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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. Ron Kaminski

    What a moment that must have been! Amazing, as a pianist myself, I can only imagine the joy that it must have been playing for Michael. He really was one of a kind, a true genius.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  2. Francois Sloan

    Wonderfully Put! Its obvious this man was a gentle being! And those who are saying all this bad stuff now, are just out to regain there 10mins! We all know its fact and true! We can fall for the negative stuff cause its so easy to listen to and judge with. Myself, I plain to take the High Road, to respect this man with HONOR! To know now, words can't hurt him , he's life on earth is over..... Maam I'm happy Michael got to hear you music. I'm happy you're able to tell you story, to STAMP the fact that Michael was who i thought he was.... HUMAN!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  3. Lily

    As I read your blog tears came to my eyes, for all that we thought or knew about him really doesnt compare to the truth and that is, he as impacted all of us in such a powerful way that no matter what he did or didnt do we all love him...Michael we love you and you will be forever miss.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  4. Rebecca

    Lovely story thank you for sharing

    June 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  5. Linda

    Thank you Mona! Today–in my heart, I feal that Michael Jackson is not only Moonwalking–He can walk on the clouds, the sun, the stars,
    or where ever he feels...

    June 26, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  6. JDS

    Very wonder, well said. Are you fortunate to have had the opportunity to experienced such a great person so close.
    MJ is my daughter's idol.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  7. Danette

    Thank you for sharing Mona Lisa, it has been so sad, Farah and Michael's passing that we need stories like this, thank you Cooper for your reports.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  8. Juwon Akodu

    How i wish Michael realise the mistake he was doing while he was alive. Am a Nigerian In America, am sure Nigerians will be mourning him right now because he is such a Legend when its comes to music all over Africa. My simpathy to his family especially his children at this time. Most importantly, i want to say at this time of sober reflection, their shouldnt be any personal discussion about any member of his family especially this issue about his Dad abusing him, most of us that are African dont believe smacking a child constitute an abuse, and has anybody ever thought for once that if not for his Dad's encouragement(to me) there might never be a Michael we are talking about today. once again, MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PEACE. Byeeeeee for now Michael.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  9. Matthew

    HE WILL BE MISSED DEARLY!

    A part of me can't help but wonder would he be dead if he knew how much he still meant to the world. It's sad that only now after his death do I start hearing his good songs on the popular radio stations again.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  10. gman02

    If Michael was having problems the night before he dead why didn't the doctor that him to a hospital? this hole story sonds fishy!!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  11. beth

    if the cardiologist was living with him-why didn't he have a defibulator with him???????

    June 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  12. Steve Chyke

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    The doctor who was with Michael Jackson when he purportedly collapsed and died has a lot of questions to answer in his untimely death. Why was the doctor in Jackson’s home in the first place?

    It was reported that jackson was not feeling well some few days, why did this doctor not advise him to go to hospital and have some battery of tests performed?

    Did the doctor give Jackson Demerol, if so, by what route..intravenously or intramuscularly?

    Since respiratory depression and death are feared side effects of demerol, did the doctor have an antidote for reversal incase of fatal consequences like sudden respiratory arrest?

    Why did the doctor not call 911 immediately and only did so when his CPR failed, by then Jackson was gone. The doctor knew he was limited by what he could do at jackson’s home..no oxygen, he could not intubate, no ambu bag,……resuscitative drugs/fluids.

    Did the doctor act in negligence in choosing to treat Jackson at home rather than sending him to the hospital? Is the doctor’s action negligence or unprofessionalism, incompentency and greed?

    Is the doctor liable for manslaughter here?

    Something has to be done with this racketering of prescription painkillers by licensed physicians who place monetary reward above patients’ safety.

    May Michael Jackson’s Soul rest in Perfect Peace!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  13. Anne D

    Tony Strebe–when you present me a Beatle who can dance like Michael, maybe then. Fox has given a lot of coverage to MJ, including the great interview Geraldo had with him. They covered him yesterday and again today.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Kezi

    I am a young person but i love Michael Jackson i wasn't even thought to be born when thriller came out...... but the doctor that was with him needs to be questioned R.I.P MICHAEL JACKSON U WILL BE MISSED

    June 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  15. 80sCastaway

    I can feel my heart pounding after reading this.

