Collecting llamas is weird, but this is off the planet

Say it ain't so. Not Michael. Not our Michael. Not we-are-the-world Michael.

Sure, the guy's weird. (OK, not simply weird. Shirley MacLaine is weird. Michael is off somewhere with that lost Mars probe.)


But not this weird.

Here's what we thought we knew about Michael. He collects llamas. He has this thing about the Elephant Man. Either Liz Taylor or his plastic surgeon is his best friend. He may be a dangerously heavy Clorox user.


And he likes kids.

He doesn't just like kids; they also like him. Michael is the '90s version of the Pied Piper. You know his story. He told it to Oprah and to a few billion of her closest friends.

In the short version (leaving out all the times Oprah said, "Michael, you're so incredible!!!!"): Michael was the ultimate child megastar, who, in the fashion of your typical Hollywood celebrity, grew up in an abusive family that, however, sang well together. Since he never had an actual childhood, he has spent his entire adulthood trying to reclaim what he missed.

And so he creates his own personal petting zoo.

He builds an amusement park in his back yard, which he periodically opens to terminally ill children.

He names his ranch Neverland, and now the New York Post, in its typically understated fashion, asks of Michael in go-to-war type: Peter Pan or Pervert?

A pervert? Can it really be?

What did you think when you heard the news that the police are investigating him on charges of molesting a kid?


There's the cynical view, which was basically summed up by one friend: "Grow up. You see a guy who hangs out pretty much exclusively with 12-year-old boys and Brooke Shields and you have to know something's up. This guy is a sick puppy. For years, he carried Emmanuel Lewis around on his shoulder like he was a parrot. And who do you think his new best friend is? That's right. Macauley Culkin. I wouldn't leave my kids within two miles of the guy."

And the other view from a more trusting friend: "Awwwww, no. I don't want to believe that's true. Who's next, Santa Claus? The guy was a little nuts, but a benign kind of nuts. He was just a big kid who dressed up like Sgt. Pepper and occasionally grabbed )) himself. He was someone you could trust your wife with. You knew that. You thought you could trust your kids with him, too. Which star would you trust them with, Demi Moore? Well, my only hope now is that it's the L.A. cops, so maybe they got it wrong."

Personally, I always had Michael pegged for asexuality. The one story I'm ready to believe comes courtesy of an 11-year-old from Australia who told an L.A. TV station that he and Michael once shared a bed together -- but that it was more like a slumber party and nobody touched anybody. As the kid said, "It was a big


Even more believable is the story behind the investigation. A Beverly Hills dentist to the stars is involved in a custody dispute with his ex-wife. The mother and the kid apparently would hang out with Michael while the father was fitting caps.

Meanwhile, the kid allegedly told his therapist (in Beverly Hills, it's a municipal law that by age 12 you must visit a shrink at least once a week) that Michael was molesting him.


The father did what anyone with a high-priced lawyer would do: He filed an injunction.

The therapist told the police.

Michael canceled his concert in Thailand, causing thousands of young Thais, in their distress, to become Metallica fans.

It's just too much for me. Look, generally I'm all for Hollywood scandal. But I'm still trying to recover from the psychic damage incurred during the Woody Allen ordeal. The Woodman, my personal idol, was cleared of child-abuse charges but was still left defenseless against the fact that he's a sleazoid who sleeps with the barely adult stepsister of his actual children.

If Michael is guilty -- and now there are four cases being investigated -- what are you going to tell your kids? That every adult who hangs around kids is a pervert? I don't want to think Howard Stern was right when he said the reason Michael had all that plastic surgery was so his victims couldn't identify him.

The only thing we know for sure is that the tabloid press is going to live large on this one. It'll make the Woody-Mia affair look like a tea party. In Hollywood, of course, there's a more urgent question. Who's going to play Michael in the movie?