Today in HIStory

It’s been five years since Michael Jackson died. I was on the air on Star 102.1 that afternoon and I told my listeners that they would probably remember where they were when they heard the news. I had two close encounters with the King of Pop, which I wrote about in 2009 and 2010. I also shared my friend Pam’s story.

POSTED JUNE 26, 2009
Someone should write a book comparing the lives and deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. The early news reports I heard failed to see the obvious similarities. Both were the absolute biggest things in all of music and all of pop culture during their heyday. Both fell into a weird, isolated decline. Both looked completely different in their later years. Both deaths were originally said to be “cardiac arrest.” CNN is reporting that Michael, like Elvis, had problems with prescription medications.

Former Jackson publicist Michael Levine issued the following statement via his LBN E-lert: “As someone who served as Michael Jackson’s publicist during the first child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today’s tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress.”

Although he had already died, Elvis was technically Michael’s father-in-law for a while. I was sitting in the audience at Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards when Michael and Lisa Marie Presley walked on stage and kissed. I got to go to the VMAs each year when I worked at KROQ.

In the late ’80s, I had an even closer encounter with Michael Jackson. He came to the D.C. area to accept an award. I don’t recall exactly how I got an invitation to cover the event. I was told to rent a tuxedo and bring a tape recorder. I drove to a multi-million dollar home in McLean. I parked off-site and took a shuttle to the party. The members of the press were ushered into a smaller building that was probably a garage or carriage house. A large room had been set up as if for a press conference. I was told to plug my tape recorder into a mult box, which provided an audio feed to the camera crews. While we waited for Michael to arrive, I struck up a fun conversation with Ann L. Trebbe, who was then a reporter for The Washington Post. She later went to work for USA Today. Michael stepped to the podium and made some brief generic remark like “I love you all, thank you very much.” Don & Mike would play that audio for years anytime Michael’s name came up.

After the worthless press event, the media representatives were allowed to go next door to the party. We were all dressed in formal wear, after all. The room buzzed when Michael made his entrance. He walked through the crowd, saying hello in his shy way to party goers who had paid top dollar to be there. As he got close to me, I reached out my hand and told him that I was with the local top-40 station, WAVA. I saw a change in his demeanor as his gloved hand shook mine very firmly and he said in a normal voice, “Thank you for your support.”

I was working the afternoon shift at Star 102.1 on Thursday when reported that Michael had died. When I turned on the microphone, I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to say. I said the date a couple of times and then said that the news I was about to deliver was as big as the death of Elvis was to the listeners’ parents or perhaps grandparents.

POSTED JUNE 25, 2010
When Michael Jackson died a year ago, I wrote about the time I shook hands with the King of Pop. I can’t believe I had forgotten about another close encounter with him. An email from a friend brought the memory rushing back.

I had been invited to a press preview of the “Back to the Future: The Ride” at Universal Studios Hollywood. I brought my daughter along as my guest. Almost all the other people there were local radio and television folks. The one celebrity we recall meeting was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who chatted with us about his upcoming role in “The Lion King.”

One of the names on the guest list was Michael Jackson. The event organizers told me they were expecting the then-KABC talk show host with the same name. I was standing near the check-in table when the music megastar walked through the entrance of the pipe-and-drape VIP area. They weren’t prepared for a VVIP such as MJ. Somebody immediately escorted him and his guests into the building so they could go on the ride before all the media rabble. It wasn’t the last time people confused the two. One year ago fans gathered at the radio host’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame instead of the singer’s.

My friend Pam Baker’s story is more interesting. Here is the email she sent out today:

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the death of Michael Jackson. It’s a day that I will never forget… it was my first week at K-EARTH 101. A little personal story about Michael:
When I worked at Disneyland, I got a call from security informing me that Michael Jackson was coming to the Park on New Year’s Eve (one of the busiest days of the year). We all had to kick into high gear to make sure that his visit was perfect. Michael Eisner was even driving in to see Michael. I had heard that he was a vegetarian and had a personal chef, so we were concerned that we wouldn’t have the right food for him. When he arrived, my assistant and I asked him what he wanted to eat. We almost fell over when he said, “Disneyland food!” He ate popcorn, Fantasia ice cream, green salad with ranch dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, pickles, a variety of foods from one of the Main Street restaurants. He was quiet, but a gentleman, and very sweet and generous. He said “thank you” a lot! The fans went crazy in the Park and there was a near riot on Main Street but he took photos with fans and signed autographs until it became unsafe. He was like a child at heart — a sweet soul.

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