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September 22, 2014

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Bidders fight for Michael Jackson memorabilia at Las Vegas auction

Prices of Jackson-related items skyrocket after King of Pop’s unexpected death

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Sam Morris

Michael Jackson fan Larry Edwards is surrounded by photographers at an auction of celebrity memorabilia by Julien’s Auctions on Friday at Planet Hollywood.

2009 celebrity auction

Kathleen Guzman calls for bids next to a shirt worn by Michael Jackson on his Launch slideshow »

Michael Jackson tribute

A video tribute to fallen pop icon Michael Jackson plays across the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience on Thursday night. Launch slideshow »

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson and members of his entourage ride inside a vehicle just outside the Green Valley Ranch Casino in Henderson on Nov. 20, 2003. Jackson left Las Vegas on that morning and flew to Santa Barbara, Calif., to turn himself in to authorities on charges of child molestation. He landed at the Henderson Executive Airport that afternoon and drove around Las Vegas and Henderson in a black sport utility vehicle for more than two hours. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Michael Jackson briefly lived in Las Vegas in this mansion on West Palomino Lane owned by the Prince of Brunei. The home is seen here Thursday evening.

Behind a long table crowded with laptops, phones, papers and auction catalogs, a painting is leaning up against the wall.

Its image is pleasant but unremarkable and almost childlike — a Mickey Mouse happily conducting a singing Pluto. Were it not for the name in the lower right-hand corner, it wouldn’t merit a second glance, but the name is there.

Written in careful print it reads “Mike Jackson.”

The painting is one of 21 Michael Jackson-related items that were auctioned off Friday at Planet Hollywood at a Julien’s Auctions-run sale of celebrity memorabilia from performers such as Bob Hope, Cher, the King and the King of Pop.

Over the course of the two-day auction, which began Friday and will continue today, lots of varying importance will pop up on the pair of flat screen TVs flanking the auctioneer’s stage. From Elvis’ prescription pill bottle to Cher’s Bob Mackie-designed dress, everything is for sale and there are no reserves.

Prices, however, fluctuate wildly.

The Jackson original painting, for instance, is listed in the summer sale catalog with an estimated value of $1,000 to $1,500. But after the pop star’s death Thursday at a Los Angeles hospital after suffering cardiac arrest, the 21 Jackson lots became the defacto centerpiece of the summer sale. And the painting seemed the most sought-after of the bunch.

“The thing I’m really interested in is the Mickey Mouse painting,” said Los Angeles artist and emergency room doctor Harriette Lewis. “ I want something that I can just hang for myself, something to remember him by.”

Peering into a glass case holding many of the other Jackson-related lots, almost all of which came from the collection of David Gest, Lewis admired some black and white photos of a young Jackson, a sheet of handwritten lyrics to the song “Bad” scrawled in permanent marker and a signed CD case from the album of the same name.

“I wonder if the CD’s in the case?” she pondered out loud.

“I’m a Michael Jackson fan,” Lewis continued, saying she had been “deeply saddened” to hear the news of his death. “My heart goes out to his children and his family.”

A few feet away, dressed in a Michael Jackson T-shirt bearing a black and white photo of the controversial star, Las Vegas Tina Turner impersonator Larry Edwards also had his heart set on the painting.

“It’s starting out at $1,000. I’m willing to go to $1,500,” he said. “It’s probably out of my league, but I want to at least see who got it.”

When the bidding started under the direction of auctioneer Daniel Kruse, who peppered his delivery with suggestions, encouragements and jokes, it was with another modern icon: Playboy.

Kruse worked through a variety of clothing and accessories modeled in the magazine — a dainty Joan Hart-worn dress, a thong donned by Angie Everhart.

“Try it on; see if it fits,” the auctioneer boomed.

When Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions, began planning the annual sale at Planet Hollywood months ago, two sets of lots were poised to generate the most attention — a batch of Elvis memorabilia that includes pieces of his jewelry, his nasal douche and his doctor’s leather bag, and Marilyn Monroe artifacts such as a favorite pink bathrobe and the parasol she posed with beachside in one of her most famous photographs.

However, everything changed the day Jackson died.

“Pandemonium,” is how Julien described his previous 24 hours. “It’s been absolutely crazy. There are 21 items that are being offered. I’ve never seen so much interest in a sale.”

Thousands of bids had already been placed online for the Jackson lots and the press had been calling from around the world, he said.

“We put the sale together months ago. We never anticipated that this would happen.”

“Mike was an icon,” Julien continued. “Now, he joins the ranks of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe... They’re legends, and their items don’t come up very often, especially items that haven’t been sold before. Michael’s now in those ranks.”

While the auction house decided not to update the values of Jackson lots to reflect the singer’s death, Julien estimated that items were probably worth between five and 20 times their previous value.

Back on the podium, Kruse called for more bids on an Elvis-signed photo.

“They’re only $100 bills; you can print ‘em faster!” The gallery broke into applause as a man in the chairs put in a winning bid of $7,000.

In the lots that followed, Elvis items flew by, with Julien’s staff manning phones and watching online bids while Kruse scanned the crowd for raised paddles and arms or deliberate nods.

A pill bottle that once contained meds prescribed to Presley sold for $7,000. The leather bag his doctor carried when he traveled with the star went for $12,500. “It’s the greatest bag in the world,” Kruse proclaimed as the bidding climbed.

An Elvis-worn puka shell necklace was “worth 20 grand if it’s worth a dime” and a diamond encrusted necklace gifted to Presley worked it’s way up to a whopping $97,500 as absentee bidders wrangled over the one-of-a-kind item.

But it wasn’t until lot 315 that the crowd gathered on the mezzanine floor of Planet Hollywood overlooking the casino really came alive.

An original Jackson 5 album display kicked off the Jackson lots.

Number 316, a Jackson 5 album signed by all the group members, blasted to $27,000. Its initially estimated value: $400 to $600.

Soon, lot 320 appeared on the flat screens: six vintage photographs of Michael Jackson from the ‘70s, including one with boxer Muhammad Ali.

With a faint smile, Harriette Lewis raised her paddle. Across the room, a Julien’s employee monitoring online bidding countered loudly.

Lewis raised her paddle again.

Soon, the bidding was bouncing back and forth climbing in slow increments, but each time an online bid would ratchet the price a little higher, Lewis was there, too, her hand growing steadier and quicker with each bid.

When the price reached $950, she glanced down at the open auction catalog on her lap, scanning over the item as if to remind herself of its worth. Then, paddle raised, she reentered the fray.

When the computer finally stopped fighting, Lewis placed a final bid: $2,200.

“Congrats and well fought,” said the auctioneer after closing the dramatic sale. Lewis passed the catalog to her husband and picked up her wine glass.

“I knew the painting would get away from me,” Lewis said later as she filled out the paperwork to finalize the photos’ sale.

And she was right about the painting.

The last lot of the Jackson collection, within the first minute of bidding the Mickey Mouse painting had reached $8,000. Eventually, it climbed to a selling price of $20,000.

“I don’t know if I was grimacing,” Lewis said, recalling her bidding war. “(Online) they know how high they’re going up to. They make it a bigger hootenanny. It was annoying me.”

The tense sale done with, she smiled and imagined the Jackson photos in her home, where she plans to hang them in a row along the wall of a small hallway. “I just want to frame them, give them some nice lighting,” she said.

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