Last week’s untimely passing of entertainer Michael Jackson brought back memories of a brief encounter I had with the pop star 20 years ago.
The $630 million Mirage was a week from opening in November 1989, becoming the Strip’s first new resort in 15 years.
I was scheduled to interview Mirage developer Steve Wynn for a preview article. While waiting in the executive office reception area, the door swung open and out walked what appeared to be a very realistic Michael Jackson impersonator.
“It’s him,” the receptionist said smiling, noticing my perplexed look.
Jackson had been hanging around the hotel’s under-construction theater, watching as entertainers Siegfried & Roy rehearsed their much-hyped show that wouldn’t open for several months.
Alan Feldman, who at the time was an executive with the worldwide public relations firm Hill & Knowlton and was handling The Mirage’s media relations, said Jackson had been at the resort for about a week.
I thought the encounter would make a nice anecdote for the preview article until we arrived back at Wynn’s office for my interview about 45 minutes later. Feldman and I were sitting at a conference table when Wynn entered with Jackson in tow.
Jackson decided to sit in on the interview. When I say, sit in, I mean just that. He hardly uttered a word. It was little odd, to say the least, sitting across the table from one of the world’s greatest and most mercurial entertainers while Steve Wynn waxed on and on about the virtues of the Strip’s newest icon.
All of sudden, Wynn was called out of the room. It was just Feldman, the King of Pop, and myself.
I tried to make some small talk with Jackson.
I asked him what he thought of The Mirage. All he muttered was, “It’s beautiful.” I then asked him if would like to perform at the resort. He just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I wish Steve would come back so I wouldn’t have to answer any more questions.”
I noticed Jackson was wearing a jacket with the logo of the National Hockey League’s Minnesota North Stars. I decided to play on our mutual Los Angeles ties. We were both raised in Southern California.
“I thought you would be a Los Angeles Kings fan,” I said to Jackson. He gave me a perplexed look until I pointed at the North Stars logo. Jackson said a friend gave him the jacket.
Wynn returned a few moments later. Then, Siegfried & Roy's personal manager, Bernie Yuman, flew into the office trailed by friends, excited to see Jackson.
An annoyed Wynn yelled to his secretary to “get Bernie the (bleep) out of here!”
Yuman disappeared with Jackson and the encounter was over.
I returned to the Review-Journal newsroom and relayed the crazy tale. I then asked then-photo chief Jim Laurie where he had been. He was scheduled to photograph Wynn for my story. Remember, this interview took place before cell phones, text messaging and Twitter.
Laurie had shot some photos the day before of Wynn and decided he had something we could use. When I told him Michael Jackson sat in on the interview, his mouth dropped open.
I used the Jackson encounter as the article’s lead anecdote. Wynn called the day article appeared to thank me for the story.