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 TMZ.com 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.
It was uncomfortable to watch myself attempt to play basketball, even if the footage was from 18 years ago. I was so bad that the audience chanted my name every time I touched the ball as if it would somehow help me score a basket. All my shots bounced off the rim.
After my interview with comedian Brad Williams, I looked online to see if I could find any reference to a midget named Larry who worked as a Hollywood stunt double. Much to my surprise, I found video footage of Larry that had me in it too.
In 1996, Jimmy Kimmel had the idea for the members of the KROQ morning show to challenge a basketball team comprised of midgets and dwarfs. Here is most of the game between the Los Angeles Breakers and the KROQ Jackholes. You’ll probably recognize Kevin & Bean, Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla and Chris Hardwick, who was one of the announcers. The other announcer sounds like Ralph Garman to me although I’m not positive that it’s him. Other players include Lisa May, Beth Coulter, Tad Newcomb, Rockin’ Fig, Kevin Weatherly, the Armenian Comedian and me.
Comedian Brad Williams is a frequent guest on the Kevin & Bean show at KROQ in Los Angeles. When he arrived at WNOX today, I asked him about his upcoming trip to Brazil with Kevin Ryder for the World Cup. He joked that I might be seeing him on his farewell tour in the event that he gets trampled in Brazil.
Brad is headlining at Side Splitters Comedy Club this weekend. He tells some jokes about his dwarfism but then moves on to other topics.
One of the things we talked about in our interview was the difference between midgets and dwarfs and little people. Dwarfs have short limbs while midgets have proportions similar to children. I told Brad about a midget named Larry who worked in Hollywood as a stunt double for kids.
Alonzo Bodden won the grand prize on Last Comic Standing’s “Battle of the Best” in 2004. He’s in town to headline at Side Splitters Comedy Club and stopped by for an interview on the Classic Hits 93.1 Comedy Couch.
A few years ago, I downloaded several of the PSAs Alonzo recorded for the American Stroke Association. I aired them as filler on an AM station. I asked Alonzo about the PSAs and about his relatively recent kidney donation.
The menu at Cracker Barrel features items such as Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast and Uncle Herschel’s Favorite. However, if you want a smaller meal consisting of only two eggs, two pieces of bacon (or sausage) and two pancakes, they will gladly serve it to you. The servers refer to the off-menu meal as the “Grandma Sampler.” I discovered the “Grandma Sampler” when I went to breakfast with my wife two weeks ago.
My friend Bean visited Nashville over the weekend. He and his wife went to a Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s concert on Friday and to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday. He had a few free hours Saturday afternoon, as did I. We met at the Cracker Barrel in Cookeville, which is about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville.
There are no Cracker Barrel restaurants in Washington state. Bean said he has eaten at a Cracker Barrel in Idaho, which is the closest one to him. He was excited to hear about the “Grandma Sampler,” which is what he ordered. He snapped a photo with his phone. It wasn’t until later that I noticed the old-time cassette sticker on the back of his phone.
Comic hypnotist Flip Orley was interested to hear about my wife’s experience with being hypnotized. It started when she was in college and was hypnotized by James Mapes. Flip was my guest on the Classic Hits 93.1 Comedy Couch.
As I told Flip, she was once inadvertently hypnotized while we were in the audience, watching a hypnotist who worked as a warm-up comedian for sitcom tapings. More recently, she was an audience volunteer for a hypnotism show at the Tennessee Valley Fair.
Our conversation reminded me of another story about a hypnotist. When I worked at KROQ, I booked Tom Silver as a guest on the Kevin & Bean show. He hypnotized a particularly susceptible intern named Big Tad. While Tad was under, the show’s writer, Jimmy Kimmel, would come up with outrageous suggestions for Tom to give Tad.
Flip is headlining at Side Splitters Comedy Club this weekend. One of his subjects contacted me via Twitter to say they had a great time. I’m pretty sure that Rob Howard did so under his own free will, as opposed to following some post-hypnotic suggestion.
— Knoxville Rob Howard (@KnoxvilleRob) February 14, 2014
A year ago, Dom Irrera did a surprise set during open-mic night at Side Splitters Comedy Club. My wife and I happened to be there to see it. I knew it was one of the things I wanted to ask him about when I had the opportunity to interview him on the Classic Hits 93.1 Comedy Couch prior to his appearance at Side Splitters this weekend.
Dom and I also talked about prop comics, Seinfeld, KROQ, the Last Supper, Telly Savalas, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno and more. Here’s the proof: