Michael Jackson’s relationship with Las Vegas started at young age

Michael Jackson never performed an actual ticketed show in Las Vegas during his adult career. But he had a high profile in the city as a frequent visitor and, in recent years, a resident.

His association with Las Vegas began during the Jackson 5 era and continued to recent recordings in the studio at the Palms.

A teenage Jackson and his brothers performed on the Strip as the Jackson 5, starting in April 1974 at the original MGM Grand (now Bally’s). They performed at the hotel several times that year.

It was there Jackson, then 15, befriended magicians Siegfried & Roy, who were a specialty act in the "Hallelujah Hollywood!" revue at the same hotel. The friendship held through the years, with Jackson eventually supplying the theme song to "Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage."

Jackson also was a guest for long stretches in the poolside villas of The Mirage during the ’90s, when his friend Steve Wynn was hotel chairman.

"Michael was a wonderful dad and I feel very sad for the children," Wynn said Thursday.

The closest Jackson came to a ticketed performance was in February 1994, when "The Jackson Family Honors" was taped in front of a live audience at the MGM Grand Garden arena for an NBC special.

The event fell during the first time Jackson defended himself from accusations of child sexual abuse in a civil suit that was settled out of court. Instead of a performance, the show turned into more of a rally in Jackson’s defense, led by his friend Elizabeth Taylor.

The crowd screamed and cheered so much when Jackson came onstage that it took several minutes for the entertainer to be able to continue with his presentation.

Jackson had a difficult time getting through the evening’s stated business — a tribute to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy — because of screams from the audience expressing support for the singer.

Taylor had to silence the crowd when they screamed for Jackson to perform, and they booed when she told them he was not prepared.

"Enough of tabloid media. Enough of tabloid television," Taylor proclaimed from the stage. "Only you (the public) can accomplish this simply by not buying their garbage. Only you can put them out of business."

He did join in the group finale.

Jackson started turning up more frequently in Las Vegas beginning in 2002. He received the key to the city from Mayor Oscar Goodman in October 2003, and lived here with his children during a six-month stretch in 2007. He returned in the summer of 2008, living for a few months in a residence on Palomino Lane. It was not immediately known how recently he had lived in Las Vegas, but CNN reported he relocated from the valley to Los Angeles in May.

During the filming of a controversial British documentary that aired in 2003, journalist Martin Bashir followed Jackson on shopping sprees around town.

Jackson created a media circus on Nov. 20, 2003, when he returned to Las Vegas from Santa Barbara, Calif., after posting $3 million bail following charges of child molestation. A slow-speed car chase ensued as local and national media followed from the air and ground Jackson’s Lincoln Navigator as it seemingly wandered the streets of Las Vegas and Henderson. Fans also tried to track Jackson, and live television coverage showed the singer offering a gloved hand to fans who ran into traffic to touch him.

Jackson stayed at Green Valley Ranch and the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas before moving back to California to await trial. After being exonerated in June 2005, he left the country for 18 months, splitting time between Dubai and Ireland before flying to Las Vegas on Christmas Eve 2006 with his children.

He ended the stay in June 2007, leaving a Summerlin rental home in what Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke reported as a "filthy" shambles, citing an eyewitness.

Piles of junk were left on the curb at the home, and two Christmas trees draped with ornaments were still in place inside the house. "They left the Christmas trees up like it was still December," said Clarke’s source.

During his stay in Las Vegas, Jackson and his children often were spotted at local shows and attractions. All of that fueled reports that Jackson was pursuing a Celine Dion-type residency on the Strip.

The rumors built to such a level of plausibility that Wynn, chairman of Wynn Resorts, had to issue an official denial of any plans to host Jackson in June 2005.

Rumors cranked up again in June 2008 when Colony Capital — owner of the Las Vegas Hilton — came into control of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in California, fueling speculation that Jackson would perform to pay off the debt. The Wall Street Journal reported a possible tribute show at the Hilton similar to Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show "Love."

"Mr. Jackson wouldn’t be a regular part of the performance but would appear for 20 to 30 performances a year, possibly with his brothers," the Journal reported.

Though Jackson dined with choreographer Kenny Ortega at Wynn Las Vegas in January 2007, the comeback they discussed ended up being scheduled for London instead of Las Vegas.

George Maloof chatted often with Jackson about a year and a half ago, while he resided and recorded at the Palms for two months. Some of the material appeared on the 25th anniversary of his "Thriller" album, released last year. It’s not known how much more of his work there remains unreleased.

"He touched base about every other day just to say hi," Maloof said Thursday. "He was always a gentleman. Never asked for anything outrageous. He always asked if I was in the middle of something, and said he could call me back if I was."

Maloof said Jackson was "real private" about what specifically he was recording, and that he recorded in his room as much as in the Palms’ studio.

Since privacy was such a concern, Maloof tried to keep a lid on his residency. This led to an awkward moment while Maloof gave Jackson and his three children a tour of the Sky Villa.

"I didn’t know how to operate the remote-control system," Maloof said. "And I didn’t want to call engineering, because I snuck him in and I didn’t tell anybody in the whole hotel that he was there."

As Maloof pressed buttons haphazardly, one began blasting a tune from one of the Palms’ piped-in music channels. It was "Billie Jean."

"It was the craziest thing ever," Maloof said. "He looked at me and said, ‘Well, we know it works.’ "

Jackson was credited as producer when he financed the Pasadena, Calif., staging of a theatrical musical "Sisterella" by Las Vegas composer Larry Hart in 1996.

After the premiere, "Michael hosted a celebration at Neverland, and invited my family and the whole cast. That visit became the first of many," Hart said in a statement Thursday. "On (the) closing day, Michael came to see the show and see us off before we left to go on tour in Europe.

"The last time I heard from Michael was last October. He left a voice mail message for me to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and that message is more poignant today, as it was surprising and touching then," Hart said in the statement.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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