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August 30, 2014

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Jackson-to-Vegas rumors were really off the wall

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Associated Press

Michael Jackson at a press conference at O2 Arena in London on March 5, 2009.

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Kenny Ortega, Michael Jackson and Simon Fuller.

“This is it,” Michael Jackson says. Of course, Kenny Loggins sang that nearly 30 years ago, prophesying, “The waiting is over.” Loggins also added, “Make no mistake where you are,” even if, in Jackson’s case, where you are is a news conference in London, running about 90 minutes behind schedule.

What it all means, or what most of it means, is that now we know that Michael Jackson will be performing 10 shows in July at London’s O2 Arena. “This Is It” seems to be the theme, as Jackson stood behind a podium with a big sign reading “This Is It” during today’s news conference. We get the spunky message, but Jackson was far more appealing in his “Off The Wall” period, with the tall hair, short slacks and glowing white socks. Oh, to rewind the clock on this man’s career …

Anyhow, in this comeback/sendoff, Jackson will be working with Kenny Ortega, famous for staging “High School Musical” (somewhere there is a biting line about Jackson not being allowed anywhere near “High School Musical,” but I’m not traversing that path). Ortega also brought the splashy “Pirates” show to Treasure Island, so for him treading water is nothing new. (For the details of today’s happenings in London, read the ubiquitous Robin Leach’s royal run-’em-down about Jackson’s typically delayed, wacky, oft-interrupted news conference.)

The announcement of Jackson’s comeback plans reminded me, not too happily, of a memorable period a couple of years ago when rumors ran wild that his return to the stage would happen here in Vegas. This went on for several weeks, or maybe even months. Maybe it was 10 years, but it seemed endless, as every day someone surfaced with a rumor that Jackson was uncorking some sort of Quirk du Soleil-style show at a Vegas resort. I think Slots-A-Fun was the only place not mentioned as a possible Jackson haunt, and that’s only because Slots-A-Fun lacks a showroom (but I believe there is a chimp named Bubbles who deals craps down there).

One time, as the rumor mill was really a-churnin’, a guy called to report that Jackson was meeting with resort moguls at the Stirling Club at Turnberry Place, showing off a multimedia presentation centering on some sort of Egyptian-themed production concept. Seemed nuts at the time, but in retrospect, that idea could have worked at the Luxor. If nothing else, it would have spared us “Believe.”

Some vintage Jackson

The Jackson rumors were doused just about two years ago to the day, in the aftermath of a story written by my Las Vegas Sun colleague Brendan Buhler. Brendan wrote about the various scenarios in which Jackson would actually headline at a Vegas resort, and Steve Wynn was mentioned as a possible suitor because the two had been friends and had also met over dinner. Jackson’s spokeswoman goosed the rumors further by saying Jackson was reviewing and evaluating several offers to perform in Vegas. But the day after that story ran, Brendan received a call from Wynn to eradicate speculation that Jackson would be appearing at any of his properties. Wynn was hot, hot I tell you.

Here is the column from that episode.

"I had dinner with him. That's all," Wynn said at the time. "I have no venue for Michael Jackson, and we're not discussing having him in anything." Of the rumors, Wynn said, "Rumors running around? This is a town full of idiots. You listen to rumors, you ought to have your head examined." Wynn made it clear he had no plans for Jackson at Wynn, at the under-development Encore or at Wynn Macau, which had just opened a few months earlier. “What would he want with Macau? He has kids in America. ... What good would that do him?"

OK, OK. Rumors: dispelled.

That was about the end of any serious speculation that Jackson would perform here. The next time I had any interest in him was a few months later, to report that the 16,000-square-foot house he was leasing in west Las Vegas from San Francisco real estate magnate Luke Brugnara was on the same block as a 1.5-acre piece of land owned by Frank Marino, where Marino was about to start construction of his own house. Marino and I joked about the homeowners association meetings (for which he would show up dressed as Joan Rivers and initiate a hostile takeover of the board), but neither of us imagined that, less than two years later, Marino’s “La Cage” would be gone at the Riviera and Michael Jackson would have a steady gig, anywhere. It’s funny how things turn out.

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