Michael Jackson mourned in Las Vegas

Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop" who once moonwalked above the music world, died today as he prepared for a comeback bid to vanquish nightmare years of sexual scandal and financial calamity. He was 50.

Rumors have abound for months here that Jackson was planning a comeback by anchoring a major hotel showroom on the Strip.  Various names and hotels have been bandied about including Steve Wynn and both the Wynn and Encore.

Those rumors came to halt this afternoon with news that Jackson had died of cardiac arrest at UCLA Medical Center in West Los Angeles.

In Las Vegas, Michael Jackson's wax replica is stationed at the front plaza at Madame Tussauds at the Venetian for fans who want to come by and pay their respects to the singer. Fans can leave cards, signs and can also sign a condolence book that will be sent to the Jackson family.

From the Review-Journal:

The Michael Jackson made of wax stood there, silently, as throngs of passers-by stopped to take a picture next to him.

Most smiled as family members snapped photos from a few feet away. Some cried. One grabbed his crotch in an exaggerated imitation of one of the King of Pop’s signature dance moves.

But the wax version of the deceased pop icon just stood there, wobbling occasionally when someone touched it. Its eyes, cast downward, seemed just a little bit sad.

After the real Michael Jackson’s death Thursday afternoon, officials at Madame Tussauds at The Venetian scrambled to get their wax figure out in front of the museum.

Attraction Manager Rosita Chapman said they wanted to share the figure — which has been with the museum since its inception 10 years ago — with everybody. They set up flowers, an “in loving tribute” sign and a guest book for people to sign.

It was nice, said 39-year-old Michelle Vermuele of Tucson, Ariz., who wrote in the book, “Rhythm like no other!!”

“I couldn’t believe the news,” she said after posing next to the figure. “I thought it was some sort of publicity stunt.

“It just seems very surreal.”

Carolyn Boyle, a 47-year-old from Scotland, hadn’t heard the news until she passed by the exhibit. An employee of Madame Tussauds broke the news to her and she broke down in tears.

After fighting to contain herself while her husband snapped a photo of her next to the figure, she said “It’s such a shame.”

The wax Jackson will be on display for the next few days, Chapman said, and people are invited to leave signs and other mementos next to it.

The influence of the pop star was immense. After 38-year-old Harald Woelke stood grimly by, the tourist from Germany explained how he owned every one of Jackson’s albums and how he became choked up when he heard the news.

“When you see ‘Germany’s Next Superstar’ — it’s like your ‘American Idol’ —there are at least 20 to 30 people doing Michael Jackson things, dancing and singing,” he said.

He signed the guest book, “4-ever dancing in our hearts!”

“I think everybody has a story about how much they loved him,” said Nicole Francis, who was visiting from New York City. “My co-worker had the Jackson 5 posters on her walls. For me I had the “Beat It” jacket.

“I don’t think I really believe it yet,” she said.

In a related story from our pal, Mike Weatherford:

Michael Jackson’s death caused Las Vegas impressionists and comedians to quickly alter their acts, turning satiric sendup into sincere tribute.

“We’ll turn it into a tribute, because I do a good impression of him,” Mirage headliner Terry Fator said before Thursday’s show. “We obviously won’t be able to do it tonight, but in the next couple of weeks we’re going to turn it into a tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of all time.”

In the short term, Fator said he would cut a segment where he dresses up as Jackson and asks a cowboy puppet named Walter for country music lessons. The cowboy is more than a little wary of the superstar.

“I don’t think we were too hard on him. It was really very upbeat. We poked a little fun at him but obviously we can’t do that anymore,” Fator said of the bit.

“I am and always have been a Michael Jackson fan. That’s why I am able to sing like him, and also why I never got mean about it or took low blows,” Fator added.

“I am just heartbroken. I really wanted to meet him one day. I’ve been a big fan since I was a little kid.”

Golden Nugget headliner Gordie Brown did meet Jackson, tracking him down as a young fan and presenting the pop star with a portrait he drew when the “Victory” tour stopped in Montreal in September 1984.

“I think I’ll just speak about it more than do anything close to an impression,” Brown said Thursday afternoon. Through Wednesday, his Jackson impression was a “Billie Jean” song parody with jokes about the singer having body parts fall off after too much plastic surgery.

“Tonight it’s gotta go. I’ll speak from the heart,” Brown said. “In the future I’ll change it in a way that’s respectful. ... It’s a shame this iconic entertainer passed so frickin’ suddenly. It’s unbelievable.”

Brown said Jackson was “my first impression beyond Elvis” back in the ’80s, when he was a political cartoonist just thinking about becoming an entertainer.

Brown checked into a suite he couldn’t afford at the hotel where Jackson was staying in 1984, and talked security into letting him present the singer the portrait he had drawn. “They said, 'It looks pretty good, because if it didn’t we’d have shooed you away by now.’”

Jackson signed a copy of the artwork that hangs in Brown’s home. “That taught me about the secret in life: If you want something, go after it. That’s how the universe is going to give it to you.”

“American Superstars,” which features Frederick Henry in a serious tribute to Jackson, happened to have Thursday as its regular night off at the Stratosphere. “We’re still scheduled to go forward (today)” producer Mark Callas said. “We’re looking for guide light on how to do it respectfully.”

Carrot Top’s publicist, Steve Flynn, said the comedian’s crew immediately started editing the show-closing rock sequence, which features Jackson’s music, upon hearing he died. Carrot Top removed all jokes that made fun of Jackson, but kept in a moment where he strikes a Jackson pose in front of an industrial fan, repositioning it as a tribute. He also planned to make an impromptu toast to Jackson in Thursday’s show

In Los Angeles:

Fans in Hollywood are said to be upset that they can't get to Jackson's star in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater on the famed "Walk of Fame" because of the premiere for the new comedy, "Bruno".

Only in America.