    Thank you SO much for sharing

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

    June 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  16. lilly

    thats sweet and beautiful
    this is a lot to take in
    just two days ago
    we thaught of him as a person
    now we think of him as a missed loved one<33

    June 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  17. Sue

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  18. tostos

    i was in shock and could still not believe michael is gone . i from nigeria and as a child growning up i listen to his music and actually imitate his dance moves.

    i smell a rat as well why in the world wiould a doctor put him on the bed while performng cpr. he should no better. if he was murder they have actually murder the whole world not just micheal. i feel so sad and could not just watch the news because when ido i just cant stop crying.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  19. wendy Reiss

    Hey, Michael Jackson was indeed a supreme talent and that is what we should mourn, few of us knew him as a person, how can WE pass any kind of judgement, except for which the media relays to us. We should not treat him more importantly than any other great talent, because again, that is what he was, ... a genius at his craft. But to adorn a man in pain, and not spend that time assisting him with real help, ...everyone around him who was close to him IS guilty of aiding to this loss. This man had been seemingly crying out for help for years. A changed face, a different color skin, a mask, a coffin to sleep in, seeking comfort in young children whom he could tower over? Where were all of you who knew him and mourn him today, YESTERDAY,... when this man was so obvious in his pain and need of a true friend or family member. I am truly saddened that his young life and his gifts of magnificence will no longer be shared with all of , us , But why cry now when the signs were so evident yesterday? God be with him and his family!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  20. EsKess

    Debussy to nuture MJ's soul.. how perfect, how beautiful, how lovely. Your story shows what a wonderful person he was and what a tragic life he led... Thank you. Though I used to dance with my toddlers around the living room to "Dont Stop till you Get Enough", and dragged them to Commisky Park in Chicago in 85 (?) we stood on chairs in the pouring rain to see and hear this fabulous entertainer. We called each other in shocking disbelief! It is his tragic vulnerability and his demise through pain killers that beaks my heart..His beautiful and gentle spirit will be missed..

    June 26, 2009 at 10:26 pm |
  21. steve

    Very touching, thank you. Michael RIP

    June 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  22. Dee

    I am saddened by the death of Michael Jackson. As a 66 year old mother of three sons , I have always loved his moves, his music, his dancing and just him. I will be praying for his family and know that he is now in a better place. We will all miss him so!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm |
  23. Kim

    Michael Jackson was the king of pop, and he will never be forgotten. But what most people did not know was Michael was sending out a messege in one of his songs. Look at the world now, how many things are worng with it? So many but one just stand out, and thats Global Warming. Michael tried to warn us about it, but no one was listening. And if you dont know what I'm talking about, maybe you should watch his Earth Song video Now!!! We need to work on this global warming, you may not really care, but guess what I do. I startd by un-plugging things that I am not using. Like when my laptop is shut off, I un-plug the charger, and same with the dvd play and my cell phone charger. You can do the same! Please watch his video. I'm going to miss him, but he wont be forgetten. God Bless his family!

    June 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  24. ALma Btangas Philippines

    To Michael your such a wonderful performer..When you perform here in the phillppines its really amazing.You will always be remain in our heart..W e will miss u.May you rest in peace..

    June 26, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  25. Kevin Grimes

    2 words sum up the world's greatest entertainer – "MICHAEL JACKSON"!!! That's all need be said, he is & was the standard of creative excellence!
    We will forever more love and miss u, u truly are favored, blessed, and that very rare true person, that eminated the love that God holds for each of us. Thank you Mr. Jackson, it truly is an honor to have lived in your age.

    Kevin Grimes,
    San Diego, CA

    June 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  26. terrel williams

    Thanks for your input maria. your past exp with him especially his kids and how he cared for them is a living proof that michael was more than the musical icon . WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER MICHALE

    June 26, 2009 at 10:02 pm |
  27. Edwin Castro

    I question the fact a Doctor was present at the time Michael went into cardiac arrest. I believe this doctor gave him an injection that cause his whole body to shutdown. I strongly feel, Michael died in the hands of the physican care. I can't stop thinking about Michael. We all loved him. Michael may you rest in peace. God bless your family and especially your children. You will never be forgotten ever. There will never be other Michael. Love always.

