In 1984 Star Magazine, a publication said to sometimes stretch the truth, was the first to reveal something that had puzzled many a music lover: who was the inspiration behind Superstar Michael Jackson's hit song BILLIE JEAN. They answered that question with not only an interview, but a series of pictures of the woman: Theresa Gonsalves.
Theresa's relationship with Michael began when she was twelve years old. She became "obsessed" with him and wrote him numerous letters until they met in Las Vegas for her sixteenth birthday! The obsession continued as they stayed in touch from that point on. Their worlds have continuously gone full circle always leading back to each other. They last saw each other four days before his arrest for these current child molestation charges as she introduced her own son Mychal (named after Michael) to him. Michael had his kids with him as well and was genuinely happy to see that Theresa's son was so well cared for! However, it was Theresa's son Todd that was the controversy behind the hit song Billie Jean. Her friendship with Michael was such that she confided in him about all aspects of her life. In detailing her situation about her baby's daddy....Michael wrote the song Billie Jean about her!
Her new book THE MAN IN THE WOODS is another fact-based novel that will keep readers enthralled. Our conversation explores the story and the woman whose true-live experience has made her a part of music history.
Theresa, thank you for taking out the time to talk to CONVERSATIONS about your life and your novel OBSESSIONS. I want to begin if we can at the beginning. Tell us about your earliest memories of your childhood.
Wow, my recollection of my early childhood actually goes back to before there was a Michael Jackson in the public eye. It was a lonely life for a young girl who was the middle child amongst four brothers. I was not a physically abused child but I was extremely neglected. At six years of age, I was taking the bus alone from the projects of Columbia Point to the city of Jamaica Plain to visit my grandmother. The significance of that memory is that I had to go through the infamous city of South Boston where I had to often dodge whites who would spit on me and throw rocks. I was constantly ducking down to avoid getting him by a rock aimed at the bus window. I had witnessed numerous traumatic scenes, which included a friend of ours getting smashed by an elevator and brought out in a green duffle body bag.
Mother spent most of her time with a variety of men. She was a single mother, having been divorced twice, with five kids. She had never relished the idea of having a daughter, which is why I was left to fend for myself at such a young age.
Because of things going on in your life at an early age, do you think you used music, books and writing as an escape? Yes, I used music and writing to escape quite a bit. Writing helps to heal the soul as well.
I read on your website www.obsessionsthebook.com that it was at the age of twelve that you felt drawn to one entertainer in particular. Would you tell us how their music affected you?
I was extremely drawn to the music of the Jackson Five and particularly that of Michael Jackson. I always felt he was singing directly to me. When Michael would sing I'll Be There, I personally felt that he was telling me that he would be there for me. He made me feel like there was someone who actually loved me. I wanted him to be proud of me so the direction my life took was to make him proud.
Theresa, there are alot of young people that are infatuated with certain entertainers: having all their records, posters and any article that they appear in. What were some of the things you would do to get to know Michael Jackson better?
I wrote Michael Jackson constantly .Okay, I wrote him almost every single day and I kept track of the letters (smile). I didn't write the normal fan letter. I wrote him about my life and everything that was going on it. I read everything that I could find about him. I would question some of the things that I read. But my letters were more geared towards telling him about my school grades, how my day would go and what I did in camp, etc. I learned how to get his home address under the freedom of information act because the post woman was tired of my sending him gifts to a P.O. Box. I never acted like a groupie and I never tried to have a sexual relationship with him.
When you began writing him, did you expect that he would actually respond? I never actually expected him to respond. There were letters I received from the fan club people with autographed pictures. That was discouraging, but somehow I still felt in my heart that he was reading my letters.
Reading letters from someone you admire it great, and a dream come true for so many. What was it like to finally meet him on your sixteenth birthday, and how did it happen?
