Doctor to Michael Jackson is just one chapter in the story of Dr Patrick Treacy, says Richard Fitzpatrick.
DR Patrick Treacy has always had an insatiable appetite for travel and adventure and by the age of 23, he’d visited more than 80 countries.
His knack for turning up at historical events includes the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and helping out with disaster relief programmes following 9/11 in New York and the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in 2010.
Born in the 1950s, he grew up in Garrison, Co Fermanagh, a fishing village on Lough Melvin, where his parents ran a shop, garage, and filing station.
As a Catholic and civil rights activist studying at Queen’s University during the 1970s, he drew the ire of loyalist thugs, at a time when the Shankill Butchers were on a notorious killing spree in Belfast.
He ended up with two broken legs from a punishment beating outside a student disco.
In the 1980s, to help fund his medical studies at Dublin’s Royal College of Surgeons, he smuggled Mercedes and BMW cars from Munich to Istanbul, a scam that almost led to him landing in a Turkish prison.
The stickiest jam he found himself in, though, occurred in 1990, a few months after he had taken up a locum position at a hospital in Baghdad.
Even by Treacy’s cavalier standards, his decision to tour Halabja, the city where Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds with nitrogen mustard gas during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq War, and to take photographs of the sites along the way, was foolhardy.
He aroused suspicion and was arrested by the Iraqi army. Improbably, he managed to bluff his way out of trouble before a judge, who sanctioned his release from prison. He left Iraq immediately, on July 28, 1990.
Iraq invaded Kuwait five days later. “That could have had a different ending,” he says.
“I would never have got out of Iraq. I’d have been held as a hostage on one of those bloody missile sites.
"It was incredible the way life turned. All the hospital people — 450 of them — were held as hostages, but I got out.”
After later stints in the 1990s working in Africa and as a flying doctor in Australia, he set up a cosmetic surgery clinic in Dublin.
The business has attracted showbiz stars from around the world because of his pioneering techniques. Not all of them pay their bills, however.
He mentions treating one New York female singer who failed to pay for services, despite prompting, because she sees her patronage, and the publicity it brings with it, as a privilege for his clinic.
Of the stars he has fixed over the years, it was his treatment of the “King of Pop” that attracted most publicity, a relationship he writes about in his memoir, Behind the Mask: The Extraordinary Story of the Irishman Who Became Michael Jackson’s Doctor.
Jackson’s nanny arrived at Treacy’s Dublin clinic in August 2006 looking to set up a medical consultation for her boss.
When he came along to the Ailesbury Rd Clinic a few days later for his appointment, Treacy was taken aback.
“Hi Doctor Treacy,” he said. “I’m Michael Jackson.”
Treacy wondered why he felt the need to introduce himself. There would be few people on the planet that wouldn’t recognise him.
He was slim, but not too thin, noticed Treacy, and taller than he expected. He wore little leather bands on his wrists; a hat, and dark sunglasses.
There were several aspects to his physical appearance that caught the eye. His lips appeared to be tinted bright red, probably coloured in with semi-permanent make-up; and his eyebrows and eyelashes where jet-black and likely dyed.
A large flesh-coloured bandage covered the tip of his nose, presumably there to cover damage caused by previous surgical tinkering.
He also wore a black wig, which covered bald patches; his natural hair was tightly cropped. In 1984, while filming an advert for Pepsi-Cola, a pyrotechnic display from the set fell on top of his head, setting his hair alight. The accident caused burns in his scalp which never repaired properly.
Treacy also discovered that Jackson suffered from vitiligo, which made his skin blotch in white patches. He had lived with the illness since he was a young man.
“If you took off his clothes, he was black and white,” says Treacy.
“He was piebald. The white areas were very white. We de-pigmented his hands, feet and face, so his skin was white. You could have camouflaged him black but it was easier remove the black and leave him white.
“Out of that came the notion that he wanted to become white and he didn’t want his own race but I never seen (sic) that in him. He didn’t like his nose because his father used to slag him about it, and he turned his nose a bit Caucasian.
“If he’d come out earlier and said ‘I have vitiligo; I need to de-camouflage my skin’ instead of denying it, then people would have respected that. He was so socially embarrassed and shy that he couldn’t let his fans know.”
The condition meant Jackson was vulnerable to skin cancers so he had to shelter from the sun, including winter sunshine, which accounted for his wont for wearing masks, and using an umbrella, rain or shine.
“It turned people’s view of him,” adds Treacy, “into ‘this guy’s a bit weird and he’s hiding from the world’. He was his own worst enemy because he did that with his kids as well, which made it look like he was hiding them from the world.”
Treacy struck up a genuine friendship with Jackson. He visited him at Jackson’s residence in Co Westmeath, where he was living at the time with his children.
The star gave him his private mobile phone number. They used to talk casually, often for an hour or more.
Jackson had the habit of passing his mobile phone to Treacy in the middle of a telephone conversation and getting him to speak to whomever he was chatting to, which included friends like Carrie Fisher and Nelson Mandela. U2’s frontman wouldn’t have been among this cohort.
“I don’t think Bono likes me,” Jackson said to Treacy one day.
The doctor and the patient stayed in touch after Jackson left Ireland in December 2006 to live in Las Vegas.
Treacy was on the special witness list for the trial of Conrad Murray — who got a four-year sentence for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson — but was never called to testify, and attended Jackson’s funeral in 2009.
Asked to sum up his impression of Jackson, Treacy stresses he loved his kids deeply and that he was a practical joker.
“You could be in the middle of doing something and he’d come and pour a bottle of water on your head,” he says.
He also reaches for words like “perfection, in most things he did, paranoia, that people were possibly out to kill him, and a sense of isolation or loneliness. I always thought that Michael felt somebody was going to kill him.”
Behind the Mask: The Extraordinary Story of the Irishman Who Became Michael Jackson’s Doctor, is published by Liberties Press, price €17.99.
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