Why did he hang around with children? Isn’t that weird?
Easy Answer: He identified with them. He understood them and they understood him.
He saw in children the missing pieces of his life. He was never allowed to be a child, he was never allowed to play. From age 5, his life was all work - all the time. His entire life was adults and money and career and as he got older and gained more control over his life, he needed a retreat from the toxicity of his fame. He needed to be around people that didn’t see dollar signs whenever they looked at him, people that didn’t have a hidden agenda, people with innocent hearts and pure intentions. He found all of those things in children.
Children didn’t care who he was. They didn’t care how much money he made or how many nice things he had, they just thought he was fun. He was an grown-up that hadn’t lost sight of the simple joys in life, even despite the pressures he faced on a daily basis. Children didn’t judge him, didn’t buy into the tabloid fodder and ridicule his every move. He could just be himself and not be on the defensive like he always had to be with other adults.
In a 2004 interview with Larry King, Macauly Culkin explains his relationship with Michael as well as why Michael was drawn to younger people:
KING: Why do you think he likes young people so much?
CULKIN: Because the same reason why he liked me, was the fact that I didn’t care who he was. That was the thing. I talked to him like he was a normal human being and kids do that to him because he’s Michael Jackson the pop singer, but he’s not the God, the “king of pop” or anything like that. He’s just a guy who is actually very kid-like himself and wants to go out there and wants to play video games with you.
This brings up another point, the reason he created Neverland. He didn’t build an amusement part to “lure” children to his home. He built it as a place for sick/dying and underprivileged children to visit and find some escape from their painful lives. He understood what it was like to not be able to enjoy being a kid, how painful and how psychologically damaging it could be, and he wanted to give back to these children and afford them the opportunity to run and play and eat candy and watch movies and just enjoy themselves, even if only for a day. He made sure to make everything wheelchair accessible, he built beds in the on-site movie theater, he went above and beyond to cater to these children and to see to it that he could give them a relaxing, fun, and worry-free experience.
“What inspired me to create Neverland? It was so easy, because it was me being myself, creating things that I love. And what I love, kids happen to love, or the child that lives inside the adult happens to love…you know? It is so easy, because I’m just creating behind the gate what I never got to do when I was a kid. Somewhat [I have regrets on how my life has been].
When I was really little, you know, 11 or 12, I was in the contract with Motown and I would have to go to the recording studio, I had to go and make these albums because the summer tour was right around the corner, and right across the street from the recording studio was a ball park. And I could hear the kids, you know, the roar of the crowd and playing and catching ball and having fun and playing tennis. And some of those times I so passionately wanted to just go over there and just play a little bit, and not go to the recording studio and sing. Just to, you know, have some fun with the kids, and I couldn’t.
People say, ‘Why is he always with children?’ Well, you know, I was raised in a world with adults. When kids were playing and were in bed asleep, I was doing clubs. We worked, we worked, we worked, there was no Christmas, there’d be no birthdays… So, I’m compensating, nature made sure that I compensate for the loss. So, when you come behind my gates, you’ll see an amusement park, you’ll see animals, you’ll see everything that I’ve never got to do, there’s candy everywhere… It’s fun.”
While Neverland was a place where Michael could have his own world and didn’t have to venture out into the one that made it impossible for him to be a regular person and do regular things, it was also a place for children and adults to go to reignite that spark, reconnect with the child inside of them, and just have some real fun.