Owner Michael Jackson
|Species Pan troglodytes|
Children Eclair au Chocolat
|Notable role Companion animal, occasional actor|
Known for One-time companion animal of American recording artist Michael Jackson
Weight 160 pounds (73 kg) - 170 pounds (77 kg)
Bubbles (born 1983) is a common chimpanzee, known for being the one-time companion animal of American recording artist Michael Jackson, who bought the primate from a Texas research facility in the early 1980s. The animal was a frequent travel companion to the singer, whose attachment to the animal led to media mockery and, among other factors, a public perception of Jackson as eccentric. During the Bad World Tour, for example, Jackson brought Bubbles with him to Japan, where they both drank tea with the mayor of Osaka.
- Life at Neverland Ranch
- Media mockery
- Out and about
- Bubbles's relocations
- Death of Michael Jackson
Bubbles was initially kept at the Jackson family's home in Encino, Los Angeles, but was moved to Neverland Ranch in 1988. There, he slept in a crib in Jackson's bedroom, used the singer's toilet and ate candy in the Neverland movie theater. By 2003, like many captive chimpanzees, Bubbles had matured into a large and aggressive adult chimp unsuitable as a companion animal. He was sent to a California animal trainer. When the trainer closed his operation in 2004, Bubbles was moved to the Center for Great Apes, a sanctuary in Wauchula, Florida, where he has lived since 2005.
Bubbles was born in early 1983 in an Austin, Texas research facility that bred primates for animal testing. There are conflicting reports as to how he came into Jackson's possession. Multiple reports state that Jackson had Bubbles bought for him when the chimpanzee was eight months old. The acquisition was said to have been supervised by Bob Dunn, then one of Hollywood's most famous suppliers and trainers of animals for films, photoshoots and advertisements.
Life at Neverland Ranch
Bubbles was kept at the Jackson family's Encino home until 1988 when he was moved to Jackson's newly acquired Neverland Ranch. There, Bubbles slept in a crib in the singer's bedroom, ate candy in the Neverland movie theater, was fed at the dining table, wore a diaper, and relieved himself in Jackson's personal toilet.
At Jackson's 2005 People v. Jackson trial, jurors learned from a videotaped interview with Jackson that his several chimpanzees would help him with housekeeping chores. "They run around, help me clean the room. They help me dust, clean the window," Jackson stated. At the same trial, Jackson's maids testified that they were not impressed with the behavior of the chimpanzees that the singer had kept over the years. One housekeeper told of how she had to clean up feces hurled at the bedroom wall. Another maid described a chimpanzee called Max tearing off his diaper before crawling into Jackson's bed.
In 1992, Bubbles allegedly caused a severe fire at Neverland. He is thought to have found matches in a drawer, and to have begun striking them as he had seen people do. He threw a match at a curtain, and that burst into flame. Bubbles ran from the scene and ascended a tree. He was later seen, chattering angrily, as the resultant fire raged. At least a third of the mansion was severely damaged, but Jackson found the affair too embarrassing to allow into the public domain. The news was suppressed even as it was unfolding.
Jackson's attachment to Bubbles drew media mockery. For instance, the media reported that the chimpanzee would be the ringbearer at Elizabeth Taylor's October 6, 1991 Neverland Ranch wedding. The report was not true, but was, according to The New York Times, "an idea that some newspapers found too delightful not to report." Bubbles' companionship was a source of comfort to Jackson and formed, writes journalist Steve Huey, a public perception of Jackson as a "bizarre eccentric, obsessed with recapturing his childhood." "This is when the weirdness began to reach mythic proportions," wrote Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
Jackson and Bubbles' bond, as well as Jackson's other alleged eccentricities, contributed to the media epithet "Wacko Jacko," a nickname Jackson came to despise. The media often focused on Bubbles, rather than on Jackson's music, and published many false stories regarding the animal, such as the allegation that Bubbles was not a single ape, but one of several. A later claim suggested that Bubbles had died; Jackson's press agent Lee Solters quipped to the media that "when Bubbles heard about his demise he went bananas ... Like Mark Twain, his death is grossly exaggerated and he's alive and doing well." Another story, reported in The National Enquirer, claimed that Prince, Jackson's longtime rival, had used extrasensory perception to turn Bubbles crazy. "What kind of sicko would mess with a monkey?" Jackson was reported to have asked. "This is the final straw. Poor, poor Bubbles." Jackson found the story hilarious, and his staff reported that they had never seen the singer laugh so much.
Out and about
The late 1980s were a busy period for Bubbles. Jackson took him on outings and would often talk to him. According to reports, he later showed him how to moonwalk. Bubbles had an agent and was rumoured to have his own bodyguard. He sat in for the recording of the Bad album— Jackson insisted that Bubbles and Jackson's pet snake attend as spectators—and accompanied Jackson for the filming of the "Bad" music video. In the short film for "Liberian Girl", Bubbles made a cameo appearance. When the Bad World Tour began in September, 1987, he and Jackson shared a two-bedroom hotel suite in Tokyo. During the tour, Bubbles and Jackson made a social visit to the Mayor of Osaka, Yasushi Oshima; there, Bubbles drank Japanese green tea while seated quietly next to Jackson. Oshima commented that he and his fellow officials were "surprised to see the chimpanzee, but we understand he is [Michael's] good friend ... This is the first time an animal ever entered City Hall." Though allowed to travel to Japan, Bubbles was unable to enter Britain and Sweden due to strict quarantine laws. Jackson also brought Bubbles for tea at Elizabeth Taylor's house. Taylor did not mind the fact that Jackson had brought a chimpanzee. Later, at a party to celebrate and promote Bad, Bubbles reportedly "worked the room" and was "the life of the party".
