Don’t be fooled by the “new report” that Michael Jackson’s father, Joe, had his preteen son chemically castrated to preserve that angelic high tenor, often described as “childlike” and impressive for its agility with falsetto. This conspiracy theory has been bouncing around for several years now, and it’s taken more twists and turns than the origins of Jacko’s posthumous albums. Now, nine years after MJ’s death, that pesky rumor just won’t, uh, beat it.
But how exactly does chemical castration work, anyway? And knowing Jackson’s unusual childhood, is it actually possible?
Here’s a brief rundown of the theory’s many appearances over the years — and whether there’s any truth to it at all.
A warning to the truthers: Don’t get your hopes up.
Why is this in the news right now?
New video obtained by a site called The Blast shows MJ’s doctor, cardiologist Conrad Murray (yes, the guy who spent two years in prison for the fatal dose of propofol that killed Jackson), reiterating that MJ was “chemically castrated to maintain his high-pitched voice” by father Joe, as part of Joe’s longstanding abuse of his children.
Is there any new information?
No. In 2016, Murray noted the same thing in his book, This Is It! The Secret Lives of Dr. Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson, wherein he wrote that Joe Jackson had forced MJ to get hormone injections at age 12, using a chemical castration drug. The alleged injections were supposedly for acne — and to prevent Michael’s voice from changing during puberty.
What is chemical castration?
Castration generally refers to the surgical removal of the testicles, also called orchidectomy. As a result, 95 percent of testosterone production halts, according to Slate. Chemical castration on the other hand lets you keep your balls, and instead just plays tricks on them with hormones that confuse or alter testosterone production. Slate explains that giving a man progesterone (a female hormone), for instance, will counteract testosterone’s effect in his bloodstream. Other drugs (Lupron or Zolodex) are also anti-male hormones that tell the pituitary gland to stop making testosterone altogether.
Why are men castrated surgically or chemically?
Historically, and throughout the world, for three reasons: To render men (slaves, servants) more docile, to punish criminals and to thwart the impulses of sex offenders. There was a spate of castrations performed on gay men in the 1920s for gay conversion therapy. Castrated men, allegedly freed of their darkest sexual impulses, become much easier to control. (A castrated man is often called a eunuch.)
It also shows up in Italy in the 16th century to prevent young boys’ singing voices from changing due to puberty. They’re called castrati, which are like male sopranos. In order to preserve the prepubescent voice in boys, the procedure must happen before puberty, not after. (In other words, all eunuchs don’t have high voices.)
If singing is your life’s aim, particularly the operatic type, it’s actually an enviable thing to maintain this vocal edge over other adult males who can typically only get there in falsetto. As one opera singer and would-be castrato told The Guardian in 2002, “I would have perfectly happily given up my masculinity for my art.”
You can still listen to a recording of the alleged last living castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, who died in 1922, singing “Ave Maria”:
So are there actual signs Jackson was castrated?
His vocal range, generally considered a high tenor, is still debated, with fans and singing experts arguing he definitely lost some range after puberty. It was impressive that he could cover three or four octaves in his range, but not uncommon: Freddie Mercury and Chris Cornell could do that too.
It was in 2011, when French doctor and opera lover Alain Branchereau told Medical Xpress that MJ’s voice was clearly “the voice of a castrato,” that this idea took hold. This revelation led Branchereau to consult with numerous experts on voice physiology, dermatology, endocrinology, plastic surgery and urology, deducing that Jackson’s adult ability to cover three octaves must be the result of chemical castration. MJ could’ve been given the anti-male hormone Cyproterone as an acne treatment, which Branchereau said MJ complained about receiving at age 12.
Upon Jackson’s death, Branchereau wrote a book outlining this theory. It’s called Michael Jackson: The Secret of a Voice (but in French). According to Medical Xpress, the drug also thwarts body hair from growing and “affects the bones, leaving the body with a slight frame but a large chest.” The treatment effectively “keeps a child’s larynx all his life in a man’s body.”
But even in 2011, the theory was dismissed. The drug Branchereau mentions was still in clinical trials in the early 1970s, when Jackson was 12, and that MJ seemed to go through every other sign of puberty in spite of allegedly using the drug. Also, everyone in the Jackson family seems to have a higher pitched voice — even daughter Paris sounds like her dad. Are they all “castrated”?
In 2016, Broadly revisited the castration claims alongside Murray’s book release, and noted that while it’s possible Jackson’s family got their hands on a then-experimental drug for off-label acne use, the autopsy released in 2009 noted no abnormalities with his larynx.
But if it’s true, this could explain his weird childish obsessions!
Indeed, and the public loves a tidy ending. If MJ was “chemically castrated,” and remained forever young, at least hormonally, it could explain his alleged obsession with boys and never growing up. He named his palatial spread the Neverland Ranch, after all. What’s more, it could shed light on the accusations of molestation and pedophilia that plagued him in life, and also in death.
Would chemical castration have prevented MJ’s alleged (and dismissed) sexual abuse?
What we know about using castration, chemical or otherwise, to prevent sex offenders from acting out, is that the results are inconsistent. As Slate explained, a castrated man can still potentially get an erection and therefore still offend, either because the result is only diminished testosterone, or the man could also take testosterone again to boost production. (There can also still be some sexual function with surgical castration, too, because the adrenal glands produce 5 percent of testosterone.) The same goes for the chemically castrated: You can still get some sexual function, and it’s seen in as many as 10 percent of those who undergo the treatment.
This interview at The Cut with a man who chose chemical castration to deal with sexual addiction and save his marriage is illuminating: The man takes shots of Lupron to “medicate his body into submission.” It took two shots (in his rear) for him to notice it shutting down his sexual thoughts. He was still able to get an erection for a few months, and it was a full six months before he noticed a significant reduction in the compulsive thinking connected to his sexual urges to act outside his marriage.
But as for the drug, the interviewer asks him if he ever worries it will stop working. His answer: “I don’t, but I can tell when the 30 days are up because I have the thoughts more,” he replies. “Which is a little concerning. I start to feel a tiny bit of urge, but it’s all mental. I still can’t get an erection.”
So why is Murray saying all this again now?
Unclear. Possibly because Joe Jackson died two weeks ago from pancreatic cancer and can no longer defend himself.
What are we to conclude?
It sounds highly unlikely MJ was chemically castrated. But what we can still say with utter assurance is that Jacko and everyone he surrounded himself with were pretty out there. That needs no investigation.