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OBITUARIES : Bob Jones, 1936 - 2008

Publicist for Michael Jackson

October 14, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Bob Jones, the longtime publicist for Michael Jackson who said he dubbed the singer "the king of pop" and who co-wrote "The Man Behind the Mask," an unauthorized biography critical of the star, has died. He was 72.

Jones, who had quadruple-bypass surgery about 17 years ago, died Sept. 20 at his Los Angeles home, apparently of a heart attack, said his sister, Donna Jones.

From 1987 to 2004, Jones helped guide Jackson through "the hailstorms and minefields of unprecedented celebrity," Jones and journalist Stacy Brown wrote in their 2005 book.

When Jackson hired him, Jones had spent 17 years as a Motown Records publicist, helping to craft the images of such singers as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie.

"Publicity was king in those days, and Bob was able to deliver that," said Miller London, a former Motown executive. "He was basically a staff of one, and it was a huge task."

He was Jackson's spokesman at a time when the singer's behavior was causing the public to start viewing the pop star as a cultural oddity.

The eccentricities reported about Jackson were often the result of leaks that Jones orchestrated to make the singer seem more mysterious, Jones told the Irish Times in 2005. Initial reports about Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and the importance of his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, admittedly came from the publicist.

"I saw a mad genius in Michael Jackson," Jones wrote. "Someone who toyed with people . . . a master of self-promotion and a self-destructive multimillionaire . . . trying to buy friendships and favors."

He named Jackson the "king of pop, rock and soul," but the singer changed it to "just the king of pop," Jones said in the Irish Times article.

After being fired by letter in 2004, Jones was broke and angry -- and decided to write a biography of Jackson, whom he had known since about 1970.

The book portrayed Jackson as lip-syncing his way through a world tour and faking illness to avoid performing. Some critics, including the Jackson family, dismissed Jones as a disgruntled former employee.

In writing the book, Jones showed loyalty to Jackson by leaving out "a treasure trove" of potentially shocking details, Brown said.

Jones' loyalty to Jackson also was on public display, Brown said, when the publicist testified at Jackson's 2005 trial on child-molestation charges. On the stand, Jones backed away from testimony that might have helped the prosecution. Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

"He saw Michael, and he felt sorry for him," Brown said. "He couldn't go through with telling the truth, telling all he knew."

Robert Gooden Jones was born July 4, 1936, in Fort Worth to Ocie and Ruby Fay Jones. His father was a music promoter.

In 1951, Jones moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he studied communications at USC.

For a decade, he was entertainment editor for the Herald Dispatch, a Los Angeles newspaper that covered the black community, and wrote a syndicated column on Hollywood.

A friendship with singer Bobby Darin led to Jones' being hired in 1968 as a publicist for Rogers & Cowan. By 1970, he was working for Motown.

"He loved trains and good champagne," his sister said, and had built a model-train room onto his home in the historic West Adams district.

Besides his sister, Jones' survivors include a brother, Jamel Sharrieff.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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