    June 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  28. Noel

    Well, Maria, you can't resurrect the King of Pop by pointing fingers. Michael touched a lot of individuals and I am one of them. I grew with his song BEN and it lingers with me giving vivid pictures and memories of the child in the movie. Well, Michael J. did not die. I'm sure.

    June 26, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  29. Sean O'Brien

    Anderson,

    I am devastated to learn that Michael Jackson has passed away, and clearly, without a doubt, he was one of the most prolific artist of our time.

    There have been a lot of rumors and speculations about the cause of death of Mr. Jackson, but not one person or news agency has brought up the possibility that Michael Jackson could have been attempting to kick his dependency on prescription drugs in order to be clean and functional for his upcoming concerts. That certainly would explain why there was a M.D. living in the mansion with him.

    Sean O'Brien

    June 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  30. Silvia

    I grew up with Michael Jackson in the 70's! My condolences to his family! Growing up was not easy for him, and that's why he always tried to be different! To me he will always be a Shining Star!!! In regards to the the supposed Doctor that was at his side when Michael went out, I think he (Doctor) is a scum-bag! Why didn't he have someone call 911 as soon as he knew there was a possible over-dose? Since he is the one that gave him his last shot of morphine!?????????????????????????????

    June 26, 2009 at 9:22 pm |
  31. Mike

    Enough already! It is a sad story and the media has covered it thoroughly. Meanwhile, life does go on....there are plenty of issues and things to discuss and accomplish....I crave some intelligent dialogue about something other than MICHAEL JACKSON!

    June 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm |
  32. Maria

    WHO SAID THE PERSON THAT WAS GIVING CPR
    IS A DOCTOR?
    why the person that called 911 did not say it was michael,
    think of it,one would think it would be the first thing he would,
    instead he refered to him as a 50 year old man.
    I stromgly believe michael was murdered,it was planed.
    he was already dead, so they panjced and called the operator.
    why a doctor would not know to place the person on the floor
    jnstead of on the bed. WHY OH WHY did the doctor leave,he needed time to get his story (doctored) I smell a RAT.

    June 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm |
  33. NVG

    Mona Lisa – Thank you, thank you, thank you. I read your recollection of your special time with Michael and I can close my eyes and actually see it. Beautiful. I never met Michael, but I grew up listening to his music and he will always be a part of my special childhood memories. Today as I drove in my car, I popped in his Thriller CD and it put a smile on my face.

    June 26, 2009 at 8:01 pm |
  34. David O

    To The Jackson Family, only prayer and time will bring healing to you and your family. What moves through us is a silence, a quiet sadness, a longing for one more day, one more word, one more touch, we may not understand why he left this earth so soon, or why he left before we were ready to say good-bye, but little by little, we begin to remember not just that he died, but that he lived. And that his life gave us memories too beautiful to forget.

    June 26, 2009 at 7:49 pm |
  35. Oeyec

    To The Jackson Family, only prayer and time will bring healing to you and your family. What moves through us is a silence, a quiet sadness, a longing for one more day, one more word, one more touch, we may not understand why he left this earth so soon, or why he left before we were ready to say good-bye, but little by little, we begin to remember not just that he died, but that he lived. And that his life gave us memories too beautiful to forget.

    Our prayers are with you.

    June 26, 2009 at 7:41 pm |
  36. Annie Kate

    Thank you for sharing your memory with us – your post is very touching. Not many people can say they played the piano for Michael Jackson especially in a home setting like you did. I am glad you had that moment of playing for Michael Jackson and him taking it as seriously as a professional musician. That was class.

    June 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  37. Tony Strebe

    I get my news from CNN but today I Couldn't get my news because people seem to be mourning the death of a child molester. So I thought just for kicks I would go to Fox news just to see what they had to say about Jackson, and I found they were talking actual news. Not Jackson, and Jackson is not the king of pop The Beatles are the kings of pop.

    June 26, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  38. Javier Valentin

    Such a great story for you to have as a memory. Full Circle there for sure

    June 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm |
  39. KristinCLeDuff

    Beautifully written, Mona. I felt like I could see every piece of your memory as clearly as you. Thank YOU for sharing this with all of us. This was truly lovely...Michael would be proud!

