Bubbles is a common chimpanzee once kept as a pet by American singer Michael Jackson, who bought him from a Texas research facility in the 1980s. Bubbles frequently traveled with Jackson; during the Bad world tour, for example, Jackson brought Bubbles to Japan, where they drank tea with the mayor of Osaka.
Bubbles was initially kept at the Jackson family home in Encino, Los Angeles, but was moved to Neverland Ranch in 1988. There, he slept in a crib in Jackson's bedroom, used Jackson'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, and 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.
AcquisitionBubbles 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; many state that Jackson had purchased him when he 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 RanchBubbles was kept at the Jackson family's Encino home until 1988, when he was moved to Jackson's newly acquired Neverland Ranch. Bubbles slept in a crib in Jackson's bedroom, ate candy in the Neverland movie theater, was fed at the dining table, wore a diaper, and used Jackson's toilet.
At Jackson's 2005 trial, jurors learned from a videotaped interview with Jackson that his chimpanzees would help him with housekeeping chores. "They run around, help me clean the room. They help me dust, clean the window," Jackson stated. Jackson's housekeepers testified that they disapproved of the chimpanzee behavior. One housekeeper told of how she had to clean feces hurled at the bedroom wall. Another described a chimpanzee tearing off his diaper before crawling into Jackson's bed.
Media mockeryAccording to journalist Steve Huey, Bubbles formed a public perception of Jackson as a "bizarre eccentric, obsessed with recapturing his childhood". According to Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, "This is when the weirdness began to reach mythic proportions."
Jackson and Bubbles' bond, as well as Jackson's other alleged eccentricities, contributed to the media nickname "Wacko Jacko", which Jackson came to despise. The media often focused on Bubbles, rather than Jackson's music, and published false stories, 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." The media also reported that Bubbles would be the ringbearer at Elizabeth Taylor's October 6, 1991, Neverland Ranch wedding; the report was untrue, but was, according to The New York Times, "an idea that some newspapers found too delightful not to report."
Another story, reported in The National Enquirer, claimed that the musician Prince, Jackson's longtime rival, had used extrasensory perception to turn Bubbles crazy. According to the story, Jackson said: "What kind of sicko would mess with a monkey? This is the final straw. Poor, poor Bubbles." Jackson found the story hilarious; his staff reported that they had never seen him laugh so much.
Late 1980sThe late 1980s were a busy period for Bubbles. Jackson took him on outings and would often talk to him. According to reports, he showed him how to moonwalk. Bubbles had an agent and was rumored 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 said that he and his fellow officials were "surprised to see the chimpanzee, but we understand he is 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 that Jackson had brought a chimpanzee. 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 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."
RelocationsIn the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson, Jackson told journalist Martin Bashir that Bubbles had become pugnacious. He was moved to an animal sanctuary over fears he might attack Jackson's newborn son, Prince Michael II. Jackson bought two more baby chimpanzees, Max and Action Jackson; the public believed these chimpanzees were also Bubbles. Bubbles' removal was a source of regret for Jackson, who stated that chimpanzees 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, Jackson and his children visited Bubbles, and also played with the other animals at the ranch. " still acts like a kid around them", Dunn said. The Washington Times, however, claimed Jackson did not visit Bubbles, despite Jackson's representative having stated that he would like to meet him again. Shortly afterward, in December 2003, it was claimed that Bubbles had attempted suicide. He 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 Bubbles—whose facial features have changed since his time with Jackson—is now "huge and ugly" but has a "sweet character". In 2009, the ape was spending most of his time sitting quietly in trees with Sam, a 40-year-old chimpanzee.
Death of JacksonOn June 25, 2009, Jackson died at the age of 50, after suffering a cardiac arrest. News organizations reported that Bubbles was not brought to Jackson's memorial service. Animal trainer Dunn, speaking to the News of the World, said: "Bubbles definitely missed 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 said that Jackson thought of Bubbles 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, Jackson's sister La Toya visited Bubbles at the Center for Great Apes in Florida. According to the Center for Great Apes website, Jackson's estate "has continued to support the annual care costs for Bubbles at the sanctuary".
LegacyJackson launched Michael's Pets, a range of soft toys based on the animals he owned, in November 1986. "He 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, the artist Jeff Koons made 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: "If I could be one other living person, it would probably be Michael Jackson." The piece became one of Koons' best known works. The figure shows Jackson and Bubbles 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, 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, Bubbles: My Secret Diary, From Swaziland to Neverland, is a spoof diary by journalist John Blake, and book fictionally documents the "darker aspects" of Bubbles' life, including a "$2,000-a-day banana addiction, depression, romantic conquests, and 'vicious rivalry' with Tarzan star Cheeta". The "collection of very personal and honest entries from diary" was released in October 2009. Blake stated: