Bubbles was born on the 30th of April 1983 at a medical lab in Texas and sold to the American Icon Michael Jackson when Bubbles was just eight months old. Jackson enlisted celebrity primate keeper Bob Dunn to help train him in performing a very unconvincing backslide. One of his notable tendencies included covering his ears whenever the words “heavy metal” were mentioned. Jackson famously flew Bubbles during legs of his Bad Tour between 1987 and 1988.
Jackson purchased the Sycamore Valley ranch in 1988 for $17 million, which did not have a zoo at the time. He spent a number of years developing the new zoo at the back of the property, but Bubbles was sent to live under the care of Bob Dunn. Jackson requested to see Bubbles from time to time, but when Jackson’s three children arrived on the scene, this brought an end to their interactions, as Bubbles was deemed too dangerous to be around young children. Dunn cared for Bubbles for several years before transferring him to the Centre for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida under the care of Patti Regan. Michael Jackson always maintained ownership of Bubbles, but he never contributed to the cost of care for the chimp throughout his life. The Michael Jackson estate now contributes towards the nearly £17,000 ($22,000) a year required to care for the elderly chimp. The Centre for Great Apes is home to around 50 animals, with each one costing about the same amount to house each year.
Pattie Regan had to teach him to become “normal”, how to share food, greet and groom his fellow primates and how to make up with his room-mates after a disagreement. As of the Summer of 2019, Bubbles is 36 years of age, greying and living out the rest of his life at the rescue centre. Bubbles is the dominant chimp in his group weighing nearly 80 kg. He lives in a group of seven chimps, four females (a number of whom he “likes”), and three males. Bubbles has never fathered children as the sanctuary cannot afford to care for babies. All chimps have had vasectomies conducted to keep cost low long term. Following Jackson’s death in 2009, Patti Ragan turned down a request to fly Bubbles to Los Angeles, for the Memorial service. She has never shown pictures of Michael to Bubbles to avoid upsetting him because he viewed Jackson as a “mother figure”. La Toya Jackson has been the only member of the Jackson family to visit Bubbles since the death of Michael. She appeared at the sanctuary as part of a TV documentary, during which she broke down in tears in front of a disinterested Bubbles. Despite years in the spotlight, he has adapted well to his change of lifestyle, although he does hate having his photo taken.
In 2014, the famous primatologist Jane Goodall was accosted by TMZ reporters, who asked for her thoughts on Hollywood’s love affair with exotic pets. During the brief conversation, the reporters brought up the subject of Jackson’s pet chimp. “I went to see him and we talked about Bubbles. I ticked him off. Bubbles is still alive and he’s beautiful. But when he was with Michael he was being beaten. Chimpanzees belong in the forest and (making a pet out of) chimpanzees are one of the worst things you can possibly do. By the time you get to seven or eight they’re dangerous,” Goodall said. LaToya Jackson’s notoriously abusive ex-husband Jack Gordon claimed in the past that Jackson abused Bubbles. “I saw Michael punch Bubbles, kick him in the stomach. Michael used to say ‘He doesn’t feel it. He’s a chimpanzee. I have to discipline him,” Gordon said.
In July of 2017, the Great Ape Centre in collaboration with gallery owner Adam Brand put together an exhibition of artwork by Bubbles to help raise funds for the rescue centre. Much of the artwork sold for thousands of dollars.
Director Taika Waititi was due to get to work on a new stop-motion movie on life with Michael Jackson, through the eyes of the chimpanzee. But Taika’s busy schedule meant that he officially stepped away from plans to direct Bubbles. With that, Netflix announced they were pulling out of the project as well. Bubbles had been in pre-production at Starburns Industries, the animation-focused production company co-founded by Dan Harmon. Its credits include the stop-motion Anomalisa, which scored a Best Picture Oscar nomination in 2016.