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James Safechuck’s life changed forever after he met Michael Jackson at age 8.
A child actor from Simi Valley, California, Safechuck landed a coveted role in a Pepsi commercial alongside the pop star in 1987. Jackson took him on stage during the “Bad” tour and let the boy moonwalk beside him on stage.
“It was otherworldly, I guess," Safechuck, now 41, recalled, according to CBS News.
But Safechuck claims his relationship with Jackson eventually turned abusive. By age 10, sleepovers turned into something much more sinister; he recently told CBS This Morning that Jackson “introduced [him] to masturbation,” adding that the pop star also taught him how to French kiss before [moving] onto oral sex.”
Safechuck was silent about the alleged abuse until 2014, when he filed a similar suit to the one Wade Robson filed against Jackson a year earlier. Robson claimed that trauma had caused him to reckon with the fact that he was sexually abused by Jackson as a child, according to the Associated Press. Although both men’s individual lawsuits were dismissed in 2017, they are currently under appeal.
Now, ahead of the release of “Leaving Neverland,” an upcoming HBO documentary that chronicles the abuse he and Robson allegedly faced at Jackson’s hands all those years ago, Safechuck has opened up about his past — and the confusion and darkness he says have pervaded his life since Jackson entered it.
“How can somebody who you think is so good be so bad for you? And then those feelings of love linger on. So they continue throughout your life,” he told Rolling Stone during a recent interview.
When he was a teenager, Safechuck was studying filmmaking while pursuing his regular education. But he says Jackson slowly led him astray.
“Michael tells you: You don’t need school. Nobody who ever did anything good goes to school,” Safechuck says. “So he’d say, ‘You don’t need it. All you need is me.’”
Safechuck added that Jackson’s supposed guidance turned out to be more of a way to make him and his parents completely dependent on Jackson.
“He talked to my parents, because I was in some of the advanced classes, and he said, ‘You don’t need math.’ So he convinced my parents to pull me out of the classes, so I don’t have to worry about studying and just focus on filmmaking,” Safechuck says. “He told them, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there.’”
But when Jackson went away, Safechuck said his life was “derailed,” and he became “pretty lost.”
Nowadays, Safechuck is a computer programmer who lives with his wife, Laura Primack, and two kids in Southern California.
Primack grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. After attending art school in Rhode Island, she said she wanted to try out the West Coast before eventually returning home. Her plans changed when she met Safechuck.
One night, one of Primack’s girlfriend’s said she wanted to go see a band called Skylab because she had a crush on the guitarist, who happened to be Safechuck.
“The music was kind of like Smashing Pumpkins or Radiohead,” Primack said in “Leaving Neverland.”
Primack’s friend wound up never showing up. After Skylab’s set, Primack approached the band members at the bar. She was instantly attracted to Safechuck’s personality.
“He seemed so wholeheartedly modest and humble, and it just caught me off guard because that’s not what I had experienced in Los Angeles so far,” Primack said in the documentary.
Eventually the two started dating, and their relationship progressed rapidly.
“It got very intense very quick,” Primack said.
Watch The Jury Speaks: Michael Jackson on Oxygen, Saturday, March 9 at 9/8c
Safechuck, meanwhile, said he feels like he “got lucky” meeting Primack.
Despite performing as a musician and dabbling in the entertainment industry — he once worked as an editorial assistant at 20th Century Fox, according to IMDB — Safechuck has found success in the tech sector. He’s been the director of research and technology at AvatarLabs, an internet marketing company based in Los Angeles known in part for being behind the Clydesdales in Budweiser’s 2018 Super Bowl commercial.
“I think of myself as a technical/creative person. I love spending time with my family and learning new things that I can apply to my work,” he in a 2013 interview with the FWA (Favorite Website Awards). “Outside of work I am usually either reading a programming book, looking through source code, or coding something.”
Though he has found success in his chosen career path, Safechuck says the sexual abuse he suffered has caused long-term damage in his personal life.
Primack said she noticed early on that Safechuck had a lot of “personality quirks,” such as bouts of wanting to stay in bed and watch TV all day.
“A lot of these things I assumed were what it was like when you were not a people person,” she says. “I loved it.”
But Safechuck said it took everything he had to simply keep it together on a daily basis. After putting on this emotionally taxing act, he said he’d get home “and be a wreck,” according to the film.
He added that he did “a lot of substances” in his early 20s to help him deal with his anxiety and depression.
“Secrets will eat you up,” he says in “Leaving Neverland,” according to the Guardian, adding that he has suffered from depression, self-loathing and anxiety in the intervening years. “I don’t think time heals this one. It just gets worse.”
Still, some have criticized Safechuck’s motivation for coming forward — Jackson’s family recently called him and Robson “admitted liars” during an interview with CBS This Morning— especially since both men had previously defended Jackson during his 2005 criminal trial for molestation, where he was eventually acquitted on all charges.
“Getting public support is not something we are used to,” Safechuck told Vanity Fair during an interview following the premier of the documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “We are not used to people believing us.”
But “Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed, who sought out Safechuck and Robson for the film, has firmly stood by his two subjects in the run-up to the film’s release.
“What emerges from both of them, and particularly from James in a very raw way, is their love for Michael and the fact that his time with them was this incredible time in their lives and their first sexual experience in this criminal, pedophile setting—which is the most disgusting thing you can imagine, but it was their first sexual experience,” he told Jezebel in an interview.
Meanwhile, Safechuck said that he was motivated to participate in the film in order to have other victims of sexual abuse hear his story, and hopefully broaden the minds of those who are still skeptical of such claims, even in the age of MeToo.
“The more understanding that people have of this abuse, the more people will understand victims and have more of an open mind,” he told Rolling Stone.
But there was always a chance he would kept his story to himself. When asked if he would be speaking out if Jackson were still alive, Safechuck said he wasn’t sure.
“Would I have taken this to my grave? I certainly planned on doing that. I had no expectations of ever telling anyone,” he told CBS This Morning. “So, you know…if he was still alive, yeah, I don’t know. Maybe I would have taken it to my grave.”
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