    June 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm |
  40. Lillian

    I am still in major denial about Michael Jackson's death. As crazy as it sounds, I still have hope and await for the news networks to apologize that they had the wrong man. This is truly sad and unbelievable.

    June 26, 2009 at 6:18 pm |
  41. Rob Lowry

    Anderson, I like the whole world am saddened and shocked my this huge loss. Thinking last night of him and his life I wrote the following.

    ~~~~~~Farewell Michael Jackson~~~~~~~

    I am saddened by the Death of Michael Jackson
    People may have their own opinion of him
    Be that as it may
    For him there was always a little boy trapped within

    One at five, he began the life of an adult
    His childish ways, not of his own fault
    Always saddened by the little boy lost
    For being childish and shy, he paid the cost

    The King of Pop fell silent today
    Go now Michael, be on you way
    Although sillent, his voice never will
    Any empty heart, your music will fill

    Godspeed
    Rest in peace
    Michale Joseph Jackson
    1958-2009

    June 26, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  42. dqueenofeverything

    It is so weird to think that something our culture created is loathed by so many. Michael Jackson was created, just like we create so many other things …to be worshipped. If you need to be disgusted at someone I guess we should look who created “Michael Jackson”, not the poor person who was Michael Jackson. Many say that “I didn’t worship him”, maybe so, but in reality we all irrationally adore someone whether it be a sports hero, actor/actress, writer, singer, deity… enough

    June 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  43. That Guy Eclipz

    I have a suggestion to truely honor the memory of Michael Jackson. I purpose that no fan who bought a ticket to his upcoming tour seek reimbursement for their money. Instead, I'm sure that with the right motivation there are enough artists and musicians who would be willing to cover his songs. Afterall, this man influenced generations with his genius. If the generations he touched wouldn't want to pay him such a fitting tribute....then his life and times were a sad reflextion on the human condition.

    June 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  44. itsdateknight

    Great story. Excellent writing. You have a talent for writing humanizing stories- especially being able to put the reader in the experience. I truly felt the human element in Michael which so often is removed from famous people when reading about them in the press. You should do this for a living. I really enjoyed it.

    June 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  45. deb thorns

    To understand Micheal's so-called peculiar livestyle, you have to understand any individual that suffers with vitiligo. Children do not judge you. Their companionship is preferable. This is a painful disease. Those of us that know it personally understood Micheal. Most adults react to you with fear. If you want to understand the covering up, the lifestyle, talk to people that suffer from this horrible disease.

    June 26, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  46. nora

    we will miss you micheal we don,t forget you never

    June 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm |
  47. virginia

    Everywhere I went today in NYC companies,restaurants,businesses,stores, people on the street were all playing mj's music no PR campaign could have orchestrated such a pure and powerful tribute to michael jackson's life and talent.

    MJ was a damaged child trapped in a mans body living in a world beyond ours – I believe the only harm he did was to himself and not to children whose company he sought.

    He is finally at peace and free to shower and bless this loveless world as he tried to do in life. His music and legacy will live on forever.

    June 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm |
  48. Rae

    What a beautiful story, Mona!

    June 26, 2009 at 5:27 pm |
  49. Stan

    To all of you Michael Jackson Haters out their, grow up and take off your white sheets, this man touch the entire World and Millions of people. Thank God for sharing your childhood and life with the entire World Michael Jackson, the Worl will never forget you, never!!!!!!

    June 26, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  50. Sandra E Taradash

    We were driving down Ventura Blvd. Encino, CA, home of Michael Jackson, about 1984ish. Someone in the car yelled, "There's Michael Jackson behind us!" I was in the front passenger seat and quickly put down the vanity mirror and starred and sure enough, it was the blue Rolls Royce with Michael driving! He waved to me! My kids were screaming! It was my daughter's birthday so I had my camera and started to snap pictures! HE changed lanes and pulled to the right of us, put down his window, continued to drive, smiled and waved and let me take more pictures! We treasure the pictures and a birthday my daughter has never forgotten!

    June 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm |
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