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Michael Jackson was "excited," ready for concerts

 Michael Jackson gestures during a news conference at the O2 Arena in London March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth - Reuters
Michael Jackson gestures during a news conference at the O2 Arena in London March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
— image credit: Reuters

By Mirja Spernal and Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Jackson was "excited" about performing a run of 50 live concerts in London for which he was rehearsing just before his sudden death in June, the director of a new movie about the "king of pop" said on Tuesday.

In the last few days of his life, Jackson also appeared to have "gone into another gear" and showed no signs of drug dependency, Kenny Ortega told Reuters in an interview.

"This is It," a feature-length film built around footage of the final Los Angeles rehearsals before Jackson's death on June 25 aged 50, hits theatres around the world on October 28 and looks set to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

"He was excited, looking forward to (it), happy, pleased with what we had accomplished up until that moment and looking forward to finishing up the rehearsals in Los Angeles and moving on to London," Ortega said.

"Those last few nights of rehearsals it seemed like he'd gone into another gear, and everyone really believed that we were about to embark on something that was going to be rather remarkable."

Asked whether Jackson had shown any signs of dependency on drugs, Ortega replied: "No."

Jackson died of a prescription drug overdose, and his death triggered fevered speculation about his physical state at the time and what drugs he may have taken.

According to Ortega, who had been working with Jackson on staging and choreographing of the "This Is It" concerts, the sellout shows were seen by the singer as his swansong.

"This was it, this was his final curtain call. I think that what Michael wanted to do was to retire from performance and focus on film making and other things.

"He had said to me before in confidence that he didn't intend to be out there in the world performing for much longer, so this opportunity came along where he thought that he was young enough to be able to do what it was that he loved, he wanted to share it with his children ... to do it for the fans."

NEW FOOTAGE

Journalists in London were shown about 12 minutes from the concert film and accompanying trailer.

Jackson was shown on stage rehearsing "Human Nature," from his hugely successful 1982 album "Thriller," apparently singing himself and working with musicians to coordinate the music with his dance moves.

He also performs "The Way You Make Me Feel" with a group dancers, and appears to be moving relatively well and freely.

Ortega said that at no time did Jackson suggest he was doing the concerts for the sake of money or of clearing his debts.

Despite enjoying one of the most successful careers in pop music that spanned 40 years, Jackson left behind debts estimated by some to be around $500 million.

The string of shows and other potential projects with concert promoter AEG Live would have gone some way to clearing those arrears.

Sony Pictures paid $60 million for the footage of Jackson in This Is It, and Jackson's estate and AEG Live were to share the profits. Pre-sales ahead of the theatrical release have been particularly strong in the United States, Japan and Britain.

(Writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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