Every day in school, I would write on the board, "Theresa Gonsalves loves Michael Jackson" and whoever was assigned to clean the boards after school would never erase it but would add a comment like ."but he doesn't love her" or "he doesn't even know her" so I vowed to meet him by the time I turned sixteen. In July of 1974, I rode to New York to see the Jackson Five perform and even though I knew what hotel he was staying at I decided to go back to Boston instead of trying to be a groupie to meet him. When I arrived home the next morning, I called the hotel. Instead of asking for him, I asked for his road manager who was Reggie Wiggins at the time and they rang his room. He told me Michael was still asleep in the next room. I had their tour schedule in my hand and knew that they were going to be performing at the MGM on my birthday and I asked Mr. Wiggins if I fly to Las Vegas for my sixteenth birthday could I meet Michael Jackson and he said "Honey, if you fly from Boston to Las Vegas just to meet Michael Jackson, I will make sure you meet him." With that said, I began saving money to make this trip. I wrote letters to the MGM's President's secretary who arranged my room and I also wrote letters to every Black mayor I could find throughout the country asking them to contribute $5.00 to my dream. They all wrote back wishing me success with my endeavors but all stated they were unable to contribute.
I worked a part time job after school and saved all my money sacrificing any new school clothes and I made sure that I had straight A's in all my classes so I would be able to take a week off of school. In October of 1974, I called the Sahara Tahoe Hotel in Lake Tahoe where the Jackson's were performing and at this time I did ask for Michael's room and was shocked when they put me through. When I identified myself to him, he knew exactly who I was. I was in total shock as he recited the dates I was coming to meet him telling me I write it in every letter that I send him! So during the week of Nov 20-Nov 28, I was made their guest as we met for the first time.
How did the relationship between the two of you develop, and can you let us know how it affected the rest of your life?
The relationship developed into a friendship. I continued to write him and he continued reading my letters. I flew other places to hang out with him. I was invited to his home and when he was filming the Wiz, I spent two separate weeks in New York visiting him. Once I was going to fly to London just to meet him there! My relationship with him actually affected me in a good way. I became a strong woman, independent and it surely kept me out of trouble. In wanting him to be proud of me, I never did drugs. I have never smoked cigarettes. And, I can gladly comment that I have never been drunk in my life. On the other side of things, I also never learned how to have a real relationship with men.
Now, that we have set a foundation, Theresa, let's talk about your son Todd and the song "Billy Jean" and the controversy that followed. First of all, did you know he was going to be writing the song, and how did you feel when you first heard it?
I didn't know that he was going to be writing the song. I wrote him letters about my situation. At this time I was 23 years old and of course involved with the wrong type of man. I was living also in Encino at the time so I would see Michael from time to time. I didn't feel betrayed or anything when I heard the song. I didn't feel honored. That situation exists with so many women, more so now than in the past, or perhaps it is being put out there more. I had been with this man for over a year and here he was claiming my kid wasn't his. His song let me know he could understand what I was feeling, but that women often put men in that situation.
Since Michael Jackson has had his negative dealings with the press, were you afraid of how the cloud of curiosity would affect your own family?
No, I didn't feel that his negative dealings would affect us. We are very open and outspoken. I named my second son Mychal after Michael Jackson but spelled after the ex-lover Mychal Thompson who was from the Bahamas. I named my son after Michael as an honor for how he affected my life. I have been asked my opinion often and I will say that I do not believe Michael to be a child molester. But I will also say that you never truly know what a person is capable of as you take a look at all of the ministers that have sexually abused children. Michael Jackson has always worried about children. I remember being with him in New York and I had bought him a gift which was a book on child abuse and we shared our feelings on that even way back then (around 1977). As for being asked would I let my child visit him that answer still remains yes but I would not allow him to sleep in bed with him or any man for that matter.
I think I read on your website that in 1984 Star Magazine ran the story saying that you were the real Billie Jean. Star, though not without its credibility issues, has been known to get many stories right. Did you agonize over revealing your identity and how did that change your life from that point? What about your son? Were you afraid of how he would be viewed as he grew older?
I didn't agonize over that. I asked Michael if he was okay with it and he was. It didn't change my life much at all. Both my sons have grown up being Michael Jackson/Jackson Five fans. Their friends often wondered how such young boys were so into the Jackson Five and now they know. As of today, my son Todd is married with two beautiful children!
