Born in a small town in Texas in 1983, Bubbles the chimp rose from obscurity to become a part of Michael Jackson's entourage at the young age of eight months.
As the news media scratches their collective heads looking for more information to report, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper got the inside scoop on Bubbles, tracking him down at the Center for Great Apes, a nonprofit sanctuary in Florida. Bubbles is now 26 years old and retired. He hangs out with 41 other chimpanzees and orangutans, many former circus performers or show business veterans.
In an exclusive television report last night, CNN's Cooper said that Bubbles and the King of Pop "lived together, dressed alike, and went on tour together." He then cut to a YouTube clip from 1987 showing the two drinking "tea" together. Anonymous reports that they were actually drinking wine have not been substantiated, although most of Jackson's former entourage are unable to talk to the media because of "non-disclosure" agreements. As to the reports that the two went to parties together, Cooper said: "This is the 1980's, so hey, different rules apply."
Bubbles became an instant celebrity when he was introduced to Jackson by animal trainer Bob Dunn, and the chimp lived with Jackson until the late 1980's. At five years old, according to CNN, Bubbles and Jackson toured Japan, where the chimp moonwalked to the delight of the media and his adoring fans. The image of the moonwalking chimp never completely left the public consciousness, but Bubbles faded from the limelight after he was given back to Dunn's training facility because he got too big and aggressive. When Dunn closed down his training facility, Bubbles ended up at the Center for Great Apes in 2004.
CNN reporter John Zarella was live on the scene at Bubble's retirement home. Up until now, Bubbles has enjoyed his relative obscurity, although Jackson has never visited him since the two parted ways, according to Zarella. He eats lunches of bananas and cucumbers, and relaxes with the other chimps and orangutans. Patti Ragan, director for the Center for Great Apes, told Zarella "they groom each other and they fight and they have arguments too".
Although Jackson never visited Bubbles, Ragan said in the CNN interview that "most of our chimps recognize their former owners. They get very excited to see them, and I am sure he would have recognized him." She went on to say: "Probably the best tribute that we could pay to Michael Jackson here is to just take excellent care of Bubbles, because I know he loved Bubbles." If that's the case, why didn't Jackson visit his beloved chimp?
According to People.com's Johnny Dodd, a representative for Jackson contacted the sanctuary not long after Bubbles arrived there in 2005, saying that Jackson wanted to come and visit his former BFF and party buddy. But Jackson never made the trip. Ragan told Dodd that Bubbles hasn't been told of his childhood friend's recent death. "We haven't said anything to him yet," she says, adding that Bubbles is well-adjusted and behaving like a typical chimp: "He's been his usual self, interacting with friends, eating well, taking cover when it rains."
CNN's Zarella said that after Tarzan's cheetah, Bubbles may be the most famous chimpanzee in the world. Now that the media circus has come to Bubbles retirement home in Florida, he is no longer second to Tarzan's pet. Everything related to the pop star is taking on larger-than-life proportions, and Bubbles is arguably bigger than anyone else from Jackson's former entourage, and that includes former child star Corey Feldman, who came out of the woodwork saying how sad he was to have not made up with Jackson after a well-known feud. Feldman is just one of many people from the pop star's past trying to get some of the media spotlight to shine on them.
CNN's Cooper, known for his distinguished news show, has been criticized for making a big deal over a chimp. But Bubbles is just as much a part of the Michael Jackson story as his other hangers-on and "enablers," as family attorney Brian Oxman famously calls the people in Jackson's life who watched him become addicted to drugs, and did nothing to stop it. This includes doctors, close friends and family. But Bubbles didn't have an agenda. He never got caught up with the lavish lifestyle of superstardom.
Bubbles may have been the only true friend Jackson had, precisely because he couldn't care less about the extravagant lifestyle and the adoring fans. But Bubbles had his fans, and Anderson Cooper has given them a glimpse of his simple yet relaxing life. Because of Cooper's groundbreaking reporting, we now know that Bubbles enjoys making faces and taking naps.
The details of Jackson's funeral have not been announced, but Bubbles will be noticeably absent. According to England's newspaper The Sun, "Bubbles will spend the day listening to calming flute music". The Sun reports that Bubbles is much healthier than when he was hanging out with Jackson, and that he has reportedly been signed to a movie and book deal.
Ragan, the sanctuary director, told People.com that Bubbles could easily live to the age of 60. Jackson's will was released yesterday, and there was no mention of Bubbles, so apparently he won't be raking in any profits from Jackson's death. It seems that Bubbles was snubbed, as was the surrogate mother of his two older kids, Debbie Rowe, and Joe Jackson, his father. While Joe Jackson is trying to profit from his son's death - he famously plugged his new record label earlier this week on CNN - Bubbles will no doubt try to stay out of the limelight. Until the movie comes out.