Heartbreak Hotel: The day my dream came to an end

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At this time, four years ago to the day, I was sleeping. Shortly before calling it a night, after spending hours scouring Michael Jackson fan sites for tidbits on the upcoming “This Is It” concerts, of which I had tickets to seven throughout July and August of 2009, I stumbled across a tweet from one of the tour’s makeup artists, Jeffrey Baum.

Baum had tweeted that in the late hours of June 24, the entire “This Is It” cast of dancers, including Jackson himself, had performed a stunning rehearsal of “Thriller” – complete with costumes, makeup and 3D visual effects.

Needless to say I went to bed on a high that night, excited beyond belief at the prospect of witnessing my idol live on stage. Opening night at the O2 Arena was less than three weeks away. In just two weeks I’d be boarding a London-bound plane from Sydney, Australia. It was a surreal thought; a delusion almost. But it was real.

I dreamed of Jackson that night, in all his glory, moonwalking to the thumping drums and driving bass of “Billie Jean” while proving all the naysayers wrong. The King of Pop would again rule the entertainment world for all the right reasons. It was a dream come true.

And then, I woke up.

A friend of mine, also a huge Michael Jackson fan, had recently taken a liking to pulling MJ-related pranks on me. “Dude, the new Michael Jackson single has leaked,” he’d say to me. “Follow this link and check it out. It’s amazing!” And of course, I did. I wasn’t going to miss out on hearing the new Michael Jackson single! But the links always lead to ridiculous images, among other things – none of which were a new Michael Jackson single.

At around 6.30am on the morning of June 26, 2009 (in Australia) my cell phone rang. It was my prankster friend. He’d woken me up and I wasn’t happy about it. I knew his call would be, as usual, MJ-related, so I reluctantly answered it.

“Dude, Michael Jackson has been taken to hospital with a heart attack and some of the news reports are claiming he’s dead,” he said.

“Huh?” I responded. “I don’t believe you. It’s too early for this. You’ve woken me. I’m hanging up.”

I threw my phone on the floor and rolled over to resume sleeping.

Seconds later he called back, and I ignored it. I was not in the mood for practical jokes at 6.30am.

After 30 seconds he hadn’t called back. It appeared he’d got the message, so I went back to sleep; but only for a couple of minutes.

When I heard the piercing ringtone of my house’s landline phone, I knew. No one calls the landline phone; only for emergencies. My energy, my spirit and my joy seemingly evaporated in an instant.

My mother answered the phone, then knocked on my bedroom door.

“Damien, there’s a call for you,” she said. “Okay,” I responded, before taking the phone from her.

“I am not joking this time, I promise,” insisted my friend. “This is serious, Damien. Get to your computer immediately. It’s out of control. They’re all saying it’s true. They’re saying he’s dead!”

I jumped from my bed and rushed franticly to the computer. I had to prove that this was not the case. Surely it had to be some kind of mistake. The media make up the most disgusting rumours about Michael Jackson every day. This had to be another grotesque, untrue rumour. It had to be!

But it wasn’t.

“This is hard,” said Michael’s brother Jermaine Jackson to a packed press conference at UCLA Medical Centre – broadcast live around the world. “My brother, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson, passed away on Thursday June 25th 2009 at 2.26pm. It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home.”

I fell to the floor, screaming and crying.

What I felt I already knew, had been confirmed. We’d lost him. The world had lost him. His children had lost their father. His family had lost their brother, their uncle, their son. His fans around the world had lost their hero. And for what; some concerts?

I was completely heartbroken. Shattered. Crushed. This man, who I never met, yet felt I knew intimately, and inspired me in every step of my journey through life, was gone.

I spent the next hour or so watching the non-stop news coverage, coming to terms with the brutal reality of the situation.

And then, a knock at the door.

“Hi, Damien? We understand you’re a big fan of Michael Jackson?”

“What the fuck?” I thought to myself, tears still rushing down my face.

A local television news crew including reporter and two cameramen were right there, at my front door, merely hours after Michael had been confirmed dead. I couldn’t believe it.

“We were hoping to get your thoughts on Michael Jackson’s death,” they proposed.

“I’m sorry. No. I can’t,” I spluttered, choking up every time I attempted to speak.

“Okay, I understand,” said the reporter. “Can you recommend another fan in the local area we could speak to?”

I paused for a second. Although I didn’t want to do it, I couldn’t bare the thought of them interviewing someone who wasn’t as passionate about Michael Jackson as I was. I truly loved Michael Jackson in every sense of the word. I knew that there were many, many people out there just like me. I felt that the public should see how much of an impact Michael’s life had made on his truest, most loyal fans; and how much his passing had affected us.

So, I invited the crew in. They set up their camera and their lights, and made small talk while doing so. Then we sat down for the interview.

I wiped the tears away and with all my strength sat tall and strong for the camera, ready to do Michael Jackson proud. Michael often told us that resilience was important. “Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking.”

I was channeling my inner rhinoceros skin – and failing.

From the first question on, I burst into tears. We had to keep stopping, and starting over. Take after take for a just few simple questions. In the end, we gave up. They had a small amount of footage of me getting a sentence or two out, in which I explained that unless you were a fan in the way that I am, and that so many others are, you can’t begin to understand how we feel. That was enough for them and they ran with it.

After the failed interview they asked to see my room, to capture some filler footage of posters or CDs to show my level of fandom. The problem was, however, that I was moving house the next day. My entire collection of posters, music and memorabilia was packed away in boxes and mostly inaccessible, with the exception of a few albums and singles which I sprawled out across the dining table to please the crew.

“So we hear you dance like Michael Jackson too,” the reporter asked. “How about you dress up as MJ and dance around the living room for the camera?”

I was utterly offended.

“I think you’ve got enough footage,” I responded angrily, before escorting the crew out the door.

The footage that the crew had filmed was on-sold to other media outlets, quickly appearing in news reports all around the world – even in some documentaries you can buy at your local music store. I’ve received thank-you emails and messages of support from fans just like me in Germany, the United States, England and many other countries, who’d seen me crying my eyes out on their national news. They felt what I felt.

The reaction was unexpected to say the least, but it made me feel like I had done the right thing in allowing the crew inside to capture a piece of my broken heart.

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