CHELTENHAM, England - The godfather of Michael Jackson's three children said Monday that the circumstances surrounding the singer's death "don't add up" because he never saw him take drugs.
Former child star Mark Lester, known for his lead role in the 1970s movie version of the stage show "Oliver," told The Associated Press in an interview that Jackson was in excellent shape when he visited London in March to announce his comeback concerts.
He said his friend seemed excited about the shows when he spoke with Lester by telephone shortly before his sudden death.
"The circumstances of his death just don't add up for me," said Lester, a Jackson friend for more than 25 years who said he never saw the singer use drugs. "It just doesn't make sense."
The two met extensively when Jackson was in London in March and Lester found his friend to be fit and in good spirits at the time. Their families had meals together at Jackson's hotel, with the singer indulging in his British favourite, fish and chips.
Lester said he has a close relationship with Jackson's three children and has spoken to them since the loss of their father. He said he supports the bid of the singer's mother, Katherine Jackson, to obtain custody.
"I understand his mother is taking control and that is probably the best thing for them," he said. "She is a very loving, kind and gracious woman and she had a very close relationship with Michael and a very good rapport with her grandchildren. I know the kids are fine. They are deeply saddened by what's happened but they're coping."
Lester, 50, said he does not plan to become directly involved in the children's care, even though he became their godfather at a 2003 ceremony in Las Vegas. He said Jackson also became godfather to his four children, who are badly shaken by his death.
"They are devastated, coming to terms with the fact that we'll never see this great man again," said Lester, whose eyes seem haunted by the loss of his friend.
The two first became friends some 27 years ago when Jackson's manager told Lester the singer wanted to meet him. Both shared the experience of early stardom, although Lester left show business - he is now an osteopath in this bucolic small town in southwest England - while Jackson remained a performer until his death.
"Michael thrived on it really," Lester said. "He told me he was an illusionist, creating an illusion, and that his singing and dancing were a gift from above, that he was just the receptor of this gift. There were ups and downs to it but Michael Jackson loved being Michael Jackson, he loved the adoration he got from his fans. And he liked the trappings that came with it."
Lester said one reason he is suspicious about Jackson's sudden death is because the singer was so enthusiastic about his upcoming return to the stage, set for July 13 at the 02 Arena in London. They spoke recently about Jackson's plans to come over to London for final rehearsals, and Lester and his family planned to be there opening night.
"He was really fired up, really positive, really looking forward to it," said Lester. "He wouldn't tell me about the show, he said he wanted me to be surprised. He said it would be extraordinary."