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Bubbles is a Common Chimpanzee, known for his association with the American recording artist Michael Jackson, who adopted the three-year-old chimp from a cancer research clinic in Texas in 1985. The pair enjoyed a close relationship, which many media sources mocked. The association—along with other factors—led the public to think of Jackson as a bizarre eccentric, obsessed with recapturing his childhood, and he was subsequently dubbed "Wacko Jacko". Among several noted outings during his time with the entertainer, Bubbles sat in for the recording sessions of the Bad album and escorted Jackson for the filming of the "Bad" music video. During Jackson's accompanying world tour, the chimp and the singer were said to have shared a two-bedroom hotel suite in Japan.
Bubbles had initially resided at the Jackson family's Encino home, but moved to Neverland Ranch in 1988, where he slept in a crib at the corner of Jackson's bedroom. Bubbles was allowed to use Jackson's private toilet at the ranch, although the chimp occasionally wore a diaper. In the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson, the musician revealed to journalist Martin Bashir that Bubbles had become too aggressive, and had been moved to an animal sanctuary. Following an alleged suicide attempt toward the end of 2003, Bubbles was relocated to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, where he has resided for several years.
Adoption and early life
The public perception of what Michael is as a human being has been highly exaggerated. Those articles are hard for me to relate to. For instance, Bubbles is more fun than a lot of people I know. I saw Bubbles at a wedding in a tux. He has great table manners.
Bubbles was born in the early 1980s in a Texas research facility that bred primates for animal testing. There are contradictory reports as to how he came into Jackson's possession. CNN reports that Bob Dunn, a Hollywood animal trainer, bought Bubbles for Jackson when the chimp was eight months old.
The pair enjoyed a close relationship, but many media sources mocked their association. The public's perception of Jackson was that of 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. Due to the relationship and other topics surrounding the entertainer, the media dubbed the singer "Wacko Jacko", a nickname he would eventually come to despise. News organizations began to report many false stories on the pair, including an allegation that Bubbles was a series of apes. A later claim suggested that Bubbles had died. Commenting on the untrue avowal, Jackson's press agent Lee Solters quipped to the media that "when Bubbles heard about his demise he went bananas". Another story, reported in The National Enquirer, claimed that Jackson's longtime rival Prince 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, his camp never having seen the singer laugh so much.
The late 1980s were a busy time period for the primate. Jackson and Bubbles accompanied each other on several outings and would often talk together. According to reports, the singer later taught the chimp how to moonwalk. The chimpanzee, who had an agent, was also rumoured to have his own bodyguard. Bubbles sat in for the recording of the Bad album—Jackson had insisted that the chimp and his 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 kicked off in September, 1987, he and the singer shared a two-bedroom hotel suite in Tokyo. Though allowed to travel to Japan, the chimp was unable to enter Britain and Sweden due to strict quarantine laws. Later, at a party to celebrate and promote Bad, Bubbles reportedly "worked the room" and was "the life of the party".
Around this time, Jackson and his chimpanzee were photographed by Kenny Rogers for his book, Your Friends and Mine. The photo shows Jackson holding Bubbles on his hip, and has been cited as one of the best taken of the singer. In the black and white photograph, Jackson is dressed casually; he wears jeans and a simple shirt. Bubbles is also dressed casually in a long sleeved shirt and overalls. Rogers said of the animal, "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."
Jackson's longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor's eighth wedding was held at Neverland Ranch. The media reported that Bubbles would be the ring bearer. The story was another false tale but was, according to The New York Times, "an idea that some newspapers found too delightful not to report". Jackson and his pet did, however, attend Taylor's house for tea. The actress did not mind the fact that the singer had brought a chimpanzee.
Having initially resided at the Encino home of the Jackson family, Bubbles moved to Neverland Ranch in 1988, after Jackson purchased it for $17 million. The chimp slept in a crib at the corner of the singer's bedroom. Bubbles would frequently sit with Jackson in the property's cinema, eating candy. He also ate at the dining table. When it came time for the animal to relieve himself, Jackson would allow Bubbles to use his private toilet, although the chimp sometimes wore a diaper. Jackson's maids later stated that they were not impressed with the behaviour of the various chimps Jackson had kept over the years. One housekeeper told of how she had to clean up the droppings of one of the chimps, after it had hurled its feces at the bedroom wall. Another maid described a chimp called Max tearing off his diaper before crawling into Jackson's bed.
Exile from Neverland and alleged suicide attempt
In a 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, the singer revealed to journalist Martin Bashir that Bubbles had become overly pugnacious. He was removed to an animal sanctuary over fears he may attack Jackson's newborn son, Prince Michael II. The singer stated that he regretted having to remove the chimp, as the animals can live for up to 60 years. During the interview, Jackson also told Bashir of how he had planned to hold a "celebrity animal party" for Bubbles. Cheeta, the chimp from Tarzan, Benji and Lassie were to be invited. Jackson had Bubbles 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 would visit the chimp, and also played with the other animals while at the Californian ranch. "He still acts like a kid around them", Dunn added. The Washington Times, however, claimed that the singer did not make a trip to visit Bubbles, despite his representative stating beforehand that he would like to meet-up with the chimp. Shortly afterward, in December 2003, it was claimed that Bubbles had tried to commit suicide. The chimp was supposedly taken to a hospital in time to be saved.
Center for Great Apes and death of Michael Jackson
Since the closure of Dunn's facility in 2004, Bubbles has resided 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 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 famous ape now spends most of his time sitting quietly in trees with his best friend Sam, a 40-year-old chimpanzee.
In June 2009, Jackson died at the age of 50, after suffering a cardiac arrest. News organizations reported that Bubbles did not attend the singer's memorial service, but instead stayed at home. 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 chimp 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 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.
Merchandise, artwork and book
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 three identical porcelain sculptures of Bubbles and Jackson. At the time, each sculpture was alleged 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 went on to become one of Koons' best known works. The figure shows Jackson and the chimp 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.
The Daily Telegraph reported in August 2009 that Bubbles was to publish a "tell-all memoir" about his time with Michael Jackson. The "autobiography"—entitled Bubbles: My Secret Diary, From Swaziland to Neverland—is, in actuality, a spoof diary by journalist John Blake. The book 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" also reveal how the chimp coped with the death of Jackson. The publication was set for release 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.
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