Las Vegas, Nevada
November 2, 2009
The thumping beats
of “Billie Jean” started up. On the dark stage, a spotlight
illuminated the performer wearing a black hat and a single glove.
The crowd erupted with loud cheers and applause.
But it wasn’t Michael Jackson -- at least not the real one. Still,
it was about as close as it gets.
William Bostick had been perfecting his Michael Jackson tribute for
more than a quarter of a century and was an integral part of
“Legends in Concert” for many years. He was so good, in fact, that
the superstar had befriended Bostick after one of his tribute shows
and offered him some tips.
Though William had always put on a great show, that October night in
1998 was different. He was moonwalking his heart out on the stage at
Las Vegas’ Imperial Palace – for the real Michael Jackson in the
Sue Cirone, then a captain at the casino, recalls hearing from a
coworker that morning “that Michael Jackson might be coming to the
‘Legends’ show that night. And he said that I might want to bring my
daughter to meet him. She was 9 years old and a huge fan. She was
really excited, and nervous, too. Everyone was.”
“No one was sure that Michael was going to show up, but it was a
real possibility,” remembers Jillian Hrushowy, a production manager
for ‘Legends’ for the past 15 years. “The band was sitting in their
places, getting ready for the 7:30 show, and a stagehand told us,
‘Yes, it’s true, he’s here.’ Well, right then you could absolutely
feel the electricity in the room.”
Jackson, wearing a signature black hat and dark sunglasses, had
quietly slipped into booth 206 after the lights went down, and was
completely surrounded by his entourage. “I have never seen that much
undercover security here, ever,” says Sue, who’s worked at the
Imperial Palace for 29 years.
Sue has witnessed the real Kenny Rogers sing at a “Legends” show
(“Nobody in the audience knew it was the real Kenny!” she says,
laughing). Other high-profile celebrities like Shania Twain and the
Righteous Brothers have dropped by to see themselves portrayed on
stage. But nobody matched the star wattage of Michael Jackson. “He
was certainly the most celebrated personality that we’ve ever had
come to the show,” says Jillian.
And even though the audience didn’t have a clue that the Gloved One
was in the same room -– “Only the people who worked at the I.P. and
at ‘Legends’ knew that he was there,” says Sue – they sensed that
there was something different about this performance.
“There was definitely a buzz in the room,” Sue recalls.
Jillian agrees. “The band – everyone in the show – worked their
butts off that night. The whole place was on fire. It was amazing!”
Michael Jackson stayed to watch his impersonator sing, twirl and of
course, moonwalk, through five songs: “Remember the Time,”
“Thriller,” “Jam,” “Heal the World” and “Billie Jean.”
“For ‘Heal the World,’ there was a scrim with a globe projected on
it,” remembers Zach Thalheimer, a technician for “Legends” who had a
bird’s-eye view of the show. “I remember looking out and seeing
Michael pointing up at it and him saying, ‘That’s cool.’”
To memorialize that eventful night, Sue has a picture of her
daughter and her friends with Jackson. Thalheimer didn’t get a
photograph, but he did come down from his perch high above the stage
to mingle with excited fans. “I definitely got a bit giddy,” he
says. “And I just thought it was really special that he would take
the time to come see William.”
In fact, the superstar later met up with the performer and
congratulated him on a great performance. “William told me that
Jackson was very proud and very pleased,” says Jillian.
But when she thinks back to that fateful night, Jillian does wish
she could change one thing. As production manager, it was she who
had filled out a comp slip with Jackson’s name on it. “I was going
through some stuff a while ago and saw that slip that I’d saved,”
she says. “I thought, ‘What will I ever want this for?’ Boy, do I
regret throwing it away.”
After the passing of Michael Jackson on June 25, the performer
portraying the King of Pop in “Legends” became even more important.
Currently that honor belongs to Damian Brantley, a 10-year veteran
of the tribute artist genre, who introduced Foxwoods’ audiences to
the tribute show this summer at the casino property in Connecticut.
Damian, who is now headlining “Legends,” still gets very emotional
recalling that June day. “We happened to be rehearsing my set in the
Fox Theater and were in the middle of ‘Billie Jean.’ One of the
techs came by and told us that Michael was gone. It seemed so out of
But as they say, the show must go on. “I’m here to help audiences
remember Michael and highlight the memories that they hold dearest,”
Damian says. “That’s my job, to recreate the highlights. I’m just
playing my very small role in helping his legacy live on.”
And most important, he notes, is honoring Michael’s memory in a
respectful way. “With his passing, there are people coming out of
the woodwork calling themselves tribute artists, when in fact, they
are turning it into a parody,” Damian laments. “At ‘Legends,’ we
have handled the situation delicately; we have been doing this a
long time and I do my utmost to do a respectable rendition of the
“Legends in Concert” with Damian Brantley as Michael Jackson is
currently running at Harrah’s Las Vegas. For Tickets and show
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Jennifer Ceaser is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New
York, whose work can be seen in a variety of newspapers and
magazines including The New York Post, Gotham Magazine (New York),
L.A. Confidential and Social Affairs (Miami). Her favorite Michael
Jackson song is Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
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