After the King of Pop Michael Jackson postponed his first five opening shows of the This Is It run of 50 concerts in London’s 02 Arena, the tawdry tabloid tales and rumors have gotten out of control. They escalate and get worse every day.
To clear up all the craziness, I went inside the Jackson camp and got answers to some sensational scoops claimed by British reporters:
Rumor: Michael is dying from cancer!
Fact: Totally untrue, and the top titans producing his show said he’s had another clean bill of health from the insurance company. He’s ready to go!
Rumor: He’s on a hunger strike and angry about doing 50 shows instead of the original 10 that were planned.
Fact: He is not starving himself to beat cancer or protest the rehearsals schedule. He’s getting himself into shape, and both Michael and the AEG producers scheduled the additional 40 shows on the 02 Arena booking calendar if the original 10 shows sold out faster than expected!
Rumor: Michael is worried he’s not strong enough to perform every other night for 50 shows for 1 million fans and has skipped rehearsals.
Fact: He’s attended all of the preparations and rehearsals, and my insiders report that everything is on schedule. Michael, director Kenny Ortega, dancers and choreographers will relocate from Center Staging Studios in Burbank, Calif., to London in the next two weeks to prepare the final elements.
Says AEG Live President Randy Phillips: “The British tabloid stories are untrue. Michael is thrilled at selling 50 shows. The size and scale of this show would not be possible without an extended run, and Michael has been fully onboard from the very beginning. He has not agreed to a world tour to follow at this point, but he has the option to do so at any time.”
I was told that the shows will be “truly spectacular” and unlike anything ever seen. Michael has wrapped the video sequences for the giant projection screens being used in the staging. R&B singer Akon made British headlines, too, saying the King of Pop wouldn’t be singing live. Again, another exaggerated story, my insiders say. “Michael will perform, he will dance, he will sing,” I was told. “You can’t do all three at once live, so of course there will be some pre-recorded tracks. But the fans won’t have a second to be disappointed about what they will see and hear! Akon has promised to be in the front row of the July 16 premiere concert. He said: “It’s going to be amazing. I’m going to have front row tickets. I will have the best tickets in the house and will be so close to the stage, you will think that I am on it.”
The Los Angeles Times reported this past weekend that banker Tom Barrack, who runs Colony Capital, is heavily involved in Michael’s massive show-business comeback. Barrack’s company has major ownership interests here in the Las Vegas Hilton and the Stations Casino group.
Rumor: Michael will open a $3 billion Thriller casino on the Strip.
Fact: Untrue because nobody believes the Nevada Gaming Commission would give Michael a gaming license. The hope is that part of Michael’s memorabilia and Thriller successes could be used inside a casino as an entertainment attraction.
My reporter friend Chris Lee wrote this weekend in the Los Angeles Times: “His backers envision the London shows as an audition for a career rebirth that could ultimately encompass a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum and musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau.” Chris quoted Barrack as saying: “You are talking about a guy who could make $500 million a year if he puts his mind to it. There are very few individual artists who are multibillion-dollar businesses, and he is one.” He also quoted Frank DiLeo, Michael’s manager and friend of 30 years, as saying: “Michael is very focused. He is not going to let anybody down. Not himself. Not his fans. Not his family.”
The inner circle around Michael confirm that he wants to do the London concerts not only for monetary reasons but also because he believes his children are now old enough and want to see him onstage. Sons Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., 12, Prince Michael, 7, and daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11, have never seen him perform live. “They are old enough to appreciate and understand what I do, and I am still young enough to do it,” Randy quoted Jackson as saying.
I am reliably told that the only reason Michael’s original July 9 comeback premiere was delayed to July 16 was because of the time needed for the load-in and construction of his giant stage and special effects. “It was the only reason,” my top insider told me. “Nothing else. It was just logistics.”
Madonna ends a two-night run at the 02 Arena on July 5, and Michael’s production people take over July 6.
“We are totally confident Michael will be onstage, healthy, strong and well. The insurance is in place for exactly that, and his doctors have given the green light. It will be the best ever show ever seen anywhere in the world,” my top insider told me.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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