You don’t hear much about Deborah "Debbie" Rowe nowadays, but back in the mid-90s, pretty much everyone knew her name. The Washington-born dermatologist’s assistant became regular fodder for the tabloids after Michael Jackson confirmed that rumors about her carrying his child were indeed true. Ten days after that bombshell reveal, Rowe flew to Australia and married her friend of 15 years in a VIP room at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where the King of Pop had performed to 40,000 people a few hours earlier. The pregnancy and hasty nuptials shocked everybody, Rowe’s family included.
When The News of the World (via People) tracked down Debbie’s dad Gordon Rowe in Cyprus, the retired cargo pilot told the now-defunct British tabloid that his daughter had been inseminated artificially. He reportedly asked his daughter: "Isn’t he capable of fathering a child like anyone else? She laughed and said, ‘Michael doesn’t do anything like anyone else. Dad, you have no idea who the real Michael Jackson is. He is the most compassionate person I have met in my life.’" Few people can claim to have known Jackson like Debbie Rowe did, but what do we know about her life?
The bizarre nature of Jackson and Rowe’s relationship captivated the world for a time, but she pretty much fell off the radar after giving the pop star a second child (Paris Jackson was born in 1998, a year after her older brother, Prince Michael Jackson). Whatever happened to Debbie Rowe? Read on to find out.
Debbie Rowe made Michael Jackson a bizarre, but welcome offer
According to ABC News, Debbie Rowe first met the "King of Pop" when she worked as a nursing assistant for Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein. Rowe revealed the details of their initial encounter during a 2003 interview. "I go ‘Hi’. And he goes ‘Hi,’ and I said, ‘You know what? Nobody does what you do better, and nobody does what I do better. Let’s get this over with.’ And he laughed, and we just became friends. It was just right away."
Rowe was a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s music and of the man himself. And it seems Jackson really valued Rowe’s friendship, confiding in her when his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley started to fail. "[Michael] was really upset. He was upset because he really wanted to be a dad. I said, ‘So be a dad.’ He looked at me puzzled." What Rowe was suggesting would soon become clear: That she would willingly carry his child.
The offer was confirmed by Jackson’s ex-wife Presley, who told Playboy (via the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club) that she was aware of Rowe’s desire to have her ex-husband’s children. "I knew Debbie Rowe was offering to do it for him while we were married, according to him. She was a nurse who had a crush on him and offered to have his babies."
Michael Jackson’s mother pushed for a marriage
It was supposed to be simple: Debbie Rowe would carry Michael’s child and Michael Jackson would be somewhat of a single father. However, his plans went awry thanks to a friend of Rowe’s who secretly recorded their conversations and sold the information to the tabloids. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s book Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009, the shocking revelation of Rowe’s pregnancy caught the attention of Jackson’s mother. Katherine Jackson was strongly opposed to her grandchild being born out of wedlock. To appease his conservative mother, Michael agreed to marry Debbie.
When Debbie revealed the situation to friend Tanya Boyd, Tanya asked Debbie if she felt any "romantic" love for Michael. Debbie answered that "the kind of love I have with Michael is bigger, more important, than that."
It was clear that Debbie was more than a little star-struck when she said yes to the father of children Prince Michael Jackson and Paris Katherine Jackson, both of whom were conceived through artificial insemination. Perhaps still very much so when she gave up custody rights to her children following the divorce. It certainly wasn’t enough to prepare her for the harsh public image and scrutiny she endured when the public caught wind of her existence and her bizarre connection to Michael Jackson.
The press labeled Debbie Rowe a gold digger
The circumstances of Debbie Rowe’s connection to Michael Jackson made her a prime target for tabloid fodder almost immediately. The idea that Rowe would allow herself to be artificially impregnated by the increasingly eccentric Michael Jackson made it seem that Rowe’s ultimate goal was a hefty payday, something Rowe has repeatedly denied. "I [had the children] for him to become a father, not for me to become a mother. You earn the title parent. I have done absolutely nothing to earn that title." Although Rowe was overwhelmed by the presence of paparazzi on her wedding day, a photo of Rowe looking exasperated was captioned to make it seem like she regretted becoming Michael Jackson’s wife.
Six months after the birth of daughter Paris Jackson, Debbie agreed to a divorce and a multi-million dollar settlement. Although she insisted to the press that she and Michael "were fine" and that she did have access to the children, she was later forced to admit during Michael’s child molestation cases that she hadn’t seen her two children in years. The entire matter made it seem as if the pregnancies were little more than a transaction for financial gain, another claim Debbie has staunchly denied.
What seemed to hurt Debbie more than any claims by the press was the reality that she couldn’t give Michael what he wanted — more children. "I had so many problems when I was pregnant with Paris. After that I couldn’t have any more children. Michael was upset about that, he couldn’t understand it. He wanted more babies."
