The Bonkers Conspiracy Theory About Michael Jackson's Castration
Is a hormonal acne treatment designed for women responsible for Michael Jackson's famously high-pitched voice?
Image by Callie Beusman
Rumors have been circulating for years that Michael Jackson's famous falsetto was the result of chemical castration.
In his book, Michael Jackson: The Secret of a Voice, French vascular surgeon (and opera fan) Alain Branchereau alleges that the singer's voice was that of an operatic castrato. Castrating young boys with beautiful soprano voices started in Italy in the mid-16th century. The boys would have their testicles "surgically" removed in order to cut off the testosterone supply to the body and stunt sexual maturity; the boy would grow, but his voice would not, leaving him with the lungs of a man and the high notes of Mariah Carey. The practice—a regular feature of Mediterranean music since at least 400 CE—was outlawed in 1870, but men with hormonal disorders, such as Jimmy Scott, are sometimes referred to as modern castrati.
Branchereau, who never met Michael Jackson nor spoke to anyone from the Jackson estate for his book, proposes that MJ might have been treated for a bad case of teenage acne with cyproterone acetate, a hormone therapy that's never been available in the United States. This drug treats acne in women by blocking androgen (or male sex hormone, including testosterone) receptors. It's never prescribed to men because they need androgens if they want to keep having masculine secondary sexual characteristics.
Cyproterone acetate is also one of a few drugs used by criminal courts to chemically castrate repeat sex offenders. The same androgen receptor–blocking that cures acne in women greatly reduces testosterone in men, thereby reducing their sex drive.
According to Branchereau, if a boy took cyproterone acetate, it would permanently stunt the development of his larynx. The patient "keeps a child's larynx all his life in a man's body," Branchereau told the news agency Agence France-Presse in 2011—though this is not a side effect listed in readily found literature on cyproterone acetate. This is possibly because the drug is never prescribed to preadolescent boys. Ever. It is prescribed as a treatment for prostate cancer in adult men, where once again a shrunken/feminized larynx is not on the list of side effects. Breast swelling, loss of sex drive, hot flashes, throat cancer, yes, but nothing about changing the quality of the voice. And all of these side effects fade if you stop taking the medication.
So does this theory hold water? It's possible that MJ's team got him an off-market acne medication. When Michael was 12, Joe Jackson was still managing his son, and it's pretty clear Joe was more interested in cash flow that the well-being of his children. Cyproterone acetate was beginning human trials in 1970. It's highly unlikely that Papa Joe got his son a medication that had previously only been used on rats, but it's also not completely impossible. People do crazy shit to keep child stars cute. Judy Garland was about the same age when she was put on a diet of "chicken soup, black coffee, and 80 cigarettes" a day.
"We will never have proof unless his entourage says something," says Branchereau. And possibly not even then. Every aspect of Jacko's life has been examined, re-examined, and highly contested. If only there was some impartial scientific document to which we could refer. Oh wait, there is. TMZ leaked Jackson's autopsy back in 2009. In it, no mention is made of an abnormal larynx. "The neck is unremarkable," says the document. The only specific mention the larynx gets is noting that it was not broken, which would indicate strangulation.
In other words, MJ was a strange and remarkable man, but likely not for the contents of his neck.