The new Lifetime movie Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland tells the story of Michael Jackson‘s last years from a unique perspective. It’s based on a book co-written by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, Jackson’s bodyguards.
The two wrote 2014’s Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days with Tanner Colby. The book was adapted by writer Elizabeth Hunter. Searching For Neverland is directed by Dianne Houston. It debuted on May 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Aside from working for Jackson, Whitfield and Beard have gone on to work for Sean Combs, Alicia Keys, Shaquille O’Neal and others. Their book was published by Weinstein Books.
Here’s what you need to know about the two bodyguards and their experiences with the King of Pop.
1. They Wrote the Book Because They Thought Jackson Fans Should Know His Personal Side
Beard and Whitfield told the MJJ Community fan site that they wrote the book to give Jackson fans a better picture of the King of Pop’s final days. The two worked for Jackson during the last two and a half years of his life, before his death at age 50 in 2009.
“If you’re a Michael Jackson fan and supporter, you deserve to know him more on a personal side, not just who he was but what he endured as a man, and as a father,” the two told MJJ Community. “You deserve a true account from those that were there, not from those who can only repeat what they heard second hand.”
They explained that they did struggle over the idea of writing the book in the first place because they knew Jackson does have the right to privacy. But they just decided they had an “obligation” to fans to tell these stories because they’re the only ones who can.
“Mr. Jackson has been robbed of the opportunity to tell his own story, and the children were too young to really know a lot of what was going on at the time. That leaves us,” the two said in 2014. “If the world ever wants to fully understand what happened to this beloved and incredible man, this is a story that needs to be told. We already know how Michael Jackson died. Our aim is to help people understand why.”
2. Whitfield Says They Once Smuggled Jackson Out of a Hotel on a Room-Service Trolley
Today, Whitfield is a high school security guard, working at Andre Agassi College Prepatory Academy in Las Vegas. When The Guardian asked Whitfield in 2016 about protecting Jackson, the 50-year-old had nothing but fond memories to share. He recalled the moments he had to smuggle the pop star on a hotel room-service trolley.
“On three different occasions we received calls from hotel managers to say that someone had made a threatening call,” Whitfield told the Guardian. “So in the middle of the night we would need to leave and one of the ways we would do it – and I’ve never really talked about this – was to smuggle Mr Jackson out in a room-service trolley.”
He also recalled Jackson telling him to watch for “vultures” coming out when the This Is It tour preparation began.
“Mr Jackson said to me at the beginning: ‘Bill, watch; now the vultures are going to start to show up.’ And soon I knew exactly what he meant,” Whitfield told The Guardian. “I witnessed the heartache and stress. He expressed it to me. So when the word came out that Mr Jackson passed away? After what I had witnessed him go through, the first thing that came to my mind was: ‘Now he’ll rest.’ He didn’t die, he left this place and all of what he was going through.”
3. They Were Both Huge Michael Jackson Fans, Which Made Them Even More Loyal
Even though bodyguards aren’t supposed to get personal with their clients, it was really difficult for Beard and Whitfield, especially since they were both fans of Jackson’s music.
“It certainly made us more loyal,” they told Hidden Remote. “It became more of a personal mission than a job, particularly in the times when his life grew more difficult and his managers were refusing to pay us so they could starve us out and put in security guards loyal to them.”
The bodyguards said they understood that Jackson was going through a difficult time when they were hired and stayed on “because of the affection we felt for them.”
Beard also explained to Hidden Remote that loyalty and trust “were everything” to Jackson. He said Jackson would frequently test their loyalty because any little secret about Jackson’s life could be worth thousands to a tabloid. Jackson wanted to make sure they were completely trustworthy.
4. Jackson Was So Broke Before His Death That Whitfield had to Pay for Gas Himself
While Jackson is one of the highest-grossing deceased artists since his death, he was an estimated $500 million in debt before he died. Whitfield told The Telegraph that Jackson was so poor that he would have to pay for the gas to take his boss around.
“I didn’t mind doing it. We stayed with him out of loyalty,” Whitfield told the Telegraph. “But there were times we were in hotels and credit cards were being maxed out and management were about to ask us to leave. This was Michael Jackson and I was thinking ‘How is this happening?'”
Whitfield explained that Jackson would have him carry a case with two Gone With The Wind Oscars the singer bought in 1999 for $1.5 million. If a bill came up, Jackson planned to use the Oscars to make a payment.
Beard, now 37, was a former basketball player, so he would often play basketball with his boss. It was “like guarding the president,” Beard told the Telegraph. “There was no-one more famous and we had a motto that nothing would happen on our watch. He was a good boss. He was really thoughtful and would ask about my family.”
Beard added that Jackson refused to go back to Neverland after he was acquitted on child molestation charges. “He felt it was contaminated by evil after it was raided by law enforcement,” he explained in 2014.
5. Chad Coleman Plays Whitfield & Sam Adegoke Plays Beard in ‘Searching for Neverland’
In Searching for Neverland, Beard is played by Sam Adegoke, who also stars in The CW’s upcoming Dynsasty reboot. Chad L. Coleman, best known for his roles on The Walking Dead and The Wire, stars as Whitfield.
In an interview with CBS News, Coleman defended the movie, since the Jackson estate has said it doesn’t endorse it.
“At the end of the day, Bill Whitfield had a personal experience with Javon Beard,” Coleman told CBS News. “And it is with integrity and character, so there’s nothing salacious here. You know, the men had so many people turn the book down because they said Michael appeared too normal. But that’s what we’re going for. We’re trying to show you the man. So no, this project is something that I believe will allow his fans to be able to properly grieve the man.”
The Jackson estate told Billboard that it doesn’t endorse either the Lifetime movie or an upcoming Netflix stop-motion animated film about Jackson’s famous pet monkey Bubbles. Instead, the estate says it has plans for its own authorized projects.
“To clear up any confusion or misperceptions about unsanctioned Michael Jackson projects currently in the news — including a Lifetime television movie and an animated film script recently purchased by Netflix — the Estate of Michael Jackson does not license or permit the use of any rights it owns, including to Michael’s music, images, video and films, for use in unauthorized works seeking to exploit Michael’s legacy,” the estate said. “The Estate itself has numerous projects in development, all of which respect, honor and celebrate Michael’s life and legacy along with his extraordinary artistry that touched fans throughout the world. When the executors are ready to announce them, they will. As Michael said countless times about his own work, the quality goes in before the name goes on.”