Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager opened up about her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson in a new memoir, They’re Playing Our Song. In the book, out Tuesday, Sager shares intimate insights into the lives of both legendary entertainment figures —from Taylor’s relationship with men, drugs and jewels, to Jackson’s “tortured genius child-man” persona. According to Sager, the pair struggled under the weight of celebrity, which ultimately drew them together.
“Theirs was a special relationship,” Sager writes of her friends in They’re Playing Our Song. “Two of the world’s greatest superstars, with lives that were lived on stages or on movie screens since they’d been children. How could either of them find anyone else who could understand their lives?”
Sager first became friends with Taylor, the violet-eyed legendary actress, when Sager moved to Bel Air, California, in 1985. Sager adds that she and her then-husband, Burt Bacharach, were greeted with an extravagant cake and a huge box of Edelweiss chocolates from Taylor, who lived three houses away.
At the time, Sager says she could have never predicted the deep bond that she would develop with her new neighbor — “and certainly not what a generous, loving, and special soul she would turn out to be.”
Taylor soon had a special nickname for Sager — Little One — and invited her over often. Sager recalls watching Taylor sit on her bed with all of the jewelry taken from her safe. It was an adult version of a child’s “show and tell,” in which Taylor paraded her jewels and the fabulous stories associated with them. But when Taylor was told by her business manager that she couldn’t afford a certain piece, she pouted in true Hollywood princess fashion.
“They’re just being so stupid. I’ve been told my collection is second only to Queen Elizabeth’s,” Sager remembers Taylor saying to her. “Don’t they realize that because it belongs to me, it’s only going to increase in value when the whole collection is sold after I’m gone?”
Taylor was right. In 2011, her jewelry sold for a record-breaking almost $116 million in sales at a Christie’s auction.
Though Taylor didn’t have nearly as many husbands as she did jewels, her love life was just as famous. Sager hosted the rehearsal dinner before Taylor’s marriage to construction worker, Larry Fortensky. Taylor had met Fortensky in rehab and they married at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Fortensky would be Taylor’s eighth, and last, husband.
“Elizabeth did not know how to be in love with someone and not marry him,” Sager writes.
Husbands weren’t the only ones Taylor showered with love. Some of the most intense moments in the book revolve around Taylor’s friendship with Michael Jackson, which involved more than bizarre gifts (remember the elephant Taylor gave Jackson?). Sager writes that Jackson arrived early to Taylor’s fifty-fifth birthday. Sager, the host, ushered him to her room at his request because he said he was nervous.
“He sat on my bed looking very handsome, dressed all in black. He had not yet gone over the top in his facial surgeries,” writes Sager. “He was quite beautiful looking in a Diana Ross way. He had not altered his skin tone and he had not yet begun to sabotage his career. Still, he was afraid.”
Jackson allegedly told Sager that he was shy, so she suggested he stay in her room. When Jackson finally joined the party, “he never left Elizabeth’s side, even holding her hand for most of the evening,” writes Sager.
“I had real empathy for him and the unloved childhood his abusive father robbed him of,” writes Sager. “As Elizabeth often said, she connected with Michael on a soul level because they were both deprived of a childhood by early stardom, yet they each looked at life at times through the eyes of a child.”
According to They’re Playing Our Song, one of her last interactions with Jackson occurred in 2006, at a party held by Barbara Davis. Even for Sager, who had partied and worked with celebrities for years, the evening was surreal. Marvin Hamlisch, Sager’s ex-boyfriend, fell asleep at the table and their host, Davis, looked like she was about to as well, writes Sager. Even though Michael Jackson’s two young children were present at the table, he also nodded off. According to Sager, Jackson said he was exhausted because he had been traveling in the Middle East. In reality, Sager writes that she learned Jackson had “been home for three weeks and was on some heavy narcotics” that caused him to slur and fall asleep.
So when Sager learned of Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, she wasn’t shocked — “just terribly sad.” Elizabeth Taylor, in contrast, was inconsolable. According to Sager, she held Taylor’s hand as “she cried through the whole telecast.” Sager feels that “losing Michael accelerated [Taylor’s] decline.” Taylor died less than two years later, in 2011.
Sager continues to mourn the loss of both her celebrity friends. To her, Elizabeth was great because of her “humanity,” while Jackson was a “phenomenon.”
“Singular in his stunning talent and stunted beyond measure in the rest of his life,” Sager writes. “And to the extent that he was capable of love, I believe he loved his children, his mother, and he loved Elizabeth.”