For more than a decade, Michael Jackson hid behind Wade Robson. It was Robson who went on television in the early 1990s with his mom and his sister to insist his close relationship with Jackson was just a friendship. Yes, they shared a bed, but it was innocent, a baby-faced, 11-year-old Robson said.
Jackson turned to Robson to give testimony when he was accused of child molestation in 1993. And then again in 2005, when Jackson faced more abuse charges, Robson took the stand at age 22 to say their relationship was innocent.
For decades, dancer and choreographer Robson stayed quiet—not telling his family, friends or even his wife, Amanda—the truth about his relationship with Jackson, because, he says, the singer told him to lie and he feared the repercussions of telling the truth.
“The idea of this truth coming out and Amanda knowing about it and my family knowing about it and everyone in the entertainment business and my career knowing about it, I mean, was just a ridiculous idea that was never going to happen because, in my mind, my whole life would be over,” Robson explains in a new documentary.
But when Robson became a father to a little boy in 2010 and began reexamining his own childhood, that all changed. Now, Robson is bravely coming forward with the whole, painful story of his relationship with the pop star in HBO’s Leaving Neverland. The documentary shows the deep-rooted impact the alleged abuse and its coverup had on Robson and James Safechuck, another man who says Jackson abused him for years.
Robson was only 5 years old when he met Jackson after being called up on stage at a concert in Brisbane, Australia. The boy was a fan of Jackson and impressed the crowds with his spot-on “Smooth Criminal” dance performance.
Jackson invited Robson and his mom up to his hotel room after the concert. Nothing happened that night, but Jackson told the Robsons to get in touch if they ever came to America. In January 1990, when Wade was 7, the Robsons went to the U.S. for the first time to visit Disneyland. Wade’s mom, Janet, found the number for Jackson’s personal assistant, who said Jackson remembered Wade and invited them to his recording studio in Sherman Oaks. Jackson then invited the family to Neverland for the weekend. Wade stayed at the residence with Jackson while the rest of his family left to tour the Grand Canyon. Robson says that’s when the sexual contact began—and it continued for four years.
The first time cops questioned Robson was in the early 1990s after dentist Evan Chandler accused Jackson of molesting his 13-year-old son Jordan.
“As soon as the cop started asking me these questions, the first thing that came to mind was everything Michael started telling me when I was 7,” Robson says in the documentary. “If anyone ever found out that we were doing these sexual things that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying.”
Robson and Safechuck both gave testimony on Jackson’s behalf in 1993 saying they were never abused by him. Jackson settled with the Chandler family out of court for a reported $25 million.
Years went by and Robson had little contact with Jackson as he got married to his wife, Amanda, and built a successful career as a choreographer for pop stars like NSYNC and Britney Spears. In 2004, Robson heard from Jackson again when he was accused of molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. This time, Robson hesitated to get involved.
“I did not want to testify. At some point, I worked up the courage to tell Michael that I don’t want to testify. I remember silence on the phone for awhile,” Robson says in Leaving Neverland. “He said, ‘I understand it’s really hard and it’s tough to go through this with all of the media and everything, but we can’t let them do this to us. We can’t let them take us down. Us, us, us.”
Robson’s mother Janet weighed in, telling him he should support his friend so that Jackson didn’t end up in prison. Wade still hadn’t told anyone about the years of alleged abuse—and hadn’t confronted the pain it had caused him.
In May 2005, Robson arrived at court with his wife, Amanda, and took the stand to say, again, that he hadn’t been abused.
“As I watched him testify, he was very confident being taken through the questioning by Jackson’s attorney,” Diane Dimond, a journalist who was covering the trial for CourtTV, tells Esquire. “He would look over at Jackson at the defense table for strength, I guess, but when the cross examination by prosecutor Ron Zonen started, I saw Wade Robson’s entire body language change. I thought to myself, this man isn’t telling the complete truth.”
That trial concluded on June 14, 2005 with Jackson being acquitted of four charges of child molesting, one charge of attempted child molesting, one conspiracy charge, and eight possible counts of providing alcohol to minors.
When Jackson died four years later, Robson says he felt numb. Shortly after that, he began dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety, without connecting it to his experience with Jackson. It wasn’t until after his son, Koa, was born in 2010, Robson was confronted with his own abuse.
“I start to have these images of the kind of sexual stuff that happened between Michael and I happening to Koa and seeing Michael doing it to Koa what he did to me,” Robson says in Leaving Neverland. “And my immediate emotional reaction to having those images is just this rage and disgust and violent feeling. Like, I would kill anyone who did anything like that to Koa. What I started thinking was, how can I have such clear feelings—negative, horrible feelings—about the idea of that sexual stuff happening to Koa but when I think about me and Michael, I don’t feel anything.”
Robson opened up for the first time to his therapist. Hours after that appointment, his brother told him that his wife had a dream that Wade said he was abused by Jackson. In front of Amanda, Robson said it was true. He had been abused. (While he was alive, Jackson denied ever abusing children.)
“I remember Amanda was on my left, and I remember physically, she just caved in, like someone punched her in the chest,” he says in the doc.
A few weeks later, Robson invited his mother to therapy to tell her about what Jackson had done. And in 2013, he went on the Today show to speak publicly for the first time about the alleged abuse and to say he was bringing charges against the Jackson estate.
A judge ruled in 2015 that Robson had waited too long to file the legal action. Child victims of sex abuse often delay disclosing it. As painful as it’s been to publicly confront his experience, Robson says it was important for him to speak out.
In 2017, filmmaker Dan Reed approached Robson and Safechuck about telling their stories in the form of a documentary. Robson says in Leaving Neverland: “I want to speak the truth as loud as I spoke the lie.”