Five years after his death, Kevin Mazur recalls one of the last time he photographed Michael Jackson at rehearsals for shows in London that were never performed.
The last time I photographed Michael was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
I had worked with Michael over the years, the first time in 1988 when I shot the opening of the ‘BAD’ World Tour for Rolling Stone magazine. That's also where I met Sheryl Crow who was one of his backing singers at the time.
I photographed him performing many times over the years, right up to his 30th anniversary special at Madison Square Garden in 2001. That was one of the last times people saw him performing and he had only performed a total of 20 minutes. So the ‘This is it’ tour would be interesting, he was older and everyone had their doubts about whether he could pull off 50 shows. I was to shoot rehearsals at the Staples Center before he would take the tour to London.
When I got to rehearsal, I photographed him performing 13 songs without stopping. He wasn’t tired, he was going toe to toe with the young dancers, and he was on top of his game. He was absolutely going for it, giving it his all, not just going through the motions.
This was something I had learned about Michael over the years, he was a perfectionist.
On the second day of rehearsals he was going to run through the rest of the set. That was when I was supposed to do portraits and he was going to wear this crystal Swarovski jacket but it wasn’t ready so I never got to do them.
Everyone was so pumped about the tour and I was counting down the days. I couldn’t wait to get to the next rehearsal. At the end of rehearsals, I said goodbye and he said “See you tomorrow” in that distinguishable voice and I explained that actually, I would see him next week to shoot him in the jacket.
And then the next day he died.
When I got the news, I was in London shooting with Elton John and Justin Timberlake. Earlier in the evening, they had been asking me how was he, how was the performance and I told them he was in pretty good shape. Then half way through the event, I saw everyone looking through their phones and Elton came up to me and said Michael Jackson had just died.
I told him I didn’t think it was true, I thought it was another media rumor. I went to get my phone out of my pocket and it was full of messages. I called Michael’s people and they confirmed and told me not to talk to any media.
On the last day I photographed the tour rehearsals, I didn’t see anything suspicious. Michael was always very kind and nice to me. I loved photographing him over the years, on and off stage. It was such a pleasure shooting with him; he was always giving 110%. He always wanted to outdo himself.
There was nothing like watching him dance and moonwalk. When I first saw him moonwalk years ago, I just thought “How does he do that?”
When he died, I was really taken aback. I felt bad for his kids and the fans. Then I had to shoot the memorial, it was heart wrenching to hear his kids talk on stage, particularly Paris. I was shooting with tears in my eyes.
At one point I was backstage and it was just me, the brothers and Usher with the casket. They were lying on the coffin and crying, it was so hard to take pictures.
Michael will forever be the King of Pop. There’s nobody like him, no one can be him. That’s how he is remembered. People say Chris Brown dances like Michael or that Usher moves like him, but no one can beat MJ.
There will never be another Michael Jackson.
As told to Sarah Goodwin. One of Kevin's iconic pictures of Michael Jackson is currently the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.