In the new Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson — a celebrity choreographer who has worked with ‘NSYNC and Britney Spears — alleged the late music icon sexually abused him as a boy.
Throughout the film — which aired its first part on HBO on Sunday and also features the story of a second accuser, James Safechuck — Robson, 36, goes into detail about his relationship with Jackson, whom he claimed molested him over a seven-year period starting in 1990. The Jackson estate has sued HBO and slammed the documentary, calling it “another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.”
In response to the Jackson estate’s lawsuit, HBO said in a statement, “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland, the two-part documentary, on March 3 and 4. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
Robson and Safechuck, 40, have both denied being molested by Jackson in the past. Robson previously appeared as a witness for Jackson’s defense during a sexual abuse trial in 2005 in which the pop star was acquitted of child molestation charges. Though Robson sued Jackson’s estate in 2013 over his alleged abuse, a judge threw the case out of court in May 2015.
So who exactly is the man accusing the late legend of sexual abuse? Here’s everything to know about the choreographer who got his start as Jackson’s young protégé.
Michael Jackson discovered him
Robson was a fan of Jackson since birth. His mother used to play Jackson’s songs nonstop when she was pregnant with him, and by the age of 4, he knew all of the King of Pop’s famous moves. When he was 5, Robson won a national Jackson dance-impersonation contest in his native Australia. The grand prize was a meeting with Jackson, who then invited Robson to perform at his Brisbane concert.
In 1990, Robson appeared on Australia’s Star Search, dancing and lip-synching to Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” That same year, when Robson was around 8 years old, his family came into contact with Jackson again during a vacation in Los Angeles.
In the documentary, Robson alleged Jackson convinced Robson’s mother to let him stay over alone with the singer while the rest of his family went on a trip to the Grand Canyon; Robson alleged Jackson performed oral sex on him and kissed him while his family was away, claiming Jackson told him, “You and I were brought together by God. We were meant to be together. This is how we show love.”
Robson claimed Jackson told him if anyone “ever found out what we were doing about the sexual stuff, that he and I would be pulled apart and we would never be able to see each other again. And that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives.”
Jackson signed Robson to his private label and cast him in several of his music videos, including 1991’s “Black or White.”
He set ‘NSYNC in motion
Robson created signature moves for the boy band in the late ’90s and early ’00s and was the man behind their dance routines for their No Strings Attached tour in 2000. Despite not having any formal musical training, Robson also co-wrote four songs with ‘NSYNC’s leading man, Justin Timberlake, on the band’s 2001 album Celebrity. Robson worked with Timberlake on his hit single, “Pop,” and even got a chance to fill in for an injured Joey Fatone as his dancing double in the music video.
Britney Spears’ infamous python moment at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards? His idea
It has been more than 17 years since Britney Spears strutted on stage to perform “Slave 4 U” with an albino python around her neck at the VMAs, but the moment remains iconic. Robson is the one to thank for thinking up the performance that shocked audiences everywhere. Robson began a working relationship Spears when he was just 16 years old after she hired him to choreograph her first big U.S. tour in 1999. After watching a sampling of Robson’s moves, Spears decided to hire the teenager.
But Robson also allegedly made his way into other parts of Spears’ life. Rumor has it he may have been the one responsible for making Timberlake and Spears’ relationship go “Bye, Bye, Bye.” In 2002, Spears allegedly cheated on Timberlake with Robson. At the time, Robson said reports of him being the cause of the breakup stung, but Timberlake’s songs like “Cry Me a River” are said to be written about the duo. (Spears has never confirmed nor denied the rumors.)
He had his own TV show on MTV
Robson once served as the host and executive producer for the eponymously named MTV show, the Wade Robson Project, which aired in 2003. The dance-battle inspired TV show was well-received, but didn’t last very long.
He was a familiar face on several dancing competition shows
For several seasons, Robson appeared as a choreographer, performer and guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance. He won two Emmy awards for Outstanding Choreography for his routines “Ramalama” and “The Hummingbird and the Flower.”
In 2007, Robson choreographed and performed a special performance for Dancing with the Stars.
He stepped away from dancing for a few years — but he has since returned
Robson now lives in Hawaii with his wife, Amanda, and son, Koa, 8. After taking five years off from dancing, Robson returned to teaching in 2017. In a January 2019 interview with DanceTeacher.com, Robson said Jackson was the reason he had left the entertainment industry years prior.
“My relationship with dance had become tainted,” Robson told the site. “Michael Jackson was the reason I began dancing at the age of 2. He was my main inspiration and my mentor, but he was also my abuser. Dance was so intertwined with him and the abuse that I couldn’t separate them.”
As to why he decided to get back into the dance world, Robson said, “Up until a year and a half ago I didn’t think I ever would. I thought that dance was gone from my life forever. Whenever it would call to me, I’d just say ‘no’ and push those thoughts away. Yoga was now my physical and spiritual movement. Then one morning I awoke with the awareness that before my relationship with dance had become tainted, it was pure, innocent and joyful.”
During an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her interview special, Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland, Robson said that if his son hadn’t been born, there’s a “really good chance” he would still “be living in silence.”
“I started seeing, in my head, myself in my son,” he said. “And that was the first moment that I ever, ever thought in my life maybe I need to tell someone about this.”
He has a non-profit
Robson and his wife established the Robson Family Fund under the Hawaii Community Foundation in 2019. As the fund’s website reads, “Wade Robson, a survivor of child sexual abuse, along with Amanda Robson, his wife, mother of their child and also a survivor of child abuse, wanted to create a powerful way to contribute towards the healing from and prevention of child abuse.”
The fund says it “focuses on grants to nonprofit organizations that support prevention efforts, and aims to identify and fill in gaps in areas of child abuse healing and prevention that are under-researched, under-developed or inactive.”
Part two of Leaving Neverland airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.
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