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Carpooling

Liz, Jacko, and Marlon: The starriest refugees in history.


Illustrations by Henry Obasi  

Among the myriad stories that coalesced on September 11, 2001, perhaps none was as fantastic as that of the escape from the city by the pop-culture trifecta of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando [C1]. Taylor and Brando were at Jackson’s sold-out September 10 performance at Madison Square Garden. Basic details of the 500-mile road trip to Ohio, where the trio was finally able to catch a flight home to California, were revealed in the June 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. Fleshing it out further:

Jackson was in his hotel bed on the morning of September 11, the last of the cloudy white liquid dripping into the tube in his arm, the IV pump clicking softly, his traveling anesthesiologist asleep in a chair nearby. Jackson sat up abruptly. His BlackBerry was ringing. The ringtone was specialized—“Walk Like an Egyptian.” It was Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia.

“King Michael!” Alwaleed said, hysterical. “Get out! New York is under attack! You could be next!”

Jackson, confused, clicked on the TV. Horrified by what he saw, he ripped the catheter from his arm and raced into the hallway. “Marlon! Marlon!” he screamed. “Get up! We’re under attack! They’re coming for us!”

In his room, Brando was in bed, naked, his stomach heaped on top of him. His eyes fluttered open. “What the fuck?” he asked groggily.

A private jet, Jackson learned, was impossible. He called Taylor at the St. Regis. “Bring disguises,” he warned.

They made it out of Manhattan just before the bridges and tunnels closed, Jackson behind the wheel of the rented 2001 white Chevy Lumina. He drove with one foot on the gas, one on the brake; he was not used to driving. Taylor, sitting shotgun and clutching her blind and deaf Maltese, Sugar, took a Klonopin. Brando was sprawled out in the back, sweating. Jackson and Taylor held hands across the armrest.

They listened to the news on the radio for as long as they could handle. Finally, Jackson put in a CD. It was sounds from inside a mother’s womb.

As they eased onto I-80 West, Brando complained of hunger. “KFC,” he chanted. “KFC.”

“But the chickens?” Jackson offered.

“KFC,” Brando replied, and Jackson relented.

In time, Jackson tired of driving and pulled over on the side of the road. Taylor was, of course, too weak, so Brando took over. He pushed the seat back as far as it would go, his belly resting on the steering wheel.

“Not too fast, Marlon,” Jackson said.

“I know how to drive, Michael,” Brando replied.

Taylor woke up. “No fighting,” she said.

“I’m hungry,” Brando said no more than an hour later.

“What about the KFC you just ate?” Jackson asked. So far Jackson had consumed only seaweed, water, and Skittles.

“What’s it to you?” Brando replied, looking at him in the mirror.

“Now, now,” Taylor said.

They compromised at a rest stop near the Ohio border. Each wore a disguise: Brando, a pair of Groucho glasses, nose, and mustache; Taylor, after dousing herself in White Diamonds, a pair of gigantic sunglasses and a giant floppy hat; Jackson in a red kimono, long blond wig, surgical mask, sunglasses, and black umbrella.

Inside, people were too distracted by the news on the televisions to notice them. After using the bathroom, they reconvened in the lobby. Brando licked an ice-cream cone.

Suddenly, Jackson stopped, looked up. “Listen,” he said.

Through the speakers came the voice of Mr. Lee Greenwood. Jackson removed his sunglasses, pulled down his wig.

He sang:

From the lakes of Minnesota,

To the hills of Tennessee …

Well, there’s pride in every American heart,

And it’s time we stand and say:

That I’m proud to be an American …

The entire rest stop was silent. ­“Michael,” a woman whispered.

When the song ended, the three friends locked arms, walked solemnly across the parking lot, climbed back into the Lumina, and drove westward …

“Bullshit,” says Brando’s longtime lawyer when reached recently at his office. “That story’s all bullshit.” The truth: Like everyone else, the three indeed found themselves temporarily stranded in Manhattan. Taylor evidently decided to stay on, busying herself with charity work, while Brando and Jackson flew later, separately, on private jets to Los Angeles.


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