All of this has the makings of a great movie, so it is no surprised that you wrote the book OBSESSIONS. What I am curious about is why you call is a novel, and did that make it easier for you to not feel a responsibility to tell the world all the details of your relationship with Michael Jackson?
"OBSESSIONS" isn't really about me and Michael Jackson. It is more about how my relationship with him actually led me to have an obsessive behavior towards men. I am not ashamed of my relationship or friendship with Michael Jackson and I shared with the world as long as it didn't hurt either one of us. It was hard sharing my story of being obsessed with this man who happens to be my son's father.
Can you tell us about the man who you were involved with that you felt like was trying to harm you?
This man that I was involved with was a very handsome charming man. I was with him for eighteen years and we have my son Mychal together. Underneath the charm however was a chameleon. He was leading three different lives (that I now know about could have been more) and when I found out what he was truly about I felt that he had wasted numerous years of my life with him. I was truly obsessed with this man because I really didn't know how to be any other way just as I was obsessed with Michael Jackson at a young age to the point that it directed my life.
One of the reasons I wanted to talk with you, Theresa, was because I read on your website that you wanted your story to help women to see that they can overcome adversities in their life. I am curious to know some of the responses you have gotten from others about your experiences.
I am actually amazed at the responses I have received from women who have read my book. Most have read it in two days. I have received phone calls from strangers telling me that they saw themselves in the pages of the book and that it helped them get out of their relationship. Sometimes it takes reading about the same behaviors in others to see it within ones self. If my book helped just one woman, I am happy that I wrote it. It is hard to put yourself out there. I am not ashamed of the things I can only change and go forward. I had one girl call me the first week it was out and told me it made her rethink her unhealthy relationship and she said she was going to keep it by her bed every time she was tempted to go back. I spoke to her a month ago and she is not back. I am glad my book gave her strength.
You have definitely had your share of success in the business world, but your life has not been without difficulty. I know you are currently battling a life-threatening illness. What has been your goal in life as you look forward to the future?
I actually am looking forward to my new book coming out "The Man in the Woods" another fact based story. With my illness, I choose not to be limited. I do my own research and I have a wonderful doctor who actually cares. But since being diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, the same illness that took the life of Walter Payton, I have taken on the motto of LIVE LIFE and that is what I intend to do everyday! I am also looking to try to reach out to other Black authors. While there are many, there aren't that many who make it. That really bothers me. The literary world is still mainly a White based world. It is they who decide what gets read. Almost every well known Black author has had to self publish first. If Man in the Woods becomes a success, then I intend to take that success and use it for our advantage.
Tell us about the new book, Man In The Woods.
Right now, I am finishing my book Man in the Woods. It is a fact based story detailing the life of a family member who has been molesting little boys for over twenty five years. After trying to have him put away and learning that it was futile because I was not a victim, I take a psychological approach and take you back into the life and through the mind of a child molester. It is really very good and suspenseful.
After Man in the Woods, I am co-writing another book to help a sister get through her healing in life. And on the back burner I have a book called UTERUS FREE, a humorous take on hysterectomies.
Finally, when was the last time you spoke to Michael Jackson, and what has been his response to the book?
I haven't actually spoken to Michael Jackson since he was arrested. I took my son to meet him for the first time. He seems to have put most people at a distance. I was trying to get in touch with him though because I want to let him know he is not alone. See with Michael, I have never been a "YES" person. I never treated him like a star. He needed to have real people in his life. Yes, I came to love him for who he was, but I love him more for what he did for my life. He was okay with my using the title as such and I know he received a copy of the book I have not heard any comments from him.
Thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure. Is there any advice you want to leave our readers with?
In closing, I will say that parents should take a look at the stars today that their children idolize. Today's entertainers would not be the savoir of any children. We should try to save our own children and not let them drift into the world of today's entertainers, sports stars, etc. We need to teach them to have their own identities.