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'A new Michael'

With the documentary 'This Is It' due out soon, some who worked with Michael Jackson recall his final days.

October 19, 2009|Chris Lee

Short of someone inventing Smell-o-Vision before Oct. 28's global rollout of the feature documentary "Michael Jackson's This Is It," fans will never get to know one of the most visceral aspects of working with the King of Pop.

"He had this amazing fragrance," said Mekia Cox, one of 11 backup dancers who worked with Jackson between April and June on "This Is It," his series of 50 sold-out concerts scheduled to start taking place at London's O2 Arena over the summer. The shows would have marked the superstar's return to performing after a 12-year touring absence.

Another dancer, Daniel Celebre, referred to Jackson's singular musk as "the love potion," recalling its ability to trigger an almost Pavlovian response in those downwind. "No matter what you're doing, as soon as you smell that smell, boom! You have to get more focused," Celebre recalled. "Because he needs to know we're having that love. And throwing the love around."

It's not uncommon for those who worked with Jackson in his final months to speak about the entertainer in emotionally overheated terms. Several close collaborators on what was being touted as Jackson's final tour -- a concert extravaganza that could have resurrected his finances, reestablished his cultural relevancy and spread messages of global interconnectivity, love and environmentalism -- seem to have gotten swept up in his grandiose vision. It's one that would have involved elaborate aerial dance numbers, the world's largest three-dimensional LCD screen, pyrotechnic illusions, 12 original short films and even the presence of a bulldozer and a children's choir onstage.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Michael Jackson: An article about the movie "Michael Jackson's This Is It" in Monday's Calendar said the singer died of acute intoxication by the anesthetic propofol and, according to his autopsy, had also been taking sedatives, anti-anxiety medications and painkillers. Jackson was administered a single painkiller, Lidocaine.

With the release of "Michael Jackson's This Is It" next week for a limited two-week theatrical engagement, his fans and doubters alike can see a nearly actualized version of that vision for themselves. To hear it from those who worked on "This Is It," the film will provide new insight into the private Jackson that few outside his inner circle ever see.

"Michael was a new Michael," said "This Is It" concert director Kenny Ortega, who also directed the film. "He was 12 years a dad, a businessman, an entertainer's entertainer. That wonderful, innocent part of Michael was ever present, but there was another Michael there with more worldly concerns. He had deeper reasons for wanting to do this than I've ever seen for him to want to do anything else before."

Consisting of digital video footage shot in rehearsals during the weeks before the production moved to London for final run-throughs, the movie also will throw Jackson's physical and mental bearing into stark relief -- at a time when many are still struggling to understand the circumstances surrounding his death. Jackson, 50, died of acute intoxication by the anesthetic propofol on June 25, and according to his autopsy, he also had been taking a laundry list of sedatives, anti-anxiety medications and painkillers.

Some people who worked with the entertainer daily, however, insist there were no outward signs of his drug dependence.

"He was on a whole new level," said backup dancer Dres Reid. "When you saw Mike, it was a different Michael. He had a swagger about him."

Ortega directed the singer's "HIStory" and "Dangerous" tours in the '90s and is the force behind the "High School Musical" franchise and the "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour." The director had been in talks with Jackson for more than two years about mounting some kind of performance. Yet Jackson had held out for a "substantial reason" to return to performing, Ortega said.

In March, Jackson called Ortega with news that he had signed to mount a series of concerts with promoter AEG Live.

"He started saying, 'Kenny, my kids are so fascinated with what I've been doing my whole life, they're like super-fans. So I want to share with my children now that they're old enough to appreciate it and I'm still young enough to do it,' " Ortega recalled.

The superstar intended his concerts as payback to fans and a platform to broadcast his concerns. "The messages in my songs, the ones I wrote 10 years ago, are more meaningful today," Ortega quoted Jackson as saying.

Associate director Travis Payne, a choreographer who had worked with Jackson on world tours and music videos since the early '90s, said: "This was to be the biggest platform possible for him to refamiliarize the messages that had been in his music and films for years. . . . Michael was going to remind everyone of the job we have to complete with regard to reversing our damage to the planet."

Although the pop icon was about $400 million in debt heading into "This Is It," Ortega insists their conversations never broached Jackson's financial predicament. Nor, despite Jackson's long absence from the world's stages, did the word "comeback" factor into their discussions.

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