The past week has been filled with more Michael Jackson speculation than we even thought possible...and there's no end in sight.
Jackson's former personal photographer, Ian Barkley, spoke exclusively to E! News about the King of Pop's parenting, his apparent problems and various things he witnessed during his years spent traveling the world with the artist.
Barkley was hired in 2002 to document Jackson in all of his endeavors. "Michael liked having me around," says the photographer.
Throughout his years with the star, Barkley grew to know Jackson and his family intimately, gaining personal insight into a life shrouded in privacy. The ex-employee paints a portrait of Jackson as a doting father, saying that he and his three children, Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and Blanket, 7, had a "really good" relationship.
"His kids totally love their dad and he was extremely protective over them," says Barkley. "Even when we were just around his staff, he was protective."
Barkley explains Jackson's no-holds-barred attitude when it came to his children, in which the performer would go to great lengths to ensure their welfare, especially while on the road: "We would babyproof everywhere, like really expensive suites."
He continues: "They would tape up every corner with cardboard and make sure the kids couldn't hurt themselves, and they were very strict on what the kids would eat to make sure they didn't have allergies."
Jackson's overly protective nature seemed natural to Barkley, who says, "To some it was odd, but under the circumstances it was understandable."
When asked if he believed the star seemed mentally sound, Barkley explains that the answer always coincided with whether or not Jackson was using drugs.
"There were two sides to him. When he wasn't dosed up on pills, he was extremely mentally sound, very businesslike, very smart, but when he was on drugs, he would do some really odd things," claims Barkley.
"It was basically flipping a coin and depending on what day it was, was how he was," says the photog. "Some days Michael would show up to an event and we could tell because he had this giggly, laughing face on. I am not sure what kind of meds, but I know there were mixtures."
Barkley goes on to state that he wholeheartedly believes that the icon was a drug addict. Barkley tells E! News that during his three-year employment with Jackson, "50 percent of the time he was on drugs. He had doctor after doctor working with him and had people score him prescription drugs that he knew he didn't have prescriptions for. He definitely had a problem."
But recent claims of Jackson self-medicating due to immense pain comes as a surprise to Barkley. "He would dance around and didn't flinch. I think he just never got off of the drug from the many surgeries he had," the photog said.
The alleged addiction did not go unnoticed by those around him, however. Those who worked closely with the star would constantly attempt to intervene. "(Michael) would just get going and laughing and talking about other stuff and you just knew he was on drugs," Barkley says.
"He was off in his own little world. Managers tried to keep stuff away from him because there was a lot of business to be done, like when he was supposed to be at an event but was in bed sleeping 10 minutes before he was supposed to be there, and they would get on his case, but as soon as you tell him no, he starts pushing you out."
There was at least one instance of Jackson recognizing that he might have a problem, as Barkley claims that during his run with the singer, a "witch doctor was around to get Michael off the drugs, to go through a detox thing," but that it didn't work.
When child molestation charges were brought against Jackson, Barkley was sort of phased out of his job. "I stopped working with him when I was basically pushed out around the time when the trial started," says Barkley. "His people started not letting me go to events. It became a joke, and I just had enough."
As the Jackson family's custody battle starts to heat up and we wait to see where his children will end up, Barkley insists: "He was overall a good dad."