Diana Ross was a little skittish around the 6-foot python, but soon she was comfortable enough to help the reptile shed its skin.

Or at least that's the word from a 1984 radio interview with Michael Jackson that was conducted by Chattanooga's Bernie Miller, a discussion that featured the pop superstar talking about his collection of animals, dealing with fame and his love of music.

The reel-to-reel tape had been in Mr. Miller's attic until last week, when the death of the singer reminded him it was there, he said.


* Michael Jackson's favorite animated character was Pinocchio.

* When he was a child, his favorite books included "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Old Man and the Sea."

* Michael Jackson was very ticklish.

* He played the Scarecrow in "The Wiz," an updated movie version of "The Wizard of Oz" with an all-black cast

* He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one for himself and one as part of the Jackson Five)

* Quincy Jones nicknamed him "Smelly" -- a slang term similar to "funky"

* Jackson described his own voice on early Jackson 5 records as "like Minnie Mouse"

* He was a big fan of The Three Stooges

* "Thriller" spent 37 weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart

* In 1984, he won eight Grammys

* His marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley lasted 19 months

* In 1985, he paid $47 million for the publishing rights to the Beatles' song catalog


On the tape, Mr. Jackson is soft-spoken, but his voice is relaxed and he sounds eager to talk. Among the highlights of the interview are Mr. Jackson talking about his animals, which at the time included a llama named Louie, deer named Prince and Princess, and a 6-foot boa constrictor.

"His name is Muscles," Mr. Jackson says on the tape of the boa. I take him to the studio. Diana Ross was just here, and we were both peeling the skin off of him. He peels like three times a month.

"She was a little afraid at first, but she was great."

In 1984, Mr. Miller was a program director and morning radio personality at WLUM-FM in Milwaukee, Wis. The interview was done at Mr. Jackson's Neverland Ranch, located about 150 miles up the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles.

"Thriller" had been out a couple of years "so he was hot," Mr. Miller said. The trip to the ranch seems more exciting to him today than it was then, he said.

"It didn't click that the place is as huge as it is. I was enthralled to be interviewing Michael. The place was secondary," Mr. Miller said. "I was just trying to one-up my other broadcasters, to be honest."

Today, Mr. Miller is pastor of New Covenant Fellowship Church in Chattanooga. He first met Michael Jackson in 1976 through Michael's brother Jackie. A songwriter, Mr. Miller was pitching some songs to Jackie.

During his first visit to Neverland, Mr. Miller said, he met Mr. Jackson's sister Janet and mother, Katherine.

"We talked about a song I had co-written called 'I Can't Stand the Rain,'" he said.

During the recorded interview, Mr. Miller asks Mr. Jackson if living up to fans' expectations gets easier or harder through the years.

"Well, they get harder, because no matter what you do, you are competing against your previous product," Mr. Jackson said. "You are really trying to top yourself all the time. I believe in doing better work. You grow and you get better."

Mr. Jackson also is asked what he does when he's not performing.

"Dream about the stage, play with my animals, stuff like that," he said.

He adds that he mostly stays at home, because going out to a club becomes "like work instead of pleasure."

"They announce it on the air over the loudspeakers and play all my records, and I'm signing autographs. It's not fun. It's work."

"Everything I want to do is here," he said about Neverland. "It's loose and free. If I go out, it's different. I get swarmed."

Mr. Jackson also said he enjoyed being with "the animals or being with children, which I love a lot. I love kids. The young ones. Play with them, swim and stuff like that."

Less than a decade after the interview, Mr. Jackson was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy. The case was settled out of court.

Mr. Miller said he believes the comments on the tape reflect the unusual life that the singer led.

"They (the members of the Jackson 5) didn't have much of a childhood," Mr. Miller said. "The older boys did, because Michael wasn't born yet, but once Michael was old enough to sing at 5, he never had a childhood outside of his brothers. The fame and all that engulfed him. He never had anyone on his age level. He was just a big 7. Sometimes his innocence was that of a child."