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In September of the next year, prosecutors made a final decision not to file criminal charges, because the chief accuser was no longer willing to testify. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but by that time Jackson was married. In May he had quietly wedded Lisa Marie Presley. The daughter of Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie was a sort of kindred spirit, somebody who had seen up close the lethal burdens of fame on a scale few others could imagine. But the marriage lasted less than two years.
Through it all, Jackson kept recording, touring and selling. He was no longer racking up the massive sales of his peak years in the '80s, but then, what mere mortal could? In June 1995 he released the double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book I, a greatest-hits collection that had an added disc with some angry new material. In the following year, Jackson entered a second marriage, this time with Debbie Rowe a nurse in the office of his dermatologist who was already pregnant. A few months later, she gave birth to Prince Michael I, and a year after that, to Paris Michael Katherine. In 1999 she and Jackson divorced. Jackson got custody of both children. Rowe got a multimillion-dollar settlement.
There was another child to come, Prince Michael II, born in 2002 to a still unnamed surrogate mother. For all the strange circumstances in which they grew up, Jackson's children have impressed people who have met them. A few years ago, the rock musician Lenny Kravitz got together with Jackson to record a track. "His children were there. I grew up in an old-school West Indian family where respect was paramount. And these kids were just like that, full of respect but not robotic. They both drew pictures for me and signed them."
Jackson's next album, Invincible, released in 2001, was a relative flop, going double platinum in the U.S. but costing a reported $30 million to produce. By that time, the world was teeming with boy bands and girl singers whose every move and yelp were borrowed from Jackson, but the King of Pop couldn't deliver his own lines anymore. He had too much backstory, which made it impossible for his voice to be plausible as the pure vessel of romantic need, devotion or let's not even go there desire. He was inducted the same year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He was still the man who had electrified the world with Thriller, but people were starting to wonder if the thrill was gone.
Still, there were times when the old habits of hard work and professionalism shone through. J.C. Chasez, a member of 'N Sync who shared a stage with Jackson several times, remembers being backstage at a 9/11 benefit concert and listening in awe as Jackson rehearsed before his performance: "He was doing vocal drills for an hour before he went out 40 years old and the guy is warming up for an hour before every show. He wanted to give that audience the best he had."
Offstage, though, the stranger kind of performances just kept on coming. In 2003, Jackson appeared in a two-hour documentary with British journalist Martin Bashir. When Bashir asked him about taking boy visitors to Neverland for sleepovers, Jackson answered, "The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone, you know?" At one point in Bashir's film, a 13‑year-old cancer patient could be seen holding hands with Jackson. Soon that boy would be the accuser in a criminal case brought by the same district attorney who had investigated Jackson in '93. This time, Sneddon persuaded a grand jury to bring a felony indictment against the singer for child molestation, conspiracy and giving alcohol to a minor.
What followed, starting in February 2005, was a 14-week trial by jury and by media. Since cameras weren't allowed in the courtroom, E! Entertainment Television produced nightly staged re-enactments of the previous day's testimony. The prosecution brought out porn magazines seized from Jackson's house and called the boy to testify that Jackson had plied him with wine Jackson allegedly called it "Jesus juice" before making his moves. But it also called to the stand a parade of witnesses who had to admit they had lied in other proceedings or sold their stories to the tabloids. And it had to contend with an 80-minute video produced by the Jackson camp in which the boy's mother went on about how grateful she was for the time her son had spent with him. The jury found Jackson innocent on all counts.