Courtesy of VIBE.com
ON JUNE, 27 1999, Michael Jackson nearly died for his music. But the 70,000 screaming fans packed inside Munichâ€™s sold-out Olympic Stadium that night had no idea he had just cheated death. They were all too caught up in the spectacle that was Michael Jackson & Friends, a televised extravaganza with elaborate staging.
While his fame in America had waned since child abuse allegations cut short his Dangerous tour in 1993, Jacksonâ€™s â€˜96-â€™97 HIStory trek played to a record 4.5 million spectators, grossing more than $165 million. But only a few of those 82 concerts were staged in the United States. Taping this all-star concert in Germany was Jacksonâ€™s way of showing gratitude to the loyal European subjects who still revered him as the same King of Pop who sold more than 51 million copies of 1982â€™s Thriller.
After a greatest hits medley, Jackson launched into an 11-minute version of his green anthem â€œEarth Song,â€ which would culminate with a tank rolling on stage and Jackson standing in its path like a protester from Tiananmen Square. â€œWhere did we go wrong?â€ he wailed from atop a metal platform 30 feet above the stage. â€œWhat about us?â€ a mighty choir answered as the audience wept and cheered. And then, somewhere in mid-song, the wires supporting the sturdy platform snapped.
â€œThe local crew evidently put the wrong cable wire on the metal and the bridge came crashing down into the orchestra pit with Michael on it,â€ recalls the showâ€™s producer Kenny Ortega, who would go on to direct Jacksonâ€™s critically-acclaimed concert documentary This Is It. â€œMichael felt the fall. He knew it was happening and timed his jump as the bridge hit the ground,â€ Ortega says, incredulous. â€œAnd he continued to do the show!â€
The scrambling stagehands and tour executives were horrified. â€œWerenâ€™t you trembling in fear?â€ Ortega asked him minutes after the gig. Jackson responded like he was reading a script from one of those endearingly cheesy 1930sâ€™ musicals: â€œWell, Kenny, I always was taught that the show must go on.â€