Debbie Rowe was hounded by ‘hurtful and insidious’ rumors following Jackson’s death
On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest. The King of Pop’s sudden passing shocked the world, and the shady circumstances surrounding his death would remain a hot topic for years to come. Jackson’s former physician Dr. Conrad Murray filled countless column inches in the weeks and months following the bombshell news, but he wasn’t the only person the press took an interest in. Debbie Rowe had her lawyer respond with a strongly worded statement when TMZ claimed that she wasn’t the biological mother of Prince and Paris. "[The] children were conceived in vitro — outside the womb," the report, citing multiple inside sources, stated. "Debbie’s eggs were not used. She was merely the surrogate, and paid well for her services in the births."
Rowe’s legal rep Marta Almli was quick to hit back when the story broke, telling Access Hollywood that the "vast majority" of what was being said was totally untrue. "Particularly hurtful and insidious is the most recent rumor — which is entirely false — concerning the maternity of the children," Almli said (via NBC 4 New York), before emphatically stating: "Ms. Rowe is the biological mother of the two oldest children." Rowe’s former boss, dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein, was also dragged into the media circus by a story claiming he was the real dad. "Because of patient confidentiality Dr. Klein will make no statement on any reports or allegations," a spokesperson said.
Debbie Rowe reconciled with her daughter just before her suicide attempt
Michael Jackson’s family took legal action against a concert promoter in 2013, and things got messy. According to Rolling Stone, Dr. Conrad Murray had already been "convicted of involuntary manslaughter" after it transpired he’d "giv[en] Jackson a deadly dose of propofol" in a misguided effort to help him sleep. Jackson’s family argued that AEG Live (the promoter behind the tour that the singer was prepping for when he died) was responsible for hiring Murray, but the company claimed Jackson had asked for him. AEG ended up winning the lawsuit. Among the people to take the stand during the wrongful death suit was Debbie Rowe, and she offered a rare insight into her personal life.
Some disturbing truths about Jackson’s final days were laid bare in the courtroom, and it was apparently too much for his daughter Paris Jackson, who attempted suicide when the trial was ongoing. Debbie didn’t shy away from the subject when asked to give evidence. "I almost lost my daughter," she said (via the Los Angeles Times). "She tried to kill herself… She doesn’t feel like she has a life anymore." Debbie, who broke down in tears during the emotionally charged hearing, revealed that she and Paris had only recently rekindled their relationship when the latter made an attempt on her life. They had been in regular contact at the time, with Paris even staying over at Debbie’s place on weekends.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Debbie Rowe is much closer to Paris than she is to Prince
Debbie Rowe didn’t just talk about her daughter Paris Jackson when she took the stand during Michael Jackson’s wrongful death suit in 2013. The mother-of-two also opened up about her son during the trial, revealing that her relationship with Prince Michael Jackson wasn’t quite as developed as the one she shared with Paris. "We don’t hate each other, if that’s what you mean," Debbie said when asked about her son, (via the Los Angeles Times) who was 16 years old at the time. "I’m closer to my daughter." They’ve been spotted together on numerous occasions in the years since, but Debbie was a total stranger to Paris during her pre-teen years.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2017, Paris revealed that her mom simply "didn’t exist" when she was "really young." It wasn’t until she "realized ‘a man can’t birth a child’" that she asked her father about Debbie. "I was like, ‘What’s her name?’ And he’s just like, ‘Debbie.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, well, I know the name.’" She didn’t do anything with this information until her dad passed away, at which point she hit the internet to find out all she could about Debbie. She was 13 years old by the time they reunited. "I’ve had a lot of mother figures, but by the time my mom came into my life, it wasn’t a ‘mommy’ thing," Paris told the music mag. "It’s more of an adult relationship."
Debbie Rowe tried to get custody of Paris Jackson
Debbie Rowe was by her daughter’s side after her failed suicide attempt in 2013, passing on messages from Paris Jackson. "My daughter has asked that I extend a huge thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers and support," Rowe tweeted, adding, "She is strong like her father." Debbie reportedly tried to get custody of Paris the following year, though sources say she abandoned the plan when she realized that the troubled teen was in good hands with Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson. "Debbie was so concerned about Paris’ health that she wanted to do anything that she could to help," a family insider told RadarOnline.
But this wasn’t the first time Debbie attempted to gain parental control of the kids only to back out later. She reportedly accepted a payoff of $8 million (plus $900,000 annually) after giving birth to the first of Michael’s kids, and she was said to have been negotiating a further $4 million to back off after the singer’s death in 2009 — a claim her reps denied to ABC News. Debbie settled the custody scuffle a few weeks later in an agreement that "[did] not involve any financial payments," per CNN. In some leaked emails obtained by Extra, however, Debbie appeared to tell a friend at the time that she wasn’t really interested in being a full time mom. "Do I want the kids? Hell no," she reportedly wrote, adding, "Does it look good for me to ask for them? Absolutely."
Did Debbie Rowe react to the Leaving Neverland allegations?
