The Night Bon Jovi Met Michael Jackson
On the five-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, author Zack O'Malley Greenburg demonstrates the late superstar's work ethic with an anecdote from his new book in which the Jersey rockers get a visit from Bubbles the Chimp.
An unlikely encounter between the King of Pop and the Jersey rockers, revealed here for the first time, offers a rare glimpse into the private world of Michael Jackson — and sheds light on the other-worldly work ethic that helped him earn over $1 billion in his lifetime. Adapted from Michael Jackson, Inc: The Rise, Fall and Rise of a Billion-Dollar Empire (Atria Books, June 2014).
In September of 1987, Jon Bon Jovi and his eponymous band were still riding the buzz of Slippery When Wet, which had catapulted the group to international superstardom a year earlier. They were playing a handful of shows in Tokyo's 20,000-seat Budokan arena while Michael Jackson drew 135,000 fans over a sold-out three-night stand at nearby Korakuen Stadium. As it happened, they were all staying at the same hotel.
PHOTOS Inside Cirque's New Las Vegas Thriller 'Michael Jackson One'
One night, [Jackson manager Frank] Dileo called and asked if Bon Jovi would like to meet Jackson, an invitation the rocker gladly accepted. The hotel was shaped like a hand, with the palm containing an elevator bank. The fingers radiated outward, each its own wing with multiple rooms; on the top floor, one wing was blocked off for Jackson and his inner circle.
Dileo led Bon Jovi and his bandmates down a long corridor to the singer's suite, pausing to slick back his hair and extinguish his cigar before opening the door.
"The room had been ripped to shreds and redecorated," says Bon Jovi. "They put up mirrors against the wall so [Jackson] could practice his dancing, and a wooden dance floor in there. And they took over a wing of this hotel. Needless to say, spending money was not really an issue."
Jackson, however, was nowhere to be found. So Bon Jovi and his pals waited on the couch. When the singer finally arrived, he made quite the entrance, decked out in one of his trademark outfits from the Bad Tour: all black leather and buckles, a spandex shirt, belts draped over his shoulder. "When he entered the room, your eyes sort of had to focus again," Bon Jovi remembers.
The Jersey rockers, fresh from a string of tour dates in Australia — and new to the trappings of superstardom — immediately began regaling Jackson with tales from their trip. They were so big Down Under, they told him, that they had to buy wigs and fake mustaches to avoid paparazzi; the only way out of their hotel was in the laundry van. Jackson smiled and nodded, never giving away the fact that he'd been doing the same since his Jackson 5 days.
"So we made small talk, and he couldn't have been nicer," Bon Jovi says. "We kept saying, 'Michael, you're sitting up here by yourself, man, we're down two floors below you … we're all here, on nights off we're hanging out, come on down.' "
Again, Jackson smiled and nodded. Eventually Bon Jovi and his band bid their new friend adieu and headed back downstairs, hoping they might get to party later on with one of the only acts in the world bigger than them. But with each passing minute, they grew more certain that Jackson wouldn't be coming. Imagine their surprise when Jackson sent down Bubbles the chimpanzee to entertain them.
"We proceeded to get very drunk, have a bunch of water fights, knock on doors, typical classic rock star things to do in the '80s," Bon Jovi recalls. "And [we] blamed it all on Bubbles."
Jackson never came downstairs. And despite the fact that Bon Jovi showed up at Jackson's show, the singer didn't return the favor.
It wasn't out of any personal animosity but rather an unstoppable focus on his work.
"We were having a blast two floors below with Bubbles, and he was up there practicing his dancing," says Bon Jovi. "While we were being goofballs and enjoying our success, he was practicing even after the shows because he was just so ultra-uber-focused on being Michael Jackson. The blessing was the curse."
Adapted from Michael Jackson, Inc. with permission from the author. The book is available in bookstores and online.