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Film

Exploring Marlon Brando’s relationship with Michael Jackson

As one door closes another one opens, with this saying ringing true for the peculiar relationship between Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson that was sparked during the end of the 20th century. 

Observed by Time magazine as the “Actor of the Century”, it was in Marlon Brando’s eccentricities and particular conflict between distaining and delighting in his acting profession that has made him such a monolithic thespian. Taking his method-acting to over 40 different films, Brando is responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic roles, with his dominating presence dominating cinema throughout the 1970s in particular, with the release of such films as The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris, Superman and Apocalypse Now

Whilst Brando’s career took a peculiar turn come the dawn of the 1980s, in the world of music Michael Jackson was just beginning to rise to superstardom. 

Releasing his fifth solo album, Off the Wall, in 1979, featuring such hits as ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ and ‘Rock with You’, Jackson entered the new decade with supreme confidence. Recording with the celebrated Queen singer Freddie Mercury from 1981 to 1983, Jackson became a firm icon in popular culture, transcending the mere identity of a pop star as he transformed into something far more mysterious and ethereal. 

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It was in this period, between the end of the 1970s and early ‘80s, that Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson sparked a personal friendship, helping each other as they navigated the pitfalls of the entertainment industry. 

Describing the actor in the mid-1980s, Jackson stated in the book Moon Walk, “Marlon Brando has become a very close and trusted friend of mine. I can’t tell you how much he’s taught me. We sit and talk for hours. He has told me a great deal about the movies”.

Continuing he adds, “He’s like a father to me,” as he gushes over Brando, “He is such a wonderful actor and he had worked with so many giants in the industry — from other actors to cameramen. He has a respect for the artistic value of filmmaking that leaves me in awe”. 

Sharing a close relationship, Brando paid regular visits to Jackson’s Neverland Ranch throughout the ‘80s and 1990s, often staying there for weeks at a time, then, in 2001, Brando participated in the singer’s two-day solo career 30th-anniversary celebration.

This same year, the two entertainment icons joined the actor Elizabeth Taylor for one of the most peculiar stories in pop-culture history as the trio found themselves fleeing Manhattan on 9/11 on a cross-country road trip. Inviting Taylor and Brando to his concerts in the city on September 7th and 10th, Sam Kashner of Vanity Fair writes that Jackson got “a call from friends in Saudi Arabia who warned that America was under attack”. 

Following this extraordinary discovery, it was reported that the three stars “planned their escape, afraid that they would be the next target,” fleeing Manhattan, going so far as Ohio in their plea for safety. This journey was made slowly due to reports that, “Brando allegedly annoyed his travelling companions by insisting on stopping at nearly every KFC and Burger King they passed along the highway”.

Having had a close bond for much of their lives, it was Jackson who helped Brando through some of his last weeks alive before his death in 2004. Speaking out at the time, the actor’s son, Miko, who was Jackson’s bodyguard for several years, revealed how Brando only really left the house to spend time with the singer, reporting that his father enjoyed the 24-hour service of food and security on demand.

In a later interview with Larry King, Miko explained, “Michael was instrumental helping my father through the last few years of his life. For that I will always be indebted to him”. With a love for the outdoors, Jackson invited him over to his vast Neverland Ranch on several occasions, “Michael got Dad a golf cart with a portable oxygen tank so he could go around and enjoy Neverland. They’d just drive around—Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando, with an oxygen tank in a golf cart”. 

The unlikely pairing of two of the most iconic celebrities of late 20th-century culture sounds to be a truly wholesome partnership, made all the more charming when you consider that they were both eccentric creatives, respected at the very top of their chosen fields. 

Take a look at the music video for the Jackson tune ‘You Rock My Mind’, below, which features Brando in a starring role.