June 26th, 2009
11:53 PM ET

The night I played piano for Michael Jackson

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/06/25/michael.jackson.legacy/art.michael.jackson.02.gi.jpg]

Mona Lisa Mouallem
Associate Producer, Fareed Zakaria GPS

I am a huge lover of music. Like so many people around the globe, the soundtrack to my childhood was made up in good part of Michael Jackson’s records. My brother Joe and I danced to Thriller for hours on end in our living room. I understood, at a very young age, how talented Michael was and as I grew up I watched Michael continue to inspire millions in every corner of the planet with his unparalleled music, style and message.

So when people ask me ‘what is the greatest moment of your life thus far’, I do not hesitate for one moment: it was the night I got to play the piano for Michael Jackson.

Let me back up a little. Michael and my dad became friendly when he moved to New York in 2001 to record his album, Invincible. While I am well aware of the many controversies that surrounded Michael Jackson’s life, they had no bearing on the evenings that my family and I got to spend with him. My family was lucky enough to get to know him and his beautiful, lovely children, away from the flash of cameras and the chants of fans.

So, we were finishing up a home-cooked meal at my parents’ apartment and Michael, who knew I had played the piano since I was a child, asked me to play a piece for him. Of course I said yes, and of course it all seemed so surreal. I sat down at the piano and thought “How on earth does one entertain Michael Jackson? What could I possibly play for him?” I chose a Debussy piece - Deux Arabesques. It was the longest four minutes of my life, the most famous entertainer in the world listening intently with his eyes closed. As I finished the piece, I looked up at him for his reaction. My heart was POUNDING. My hands were visibly shaking. His eyes were still closed. He was silent. He then opened his eyes and said with enormous humility and a deep sincerity that still rings in my ear to this day, “Mona, thank you for that. Thank you thank you thank you.”

It was at that moment that I understood how unique this man was. He, the “King of Pop”, was sitting in the same living room where my brother and I had danced to his music videos in our childhood. And there he was, listening to me play with the same attentiveness that he would have given a concert pianist. And he listened, all the while playing wistfully with his daughter Paris’ hair, making sure she and her brother, Prince Michael, were listening, too. It was the first, strong indication of a truth that would be reinforced by other moments with Michael. With all the fame and fortune he had amassed, with all the clout he had in the industry, at the end of the day what mattered to him were the very fundamentals of life. He was kind, loving and incredibly modest. He absolutely adored his children and was zealous about raising them as good souls. He had tremendous respect and love for all kinds of music – pop, rock, classical, jazz – regardless of who was playing and where. And he was genuinely interested in the lives of others, and would gladly take a step back to let them shine, even if it was for only four minutes.

It is really difficult to imagine what the music industry would be like had he never existed. And it’s equally as difficult to imagine what lies ahead now that he’s no longer with us. But what I can say is that the world will never be the same without the great gift of his voice, his musicality and his unmistakable presence. So on behalf of all those who knew you either personally or through your incredible music: Michael, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

Thank you to my brother Joe for your help in conveying these memories. We can still dance to MJ in the living room.

soundoff (233 Responses)
  1. Indrojit Barua

    Michael Joseph Jackson is a Magical God of Music...........I can't accept his untimely passing away.......

    He is a Legend and it would be more than thousands decades for the world to see another Legend...........

    June 29, 2009 at 6:46 am |
  2. Josh Scriber

    OK I get it ...the king of pop is dead... But does anybody care about the real news any more. like the up rise in Iran, or the growing threat of N. Korea. I thought this would be a two day report and then on to the bigger stuff, like many dead in peaceful protests, Or N. Korea just Detonated another A bomb, I guess not. Is this the sign of the times where we care more about a single person rather than millions? Just a thought. I report you decide

    June 29, 2009 at 4:44 am |
  3. june

    listen maria if the guy on the other end knew it was m.j do you think he would of been able to respond the way he did i don t know about you but i would of been freaked out,

    June 29, 2009 at 2:56 am |
  4. june

    i can t help but say here in canada we don t trash icons over here we realy don t m.j. was a human being; like all of us here , an icon in his business and most of all truly loved all children of the world you americans just don t feel the other person. i am beginnig to think you realy have issues. sorry for my english by the way. but thank you for at least reading my thoughts.

    June 29, 2009 at 2:47 am |
  5. Hardave Kharbanda

    Hi Anderson,

    Thank you for your great coverage of Michael Jackson, but...

    I have seen a lot of discussion of his unprecedented genius but I still have not seen any detailed coverage of his unprecedented record of philanthropic achievements (MJ was in the 2000 Guinness World Book of Records for the number of charities he contributed to, was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, and of course We are the World was the first multi-celebrity event of its kind). Please do a piece on this subject soon, so that people get the most complete picture of MJ!

    P.S. You may want to look into Michael's song "Morphine" from his album Blood on the Dance Floor, in which he powerfully describes the dangerous effects of Demerol…!

    June 29, 2009 at 12:59 am |
  6. Ana

    Beautiful, Mona. We have been dancing to MJ, celebrating his life, while watching the on going memorial on tv and reminiscing all the wonderful music with which he brought so much joy into our world. As you portray,so truly ,in your story, those who are capable and willing to give so much will not be forgotten. He will always be here.

