On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, thousands of people lost their lives, and three of the world's biggest celebrities supposedly fled. In what's now called the Michael Jackson 9/11 road trip, the King of Pop allegedly teamed up with his close friends Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, rented a car, and drove everyone out of New York City. Is this the most bizarre road trip ever, or just an urban legend fueled by the celebrities' public personas? After all, Brando's weird behavior, Taylor's love of husbands, and Jackson's eccentric collections are hardly secret.
The story first came to light in 2011, with accounts coming from former assistants and friends of the trio. Unfortunately, Jackson, Taylor, and Brando have all passed on and can neither confirm nor deny this rumor. We'll probably never know the truth, but several people have tried their best to imagine this trip, publishing a short story in The New Yorker and releasing an urban legend-centered television series episode named "Elizabeth, Marlon, and Michael." Whether or not this story is true, these three eccentric celebrities would have truly made great road trip companions.
The only solid facts about this story are as follows: on September 7 and 10, 2001, Michael Jackson played New York City's famed Madison Square Garden, where he was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a solo artist. A huge roster of stars were in attendance, including Eminem and Whitney Houston, as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, both good friends of Jackson. Taylor and Jackson become close after she walked out of one of his 1980s concerts and he called her to find out why; they wound up bonding over their shared experiences of becoming stars at a young age. As for Brando, according to his son Miko, Brando spent a lot of time at Neverland with Jackson.
The celebration included several tribute performances, allowing Jackson to watch from a booth placed on stage, accompanied by Taylor and Macaulay Culkin. At one point, a spotlight was lit on Brando, who had taken a seat on stage and mumbled praise for Jackson, claiming he was "one of the few souls out there trying to help" children who were starving and being "hacked to death in some foreign land."
Following the September 11 attacks, the three superstars were reportedly looking for a way out of New York City. Tim Mendelson, a former assistant of Elizabeth Taylor's, claimed Michael Jackson, Taylor, and Marlon Brando rented a modest car and decided to drive to the west coast by themselves. He told Vanity Fair the trio took turns driving like any considerate road trip companions, allegedly driving more than 500 miles from New York.
A former employee of Jackson was impressed enough to comment, "They actually got as far as Ohio – all three of them, in a car they drove themselves!" Why they stopped there is never explained in any rendition of the story.
True story or not, there's little detail about what happened on the trip itself. Fictional accounts most likely took some creative liberty, and there are a million imaginative ideas of what three mega-stars would do while cooped up in a rental car for 500+ miles.
Sam Kashner did make one solid claim in his Vanity Fair article: that Marlon Brando was constantly hungry. "Brando allegedly annoyed his traveling companions by insisting on stopping at nearly every KFC and Burger King they passed along the highway," Kashner wrote. "One can only imagine the shock their appearance caused at gas stations and rest stops across America." Truthfully, who wouldn't want to witness such a sight?
Even if this unusual story isn't true, it would regardless make an amazing screenplay, ripe with comedic possibilities. It's no surprise, then, that when Sky Arts began filming a new British television show wherein each episode told the story of an urban myth involving famous people, the Jackson-Brando-Taylor road trip naturally became a storyline. The show nailed casting Stockard Channing as Elizabeth Taylor and Brian Cox as Marlon Brando, but their choice for Michael Jackson completely doomed the episode.
White British actor Joseph Fiennes was hired to play the King of Pop, accepting the role because "he was probably closer to my color than his original color." The backlash was immediate, not only for whitewashing the role but also for doing so to the man many consider to be the biggest music icon to have ever lived. After members of the Jackson family voiced enough concern, Sky Arts decided not to show the episode. The only evidence it ever existed are stories about the controversy and a few shots in the series' season one trailer.