Leaving Neverland Recalls Macaulay Culkin's Friendship With Michael Jackson — Here's What He's Said About It
Content Warning: This article includes mild language involving allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Though Wade Robson's and James Safechuck's allegations of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson are the focus of Leaving Neverland, the two-part docuseries also touches upon Michael Jackson's friendship with actor Macaulay Culkin. The actor isn't interviewed in the doc and hasn't released an official comment on Leaving Neverland (Refinery29 reached out to the actor's reps, who declined to comment), but he has given several interviews over the years about his friendship with Jackson and he defended the late performer in a 2005 testimony, which the docuseries also mentions. Here's what he's said in the past about Jackson.
How They Became Friends
In his interview with Marc Maron for his WTF podcast last year, Culkin described the first time he met Jackson, when Culkin was playing Fritz in The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center in 1990.
"He loved dance, he was a dance man," Culkin said. "He came backstage with Donald Trump, because they were friendly back then. I remember he looked at me like, 'I know you from somewhere. Oh, Uncle Buck, yeah you're funny.' Then after Home Alone came out, he reached out to me and my family."
That was the beginning of a long friendship between the two.
“Seriously, he was like my best friend for a good long stretch,” Culkin said on WTF. “It was a legitimate friendship.”
His 2005 Testimony
Culkin was first asked to publicly reflect on the nature of this friendship from 2004-2005, when Jackson faced charges for allegedly molesting then 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. According to a 2005 article from CNN, when Culkin took the stand for the defense in 2005, he called the allegations "absolutely ridiculous" and denied that Jackson had ever touched him inappropriately. Culkin testified that his parents were always present, that though he slept in Jackson's room, the door was always open, and that his time at Neverland Ranch was just "good old fun." He further explained that he and Jackson could relate to each other because Jackson knew what he was going through as a child star.
"We had this understanding of one another," Culkin told the court, according to CNN. "I wasn't friends with a lot of 35-year-old men who understood me."
The “Black or White” Video
In 1991, at the height of Culkin's fame, the young actor starred in Jackson's video for "Black or White," directed by John Landis. He opens the video as a bratty kid rebelling against his father's request to stop listening to loud music by hooking up huge amps in the living room and blasting his father out of the house. Later, Culkin reappears to lip sync the rap portion of the song on a stoop.
The presence of Culkin and other kids in the video wouldn't be very controversial if it only existed in its shorter version, ending after the famous sequence in which models and dancers of different races morph into each other. But when the video premiered in its entire 11-minute form on Fox, MTV, and BET, it caused quite a stir due to the later segment, which features a black panther turning into Michael Jackson and then dancing in a street while smashing a car window and frequently caressing his crotch. The latter motion caused a stir among viewers, and as such Jackson issued an apology.
”I deeply regret any pain or hurt that the final segment of ‘Black or White’ has caused children, their parents, or any other viewers," Jackson later said in a statement of apology, according to Entertainment Weekly.
On the other hand, in behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the video, Culkin's interactions with Jackson seem to be fun and games, especially when they smash a cream pie in Landis' face.
The Neverland Visits
In his interview with Martin Bashir for 2003's Living With Michael Jackson, Jackson describes the sleepovers with the Culkin kids at Neverland.
"Kieran Culkin would sleep on this side, Macaulay Culkin was on this side, his sisters in there. We all would just jam in the bed, you know, we would wake up at dawn and go in the hot-air balloon," he said.
Some of that interview was presented at evidence in the 2005 trial. But in his testimony, Culkin maintained that nothing bad happened in the dozen times he'd shared a bed with Jackson between the ages of 9 and 14.
"I've fallen asleep in the same bed with him," he said, according to the CNN account of the 2005 trial. "I'd just flop down."
Culkin said he would do so fully clothed, that the door to the bedroom was unlocked, and that his parents could enter the room whenever they wanted.
"I've never seen him do anything improper with anybody," he testified. "As far as I know, he's never molested me. I find that unlikely. I think I'd realize if something like that would be happening."
Opposing Allegations From Jackson's Former Staff
Two witnesses offered opposing claims about Jackson's relationship with Culkin, according to Billboard. It should be noted that Culkin has denied the veracity of these claims. In 2005, a maid named Adrian McManus alleged that she saw Jackson put his hand on the boy's leg and buttocks and kiss him on the cheek while they were sitting together in the library. A chef claimed that he saw more than that when he walked in on the two in the arcade room of Neverland to bring them a snack.
"Michael was playing with Macaulay Culkin at one of the games, which was Thriller, and he was holding the kid because the kid was small and couldn't hold the controls. [Jackson's] left hand was inside the pants of the kid," Phillip LeMarque alleged. "I was shocked, and I almost dropped the French fries."
Robson, who had also testified in Jackson's defense in 2005, has since said he didn't realize his experiences were abuse until 2012. Culkin has maintained his side of the story. He's also still close with and very protective of Paris Jackson, who is his goddaughter.
“Honestly, it never struck me as odd,” he said of Jackson's friendship on WTF. “I never felt uncomfortable.”
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).