    June 29, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  7. kal

    I hope that Anderson doesn't talk about the speculation about Michael Jackson's life and death any more. Even though you mentions that this is only speculation, viewers can take it as a fact. So, I hope that until everything is proved, don't do speculation comments on air. Is that the basic duty as a journalist?

    June 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  8. Barbara from Lorain Ohio

    I enjoyed Michael Jackson many talents always will, however I think that Joe Jackson should have stayed away the BET Award show, he should have been with his family, he is trying to take the light away from Michael even after his passing.

    June 28, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  9. Marina

    While living in Russia, my generation admired all of Michael Jackson's songs and behaviors that he explicited. He brought us freedom of western civilization and to live the dream of the USA. As a performer he showed the possibility of the human body that could be as plastic as the great mime Marsel Marseo presented. As a human Michael Jackson has shown to society that fragile, spritied, naive, good hearted people could be abolished by reality.

    June 28, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  10. edward

    Michael Jackson was a great ! great ! man and it is a great loss for the music community and for the whole world actualy.My prayers are with the family Michael's family and Michael will live on and will nvever die in my book.

    June 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm |
  11. Benigna Marko

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing such a beautifuy story about Michael Jackson, Mona. I too grew up with thim and although I was not a great dancer at the time, I did very eagerly tried to immitate his moonwalk. My boyfriend had the walk to perfection. In fact, we often kidded him and said, if Michael sees you, he will hire you for one of his videos. Your story was so heartfelt. Thank you again for sharing such a beautiful down to earth side of Michael. He was a legend in his time, and we will forever remember him in our hearts through his music and gentle voice. Thank you.
    Benigna Marko

    June 28, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  12. Lynn

    Michael was a talented musician and entertainer, that's true. He was also a very emotionally tortured individual due to his childhood. My sympathies go out to his family, but please enough of the coverage. All networks 24hrs a day, nothing but MJ. Let him rest in peace. There are many more important news stories to cover. CNN, you are not entertainment tonight. Please go back to news coverage that is important and actually may affect every one's lives.

    June 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  13. lucy

    AMEN! Our GuardianAngels are in full force. Thank you "Mona" for sharing The Truth About MJ! Sharing Is Caring and Caring is Sharing....It isa shame not one broadcast journalist could ever put 1 hour of Michaels Humanitarian & Random Acts of Kindness on their broadcasts......They all had to go the the "ugly tabloids"....Pathetic....

    June 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  14. barbara jean

    In the bookstore there is a book 'Without Santctuary ' which contains the savage lynching, and sadistic torture of black people by caucasian
    with their whole families standing around celebrating. This week again we saw the media lynching Michael and sadistic torture his
    family. The only differences was the method. I think the called it
    high tech.today

    June 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  15. Agatha

    Aww, this is so pretty! Everyone's talking about how he went to court so many times and all his surgeries. You, although, wrote about his care and affection. Like he really cares about everyone. THANK YOU SO MUCH for showing his good side. I'm sure that was an amazing unforgettable moment and I'm glad that something that great happened to you and touched you.

    June 28, 2009 at 5:52 pm |
  16. Lilibeth

    Mona, I absolutely love your story! Thank you, thank you, thank you for that! Everybody, and I mean everybody, should read this! It provides a window to his beautiful heart and soul. I appreciate Michael now more than ever. I have to admit I feel bad that I've sort of taken him for granted all these years. I love his music, always have, always will. Thanks again!

    Edmonds, Washington

    June 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm |
  17. Jonathan Liu

    Beautifully written. Wish I could've shared the experience.

    June 28, 2009 at 2:34 pm |
  18. LisaL - Canada

    thank you for sharing this insight. too often i think we forget that there are actually people and families behind the celebrities and the icons.

    June 28, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  19. Aylin

    Unfortunately only the ones who knew him and his fans understand him...
    R.I.P. Michael and may God ease our pain

    June 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  20. Dennis Wright

    Micheal Jackson the king of pop 6/26/09 the day the earth stood still

    June 28, 2009 at 4:34 am |
  21. Yasmine

    Can you PLZ show MJ acceptance speech for Grammy 1993 on TV?

    June 28, 2009 at 3:39 am |
  22. Yasmine

    Can you PLZ show MJ acceptance speech for Grammy 1993 on TV?

    CNN is constantly showing the same clips of MJ. He's a world icon, he voiced himself so much for those who misunderstood him. Plz show those clips.

    I've been watching the CNN coverage since the untimely passing. My heart has been sobbing and MY MIND STILL CAN'T GRASP THAT WE LOST THIS GOLD-HEARTED, UNAPPRECIATED PERSON.

    I wish this was a nightmare that I only, am having and I WANT TO WAKE UP.

    June 28, 2009 at 3:38 am |
  23. Rick

    It looks like their might be a possibility that Michael Jacksoncould have planned his own death?

    Were were the children? Were they at the house when he passed? He kept his family distant along with close friends prior to his death. He made a come back. He is now bigger than ever just as he knew it would be. The Final Curtan Call is the exact words he said at the press conference in London. It looks like the Final Curtan Call was death.