Michael Jackson’s past was under examination once again in 2019 when HBO released the two-part documentary Leaving Neverland. The hard-to-watch doc contains candid interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who claim to have been repeatedly sexually abused by Jackson as children. Jackson’s family called Robson and Safechuk "perjurers" and denounced Leaving Neverland for encouraging a "public lynching" in a statement (via Decider), but Debbie Rowe kept unusually quiet — unusual because she’s always been the first to defend the King of Pop from accusations of child molestation.
When Jackson was "utterly betrayed" by Martin Bashir in the explosive documentary Living with Michael Jackson (the singer’s lawyers accused the British journalist of implying that Jackson had behaved inappropriately around children, per The Guardian), he hit back with a TV rebuttal. Rowe was interviewed at length as part of the program, and she insisted that Jackson would never harm a child. "I’m tired of hearing it," she said (via the Mirror). "Because you can only take the lies for so long and I’ve reached my limit. And that’s why I’m doing this. I’m tired of the lies. I’m tired of the bulls**t." In the footage, which was later released as a one-off special under the title The Debbie Rowe Interview: The Missing Tapes, she was asked if she felt comfortable with Jackson being left alone with their children. "He’s their father and he’s not a pedophile," she fired back.
Debbie Rowe’s new man has a background in the adult film industry
Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe split after three years of marriage, but the latter was apparently in no rush to move on. It wasn’t until 2014 that she found love again, five years on from Jackson’s death and fifteen years after she and the King of Pop divorced. The fact that Rowe moved on after all that time wasn’t surprising, but what was shocking was the identity of her new partner — the man she intended to marry was Marc Schaffel, former videographer at Neverland Ranch and a one-time member of Michael Jackson’s inner circle. "We’re best friends," Schaffel told Entertainment Tonight after the couple announced the engagement. "I was the only one, actually, after Debbie and Michael had split up, that was still allowed to talk to Debbie."
Rowe went on to say that Jackson would have approved of their union, but some people have questioned that claim. When news of the engagement broke, RadarOnline did some digging into Schaffel’s past and discovered that, while they were once close (Jackson included Schaffel among his dedications for 2001 album Invincible), this apparently wasn’t the case when Jackson died. The two men are said to have fallen out when it was revealed that Schaffel had been directing adult movies under the alias Marc Frederics. "It’s no secret that my background is in the adult film business," Schaffel said. "I don’t keep anything in my life hidden."
Debbie Rowe battled breast cancer
Debbie Rowe was by her daughter’s side when she tried to take her own life as a teenager, and Paris Jackson returned the favor when her mom got ill. In July 2016, Rowe opened up about her breast cancer diagnosis during an interview with Entertainment Tonight, revealing she had a tumor removed and had started a course of chemotherapy. A few weeks before the interview, Jackson shared a picture of herself kissing her mom’s bald head — Rowe’s hair started dropping out after her very first chemo session. "[Paris is] my rock," Rowe told ET, adding "She’s amazing. She’s been with me the whole time. First phone call. Took her 30 seconds [to reach out] when she found out. She said, ‘Are you okay?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I got this.’ She said, ‘I know you do mom.’"
Rowe decided to get ahead of the curve and shave her head when the first clumps of hair started coming out, opting for a blonde wig that she nicknamed Ursula. "Chemo does its best to make you lose your femininity," she told ET, adding, "And what a lot of people don’t realize is that when I take [the wig] off, I’m still me. I’m still feminine, I’m still a woman, and above all I’m still a human." The silver lining was that it brought her family closer together — even her son, Prince Michael, was giving updates on her cancer battle. Rowe completed her chemo in January 2017.
What’s next for Debbie Rowe?
Debbie Rowe was photographed out with friends in July 2018, two years on from her breast cancer diagnosis. There had been no word on whether the chemotherapy had worked at that stage, but RadarOnline was happy to report that Paris and Prince Michael Jackson’s mom was looking a lot healthier as she caught up with gal pals in Palmdale, Calif. The following year, Debbie gave the same outlet an exclusive interview, confirming that she was finally in the clear. "I’m fine right now," she told RadarOnline. "I’m still in remission."
As of this writing, Debbie is living the cowboy life — she left Los Angeles behind for a horse ranch situated in a stretch of Californian desert between Palmdale and Lancaster. She owns and operates the Painted Desert Ranch, which is about an hour from Paris’ place in Hollywood. The model has visited her mom at the ranch "plenty of times," according to Debbie, who revealed that Paris was "going great [and] focusing on her music." Paris performs with her boyfriend, Gabriel Glenn, under the name The Soundflowers. "I think he’s a lovely boy," Debbie, who was spotted rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chris Brown as she took in a Soundflowers gig at intimate venue The Mint (pictured above) in 2019, said.
It’s been a rocky road for Debbie Rowe since she became famous all those years ago, but it’s like she told Entertainment Tonight during her brave cancer battle: "I’m a fighter and always have been."