When King of Pop Michael Jackson Was Officially Crowned King of a Small African Nation

Michael Jackson sits with orphaned and abandoned Ivory Coast children he invited to the Intercontinental Hotel in Abidjan on February 16, 1992.
Michael Jackson sits with orphaned and abandoned Ivory Coast children he invited to the Intercontinental Hotel in Abidjan on February 16, 1992.
ISSOUF SANOGO, AFP/Getty Images

As Michael Jackson's private plane landed in Abidjan, a populous city in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), thousands of people were waiting near the tarmac, hoping to meet the superstar. But Jackson's visit that day, February 13, 1992, got off to a rocky start.

Rather than greet the crowd of government officials, journalists, and fans, Jackson held his nose as he stepped off the plane and reportedly sprinted toward a waiting limo. Although his team later claimed that the gesture was a nervous twitch, fans were disappointed that Jackson seemed to snub them. Even worse, police used batons and tear gas to attack a crowd of fans who were waiting for Jackson outside his hotel. Already-heightened tensions between police and student protestors in Abidjan may have contributed to the violence, but some media reports blamed the presence of the musician and his larger-than-life image.

Despite these setbacks, Jackson had always felt a deep connection to Africa. In a May 1992 interview with Ebony magazine, he explained how he fell in love with the continent on a trip to Senegal with the Jackson Five when he was a teenager: "Drums and sounds filled the air with rhythm. I was going crazy … This is it. This is where I come from. The origin."

Among the many stops on this February 1992 trip, Jackson's itinerary included meeting with Tanzania's president to talk about saving African elephants, receiving a medal from the president of Gabon, and visiting orphanages, hospitals, and churches. But for the biggest honor, Jackson traveled to Krindjabo, a village in the southeastern corner of Ivory Coast. There, the King of Pop became Michael Jackson Amalaman Anoh, an actual king.

In Krindjabo, the Agni people have lived in the Kingdom of Sanwi, an African region, since the mid-18th century. Based on mystic readings and possible DNA tests, a tribal chief asserted that Jackson was a descendent of Sanwi royalty and, accordingly, invited him to be crowned king-in-waiting (akin to a prince in the West).

According to NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Jackson's coronation was full of joy, dancing, and the frenetic sounds of traditional Agni drumming. Jackson put on a colorful, traditional toga-style cloth and sat on a golden stool under a sacred tree. Agni chiefs and elders took turns crowning him and chanting, and villagers drummed and topless women danced to celebrate Jackson's coronation as Chief of the Agni and King of the Sanwi.

 

After he was crowned, Jackson gave his thanks in French and English, then he signed documents to make his coronation official.

But Jackson's ties to the Kingdom of Sanwi didn't end there. As Sanwi beliefs dictate, when Jackson was crowned he became the spiritual son of King Nana Amon Ndoufou IV, a Sanwi leader who participated in Jackson's coronation. In 1995, Jackson invited Ndoufou to his home in Los Angeles, and for four days, Jackson and his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley hosted Ndoufou. On his trip, Ndoufou also met attorney Johnnie Cochran, and Jackson took him to Universal Studios.

Young child in Krindjabo, Ivory Coast, wearing a hat memorializing Michael Jackson following his death.
A young child wears a hat memorializing Michael Jackson, which reads "Sanwi African region will not forget you," on August 1, 2009 in Krindjabo, an Ivory Coast village where Jackson was crowned king in 1992.
KAMBOU SIA, AFP/Getty Images

Jackson's unexpected death in 2009 spurred the Sanwi Kingdom to hold a two-day royal funeral for their king. Dancers, Jackson lookalikes, and more than 1000 villagers gathered to mourn. Tribe members asked Jackson's family for his body, hoping they could give him a royal burial, but Jackson was ultimately interred in Southern California. Sanwi chiefs eventually found a successor for Jackson's crown—minister and politician Jesse Jackson.

Asked how it felt to be a real king—a title perhaps even harder to obtain than his still-relevant King of Pop honorific—Jackson remained humble. "I never try to think hard about it because I don't want it to go to my head," he told Ebony. "But, it's a great honor."

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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