He was to become the King of Pop; she was a controversial teen actress whose face was known worldwide. When Michael Jackson and Brooke Shields first met in 1981, when she was aged just 15 and he was 22, they made an instant connection.
Shields has insisted that she and Jackson were only ever “good friends”, but Jackson was open about having an enormous ‘crush’ on Shields, going back to before they met. At the height of their public dates in the 80s, Jackson repeatedly suggested marriage to Shields – at one point, he even suggested they adopt a child together – only for her to turn him down.
Born to an actress and a business executive in 1965, Brooke Christa Shields first rose to fame as a child model. Shields then found her breakthrough acting role in Pretty Baby (1978), where she played a child prostitute named Violet. At 13 years old, Shields was cast into a whirlwind of controversy over the role.
Nevertheless, she continued to star in widely-criticised roles in her teen years, starring in the sexually explicit films The Blue Lagoon (1980) and Endless Love (1981). In the meantime, she was taking part in provocative photoshoots for Calvin Klein and Playboy, and even featured on the cover of Vogue.
Soon enough, Shields was one of America’s best-known teen stars. While mixing with the rich and famous at awards ceremonies and parties, she first came across a figure who would become a major part of her life: Michael Jackson.
In a 2014 interview with Larry King, Shields recalled this life-changing meeting only in broad details. “I was 13, I think, when I first met him, and we were fans of each other,” she said. “And we just immediately hit it off, we laughed so hard… we just started hanging out.”
Underage at the time, Brooke Shields has since characterised their early relationship as intimate but innocent. “People want sordid details or they want big blowups, and the truth of the matter is, from the time we met when I was 13, we understood each other and became very good friends,” she told Rolling Stone. “And that was it, we didn’t need to make it into anything else.”
Michael Jackson, on the other hand, remembered every moment of their first encounter – and he was attracted to Shields from the start. Perhaps surprisingly, it was Jackson who was starstruck by Shields, not the other way around.
According to Jackson, the pair first met at the 1981 Academy Awards, when Shields was 15. At 22 years old, Jackson was one decade into his solo career away from the Jackson 5, and he had just recently been inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Shields was attending the event to present the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Jackson has since remembered how Shields approached him, introduced herself, and invited him to dance with her at the afterparty, to which he enthusiastically agreed.
Shields was, by the musician’s own admission, Jackson’s celebrity crush, with Jackson later admitting he had posters of the underage star all over his bedroom. But throughout his life, Jackson claimed he was shy around girls and was uncomfortable making advances.
In particular, Shields’ bold approach attracted him, as he also commented: “I’ve never asked a girl out in my life. They have to ask me.”
“We exchanged numbers and I was up all night, singing, spinning around in my room, so happy, you know?” Jackson told Shmuley Boteach in 2000. “It was great. We dated a lot, we went out a lot… Her pictures were all over my wall, my mirror, everything.”
Shields has also painted a lively picture of their relationship, saying: “We acted like little kids together and I don’t think either one of us, in our lives, really had the environment to do that safely.”
The pair were often evasive in interviews about how many dates they went on, and over how many years. But one thing is for certain: Jackson and Shields formed a lifelong bond.
It has long been rumoured that Jackson proposed to Shields and was rejected. Indeed, Jackson suggested that his love for Shields went unrequited: “That was one of the loves of my life. I just wished she loved me as much as I loved her, you know?”
“I think we both have and crush, and both still do have a crush on each other… we have a lot of fun together,” Shields told Oprah in 1993. “It’s a love on a different level. I feel closer to him than some of the boyfriends I’ve had.”
Shields was pictured with a spectacular ring while dating Jackson – but she has since stated that it was a “friendship ring”, not an engagement ring. When Jackson raised the topic of marriage to her in the 80s, Shields responded: “You have me for the rest of your life, you don’t need to marry me.'”
The Romanian orphanage crisis hit headlines in the late 80s, and Jackson was deeply moved by the children’s plight. He suggested that he and Shields should marry for the purpose of adoption. Shields has recalled: “He would sort of say, ‘Why don’t we adopt a child together? The way your heart works is what I want in my life.”‘
Shields has rejected rumours that Jackson ever proposed to her seriously. In fact, she said that Jackson was horrified at the idea of leading a ‘normal’, settled and married life.
Jackson was shocked at Shields’ desire for marriage, especially when she got engaged to her first husband, Andre Agassi.
“He couldn’t believe I was going to go to regular schools, that I was going to go away to college by myself,” Shields said. “When I told him I was getting married, he just didn’t get it. He was like, ‘What, you can’t do that!’ And I said, “I’ve got a chance!… I want a chance to be, quote unquote, normal.'”
This was one topic on which the pair could never agree. Jackson experienced two short-lived and unsettled marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and to Debbie Rowe in the 90s. Shields, in contrast, has been with her second husband Chris Henchy since 2001.
Shields has said that their relationship consisted of countless dinners and long phone calls together, which would continue for the rest of Jackson’s life. She attributed the longevity of their friendship to their shared experiences.
“We understood that the other person had no agenda,” she told People Magazine in 2014. “I wasn’t trying to get anything from him. We’d go to obscure restaurants and could just sort of commiserate and say ‘Aren’t people crazy?'”
Jackson and Shields became a lifelong support system to each other. “He was the first person to call me when my dad got sick. When I had postpartum [depression], he sent me flowers,” Shields has said. “…He was consistent to the end.”
When Jackson died in a drugs-related cardiac arrest in 2009, his mother called Brooke Shields personally to ask if she would speak at his memorial service.
At the service, Shields encountered Jackson’s father Joseph. Aware of Jackson’s claims that his father was abusive, Shields had long hated Joseph and described him as “the devil.” But on this occasion, she overcame her dislike to speak with him cordially, after “a few cocktails.”
She told Joseph Jackson, “I’m gonna thank you for your son, because he changed the world and he was my friend.”