Jackson Cage

Matti Vanhanen sits in his kitchen and makes coffee. It’s early, the clock’s not yet six, but Vanhanen has already been up for a good half hour. He’s showered, and fed the few animals he keeps on his farm. Four cows, a few pigs, and a camel.

The man in the mirror

In his lumberjack shirt, blue jeans, and an old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim baseball hat – yes, it’s that old – Vanhanen looks like many of the other men killing time at a local gas station. If you didn’t know it, you’d never, ever, ever, think that he used to entertain tens of thousands of people in concerts, and that until about a year ago, he was the world’s most famous entertainer, probably since the dawn of time.

You’d never believe that Matti Vanhanen used to be Michael Jackson.

“I just couldn’t deal with the pressure anymore so I decided to do what so any other artists had done before me. I decided to fake my death, move to a quiet place somewhere, and enjoy another kind of life,” he says, in a low voice.

“This is it.”

In hindsight, for somebody wanting to disappear, it probably had been stupid to take the same name as the prime minister of the country he’d moved to, but he had liked the sound of it. Plus the fact that his new persona would have a reference to “old” – vanha being Finnish for just that, old, had intrigued him. Anyway, it was too late now. On the other hand, if anybody googled him, they’d just get a bunch of stuff of the prime minister’s love life.

These days Vanhanen takes care of his animals, and works on his house. He’d like to keep a low profile but when he moved to this tiny village of Mulo in eastern Finland last year, it didn’t go unnoticed. Not only did he have some unusual animals with him, the small farm just happened to be residence of the former police chief, who had died two years earlier in a boating accident.

According to rumors, he had paid twice the asking price for the small, yellow, wooden house. That alone was enough to stir up some more rumors.

“I liked the place a lot,” he says of his farm that includes the two-bedroom house, a barn, a shed, and an outhouse.

Becoming Vanhanen wasn’t easy. First, there was the planning of the death for which he hired an agency. They found a suitable body, and took care of the funeral, and all the medical documents.

The planning had taken years, but Jackson had made the final switch six months before the King of Pop died.

He had had to re-invent himself yet one more time, inside and out, and this time, for good. He gained weight, grew a mustache, stopped doing manicure, had a minor surgery on his nose, dyed his hair, all in an effort to turn the formerly lithe and languid star into a more robust Finnish farmer. Mastering the language was a challenge, learning the eastern Finland dialect an even bigger one.

But he did it.

When he drives his four-wheeler to the nearby store or to Joensuu, the city of 50 000 just ten kilometers north of Mulo, nobody looks twice at him. When he sits at the window table at the local Esso, eating a sandwhich, he won’t have to wait long to get company. He’s now a regular in the four-man gang that plays cards at the Esso every day.

“We play mostly “hearts”, but we play for money, just to keep it interesting,” he says.

In fact, he had heard the news of Michael Jackson’s death at Esso.

“I bought everybody a beer, and we made a toast to Jackson,” he says.

“That made me popular here.”

Vanhanen won’t have to work for money, because every month, he gets a check from his agent in Indianapolis, specialized in handling deceased stars’ estates. Last year alone, Michael Jackson made a billion dollars.

Working on a farm alone is rough work, and not only physically, Vanhanen admits.

“Sometimes I miss Bubbles, but I know he’s better off at the Florida sanctuary. We exchange emails and postcards every once in a while,” he adds while slowly stirring his cup of coffee.

“Sure, it’d be nice to have somebody here to talk to, especially in the winter when it’s dark. I’ve been to a couple of dances in Joensuu but haven’t found anybody special yet. Well, there is this one lady. Her name’s Tarja. She’s been here a couple of times, but we’re just friends,” he adds, and blushes.

With the closest neighbor living a good five kilometers down the dirt road, Vanhanen spends a lot of time on his own.

“Sometimes Juhani rows his boat across the lake and we jam a little. He plays the guitar, and he’s got a great voice, especially for an old man like that. He must be over 70. You know what? He reminds me of Elvis,” he says, and smiles.

How does that make you feel?