An image of Michael Jackson

Bubbles, the chimp once owned by Michael Jackson, now lives in a Florida retirement sanctuary

Michael Jackson had many eccentricities, but his relationship with his pet chimpanzee was perhaps one of the most talked about.

Once upon a time, the singer was inseparable from Bubbles the ape, and did everything with him, this including taking him to Japan where they drank tea with the mayor of Osaka, and teaching him his signature dance, the moonwalk.

However, a decade after the Thriller star passed away, where is Bubbles now?

Bubbles Credit: Getty

While it was at one stage reported that the chimp had died and was preserved in formaldehyde by a German doctor, this was false, and Bubbles is instead currently aged 35 and living in a Florida retirement sanctuary.

Centre for Great Apes, a private sanctuary in Wauchula, houses Jackson's old friend and it's a far cry from his former life. Gone are his first-class flights, his wardrobe of glittery outfits and his cameos in pop videos; nowadays, Bubbles is an ordinary chimp - or as ordinary a chimp as one who used to be a pop star's companion can be.

Having spent so much time in captivity, he can never be released back into the wild so lives as the dominant male in a group of seven chimps — three males and four females.

The group sleep in an eight-room 'night-house' on blankets, pine needles and hay and their diet is fruit and vegetables and protein biscuits, although Bubbles is said to enjoy mangoes best.

Patti Ragan, the sanctuary’s founder, claimed the primate, who once dressed in identical outfits to the Bad star, "is now just a normal chimp".

"He has a chimp life. He loves to paint but, more than that, he loves to play with the other chimps. He particularly loves water — he adores playing with the hose or with the sprinklers in summer," she said, adding that the ape often likes to take mouthfuls of water to spit at visitors.

It's a big difference from his old life with Jackson; born in 1983, Bubbles was allegedly purchased by the musician when he was eight months old and went to live at the Jackson family's Encino home, before moving to the Neverland Ranch in 1988.

While in Jackson's care, he is said to have slept in a crib in his bedroom, ate candy in the Neverland movie theatre, was fed at the dining table, wore a diaper, and used the musician's personal toilet.

The double act was allegedly so inseparable that the ape sat in the control room of the music studio as Jackson recorded his most famous tracks, and when the singer's children were came along, they were allegedly told to treat him like a step-brother, with Jackson describing him as his "first child".

However, some people claim there was a dark side to the friendship. In 2014, Jane Goodall, 84, considered to be the world's top primatologist, alleged the ape had been "beaten" while living with Jackson.

The British expert claimed the star flew into a rage when she confronted him about the alleged abuse, saying: "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."

In addition, La Toya Jackson’s ex-husband, Jack Gordon, claimed he once saw the singer "punch Bubbles in the face, kick him in the stomach". He added: "Michael used to say: 'He doesn’t feel it. He’s a chimpanzee. I have to discipline him.'" The Jackson family has denied Bubbles was ever beaten.

In 2003, Jackson told journalist Martin Bashir that Bubbles had become aggressive and been moved to an animal sanctuary over fears he might attack his newborn son, Prince Michael II.

It can only be hoped that Bubbles is happier now he's living as a normal chimp.