Around this time, Bubbles and Jackson were photographed by Kenny Rogers for his book, Your Friends and Mine. The photo shows Bubbles held on Jackson's hip, and has been cited as one of the best taken of Jackson. In the black and white photograph, Bubbles is dressed casually in a long sleeved shirt and overalls. Jackson is also dressed casually; he wears jeans and a simple shirt. Rogers said: "Bubbles was so human it was almost frightening. He would take Christopher [Rogers' son] by the hand, walk over to the refrigerator, open it, take out a banana and hand it to him. Christopher was amazed... we all were."
In a 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, the singer revealed to journalist Adrian Peterson that Bubbles had become overly pugnacious. He was removed to an animal sanctuary over fears he might attack Jackson's newborn son, Prince Michael II. Jackson subsequently bought two more baby chimpanzees, Max and Action Jackson; the public believed these two chimpanzees were also Bubbles. Bubbles' removal was a source of regret for the musician, who stated that the animals could live for up to 60 years. During the interview, Bashir was also told of how Jackson had planned to hold a "celebrity animal party" for Bubbles. Cheeta, the chimpanzee from Tarzan, Benji and Lassie were to be invited. Bubbles was relocated to Bob Dunn's ranch in Sylmar, California. "Bubbles is an adult chimp and a wild animal", Dunn stated at the time. "We don't let him out to play." According to CNN, the chimpanzee would be visited by Jackson and his children, who also played with the other animals while at the Californian ranch. "He still acts like a kid around them", Dunn added, referring to the musician. The Washington Times, however, claimed Bubbles was not visited by Jackson, despite the singer's representative stating beforehand that the entertainer would like to meet with the animal again. Shortly afterward, in December 2003, it was claimed that Bubbles had attempted suicide. The chimpanzee was supposedly taken to a hospital in time to be saved.
Since the closure of Dunn's facility in 2004, Bubbles has been kept at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, where he is said to enjoy painting and listening to flute music. The center for apes, where the annual care for each animal costs around $17,000 as of 2009, also houses 41 other chimpanzees and orangutans. Patti Ragan, director for the Center for Great Apes, commented on the animals' daily routine at the sanctuary. "They relax. They take naps together. They might go up in the top of the cupola. They go out in the chutes and lie under a tree in the tunnel system. They groom each other and they fight and they have arguments, too." According to animal keepers at the center, the 160 pound (73 kg) Bubbles—whose facial features have changed since his time with Jackson—is now "huge and ugly" but has a "sweet character". The ape now spends most of his time sitting quietly in trees with his best friend Sam, a 40-year-old chimpanzee.
Death of Michael Jackson
On June 25, 2009, Jackson died at the age of 50, after suffering a cardiac arrest. News organizations reported that Bubbles was not brought to the singer's memorial service, but instead stayed at the Center for Great Apes. It has not been revealed whether Jackson left money to support Bubbles, whose care, to date, has been paid for from public donations. Animal trainer Dunn, speaking to the News of the World, stated that the chimpanzee would miss Jackson. "Bubbles definitely missed him when they parted and will miss him now. Chimpanzees are intelligent. They remember people and stuff. Bubbles and Michael were close friends and playmates. The last time Michael visited, Bubbles definitely recognized and remembered him." He revealed that Bubbles was thought of by the singer as his first child, and added that he hoped Jackson's children would keep in touch with their "stepbrother" following their father's death. In 2010, La Toya visited Bubbles at the Center for Great Apes in Florida.
Jackson launched Michael's Pets, a range of soft toys based upon the animals the singer owned, in November 1986. The toys consisted of a frog, dog, rabbit, snake, ostrich, giraffe, llama and Bubbles the chimp. Jackson also appeared, as a bear wearing sunglasses and a fedora. "He [Jackson] was very instrumental in designing the toys", said Bob Michaelson, who was responsible for developing them. "He was very instrumental in how it should be programmed... he's got tremendous intuition." Jackson, in approving the toys, stipulated that the manufacturers donate $1 per sale to a children's charity.
In 1988, Jeff Koons made the three identical porcelain sculptures Michael Jackson and Bubbles as part of his Banality exhibit. At the time, each sculpture was said to be worth $250,000. Koons once said of the pop star, "If I could be one other living person, it would probably be Michael Jackson." The art piece became one of Koons' best known works. The figure shows Jackson and the chimpanzee wearing gold military-style suits. In 2001, one of the figures was put up for auction and was expected to fetch between $3 million and $4 million. The figure sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $5.6 million. The sale was a record for a work by Koons. Two of the sculptures are housed at The Broad Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Los Angeles and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Daily Telegraph reported in August 2009 that Bubbles was to publish a "tell-all memoir" about his time with Michael Jackson. The book—entitled Bubbles: My Secret Diary, From Swaziland to Neverland—is a spoof diary by journalist John Blake. The book fictionally documents the "darker aspects" of Bubbles' life, including a "$2,000-a-day banana addiction, depression, romantic conquests, and [his] 'vicious rivalry' with Tarzan star Cheeta". The "collection of very personal and honest entries from [Bubbles'] diary" fictitiously revealed how the chimpanzee coped with the death of Jackson. The publication was released in October 2009. Speaking of Bubbles, Blake stated:
Behind his seemingly-perfect life of glamorous friends, gold-plated tyre swings, and personal chefs, there is a dark history of medical experiments, addiction and loss. But Bubbles has fought against his personal and professional problems and, with his help of man-pet Michael Jackson, he has grown to become bigger than King Kong—figuratively speaking.