: How did he find out about you, Dave?
DAVE-DAVE: He heard about me and he had contacted me and wanted to meet me.
KING: How old were you at the time?
DAVE-DAVE: I was about seven years old at the time.
KING: And were you in the hospital?
DAVE-DAVE: I was not in the hospital at the time. I was — I was in interim, back and forth from surgery.
KING: And what did he do for you?
DAVE-DAVE: Well, basically he befriended me. He — he took me in to his life, which is very rare for Michael to do. But he opened up his arms to me and accepted me as a very good friend of his. And throughout the years, he never let me go.
KING: I believe that’s the hearse carrying the body into Forest Lawn. He will be interred — it looks like a beautiful place they have for him, Miko.
BRANDO: It’s very nice. He has a very nice compound.
KING: Yes. We’re going to be showing you close-ups of that. That is Forest Lawn.
Were you surprised, Dave, to hear from him when you were seven?
DAVE-DAVE: Oh, it — it’s a very interesting story, Larry. It was kind — the visit to his Encino house was very impromptu. And it was kept a secret by my mother. And I had always been kind of an admirer of his, not a fan per se, but I always loved his music.
And my mother surprised me one day and brought me up to Neverland. And I entered an arcade and there were all these Paul McCartney records, all of this, “The Girl is Mine” and, you know, this and that. And I remember sitting down. And at the time, my — my favorite video games — my favorite video game was Pole Position. And I was playing Pole Position. And I — I felt a little tap on my shoulder. And I turned around and there was Michael. And…
KING: Hold it right there.
DAVE-DAVE: And you know what, Larry?
DAVE-DAVE: At that moment, we — we embraced and that embrace never ended throughout our whole entire friendship.
KING: Dave Dave, what don’t we know about him we should know?
DAVE-DAVE: Well, I believe what — what people fail to realize is that Michael was a human being. Throughout the years, I think he was kind of stigma — stigmatized by the media. And I believe that was — that wasn’t really helpful to him or to anybody around him.
I believe that Michael was a great person. He has never hurt a soul. And I am happy to have been his friend for all these years and been a dedicated friend.
KING: Did he pay for a lot of your medicals?
DAVE-DAVE: Actually, he — he did not pay for my medical. My mother had great insurance at the time. Michael…
KING: Then what did he do?
DAVE-DAVE: Michael offered a lot of emotional support for me. He was there for me whenever I need to talk to him. He opened up Neverland to me as a — as a means to get away. He — he was almost, metaphorically, he was almost like a father that I never had.
Jackson’s lesser-known friends were also given a moment to share their memories of the fallen star. The spontaneous speeches were some of the most poignant. One in particular was delivered by David Rothenberg, a burn victim who Jackson took care of for years after 90% of his body was scorched in a childhood fire. “He was very scarred over all of his body,” says a guest. “He spoke about Michael and how he cared for [Rothenberg] for so long without asking for anything in return. It was very moving.”
DK: That’s so sad that the world is like that, you know what I mean?
TM: Everybody was hoping to profit off his destruction. It was terrible. It’s one of my proudest moments in my lifetime….just acquitting him, vindicating him. In retrospect now, he only had approximately 4 more years to live, at least he was there to be with his kids and just to be vindicated. The trial was so unjust. The case was so unjust and lacking in credibility.
Tom Mesereau: At his burial, which I attended, a young man who in the 80’s was a rather high profile case in southern California, a father doused his son with gasoline and set him on fire and burned most of his body including all of his face (this man is now known as Dave Dave, formerly David Rothenberg ). Michael took care of him. He (Dave Dave) got up to speak (at Michael’s funeral) about what a kind, decent, generous, wonderful person Michael Jackson was. I happen to know there were kids all over the world he did this for. Disabled kids, children with illnesses and disabilities. Michael would write checks for them and nobody publicized it. He didn’t do it to become well known for doing it. He did it because that’s what his heart wanted him to do. You know? I think one of the cruelest things that ever happened was to take his love for children, his desire to help kids, and turn it against him and try and call him a monster as they did in that trial. It was just horrible.
I sat next to Dave Dave, whose father doused him with kerosene and burned 90 per cent of his six-year-old body.
Michael cared for Dave Dave for more than 30 years, never asking for anything in return. His eulogy was moving. The world should never forget how Michael gave back not only to Dave Dave, but to so many other needy people.