    One doctor said it take about 2 hrs to die on an overdose of narcotics so who can explain what happen there?

    The kids do not resemble Michael at all. They would have black or dark skin and kinky hair. African American genes dominate.

    June 28, 2009 at 2:40 am |
  24. Teena

    I wish I could see you….
    I cannot name know how I felt, I cannot, I was at NYU, when I heard the news and the rest of the time I was occupied with the thought. He is no more…my icon of ingenious talent…I got home and started watching CNN, from then didn’t turn of the channel…he was always a mystery to me and I used to think all of his creations were ahead of time, the pieces were timeless, original and breathtaking.
    Have you seen that little boy singing? His sweet smile? The gestures of little hands? Did you? Have you seen those eyes? Did you? I did…and I can tell you that, I have never seen such eyes…never…. those eyes were full of “Love”… and if you observe closely you can see….the amount of positive energy that the little boy exerts…Those eyes were Divine…Never had a childhood, so was a child inside till he died, and loved children. His heart was full of compassion and love and that reflected in his music.
    “Love” is what he gave us. The most well known man on earth, no doubt.

    June 28, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  25. Maria Tasama Long Island, NY

    Michael Jackson was a person who made a lot of other people lifes and thats why he will be missed and remembered all around the world!!!! I LOVE YOU MICHAEL


    June 28, 2009 at 2:03 am |
  26. Yaya

    I agree Maria

    June 28, 2009 at 1:43 am |
  27. Aaron, New York

    Two wars in the middle east, protester dying in Iran, words of threat from North Korea, an economy on life support, health care debate and everything stops because Michael Jakson’s death. This is the most ridiculous coverage that I have ever seen, I mean I like his music but to be honest the amount of coverage and the level of detail surrounding his death is not more important than the issues first listed above. By the way Farrah Fawcett also passed away and all I’ve heard about her death are mere pass by reports, when she dies of something that touches the lives of thousands of men, women and children. I am a big CNN fan but the reporting on Mr. Jackson is just completely outrageous not to mention hypocritical and the media acts like leaches on one person life when before his death they trounced on his mishaps. I am to say the very least disgusted about the over reporting.

    June 28, 2009 at 1:19 am |
  28. orianabyrd

    i know what the parents and family of michael jackson are going through because i lost my husband 23months ago to a seizure and a cardic arrest and i saw him die in front of me and then they transported him to the hospital where he died at the age of 43yrs and i was only 41yrs but i will miss my husband and michael jackson because i grew up with michael jackson music. i will pray for the jackson family and michaels children and they will be in my prays for a long time amen.

    June 28, 2009 at 12:57 am |
  29. Jane

    God Bless you Michael and rest in peace. I'm listening to my favorite "Got to be there" and will always embrace the beautiful little boy who sang it. I cannot express my deepest sorrow. It's hard for me to accept that you left us so soon. I'm so heartbroken. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to us.

    June 28, 2009 at 12:54 am |
  30. Risa Brandon

    Anderson, I admire you and your reporting. If I had to ask this "so called" cardiologist a few questions, the first would be, if he wasn't' breathing or responding and you knew you had to do CPR, why not place him on the floor immediately and why would you even work on him for over 40 minutes? Why wasn't paramedics called right away. Did he use an adrenaline shot right into his heart?

    Even if this was a drug related "accident" on MJ's part, I feel the doctor made a lot of error's, so I hope this doctor he hired is the best in medical malpractice.

    Another reason the Jackson's are having their own autopsy done, is because the LAPD has screwed up way too many high profile cases, such as the OJ case and I'm sure that the Jackson's aren't going to go on 1 opinion alone.

    I wish the Jackson's the best and I hope that they find peace and solace in that MJ is in a better place and although he shall be missed so much, he will always be remembered for his bright light and his magic!

    June 28, 2009 at 12:52 am |
  31. Bill Siders

    Many are just beginning to realize what a great gift was lost when Micheal Jackson died. I have been a fan of Micheal's since the start of his career. I see many so-called fans on the news and abroad stating how devastated they are by his death, and I respect that, however, these are many of the same people who did not support Micheal and his music when he was living. For example, I look at the record sales for his album "Invincible", and I wonder where these people where when it first came out in record stores. In my opinion, "Invincible", track for track was his very best work, and many people slept on that album. I challenge people to sit and listen to the album and if you truly appreciate Micheal's music then you will undoubtably realize you over-looked some of the best of his music. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

    June 28, 2009 at 12:40 am |
  32. mielmiyu

    it made me cry.. thanks for sharing this

    June 28, 2009 at 12:39 am |
  33. Fozia Hussain

    Hi Mona Lisa, glad to read that you have such fond memories of MJ. Wish people understood him while he was still alive.
    I am absolutely shocked & apalled with the untimely death of such a great & kind human being and dismayed that the quack who calls himeself a doctor did'nt do the right thing at the right moment to save MJ. He will live eternally in our hearts.
    I agree that Michael Jackson's death was pre-planned by his enemies.

    June 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
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