Last March, [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist] announced plans for his "This Is It" residency at the O2 arena in London. The 50-performance comeback bid would have been the King of Pop's foray back into the mainstream, and after he'd virtually disappeared from the music landscape for several years, the anticipation for his return to the stage was immense, with tickets for the first string of shows selling out almost instantaneously.
In reality, the singer had begun planning his return to the limelight much earlier, and with a characteristically Jacksonian flash that was both outrageous and improbable. In October 2005, only months after he was acquitted in his child-molestation case,
Jackson had already begun work with fashion designer André Van Pier on costume and set designs for a Las Vegas residency. A longtime friend of Michael and the Jackson family, Van Pier had previously designed costumes for sisters Janet and La Toya. But that wasn't all ...
In 2007, Van Pier, his partner Michael Luckman and artist Timothy Patterson garnered attention when New York's Daily News reported the team was working on a 50-foot Michael Jackson robot that would roam the Nevada desert. Visible to tourists landing at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, the monolith would be a walking advertisement for Jackson's show. "Michael's looked at the sketches and likes them," Luckman told the Daily News at the time.
But, as with many of Jackson's more over-the-top ideas, neither the show nor the robot ever came to fruition. (A rep for the Jackson family had not responded to MTV News' request for comment at press time.)
Living in Nevada during this time, Jackson reportedly entered talks with a number of Las Vegas investors, including casino owner and longtime friend Steve Wynn, but "Michael just couldn't raise enough money," Luckman said. Colony Capital, the Las Vegas equity firm that purchased much of Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch debt, also was reported to have considered recurring a Las Vegas show as an option for repayment. However, investors were reportedly reluctant to enter such a deal with Jackson in the wake of the trial.
Based on the increasingly extravagant promotional designs for the robot from the Van Pier design firm, the announcement of the project was intended in part to attract financiers as an early attempt to rehabilitate Jackson's public image, as well as satisfy his lifelong fascination with magical, childlike ventures.
It's unclear whether the robot would have — or could have — ever been built, although "Michael really liked the initial designs and wanted to use them somehow," Luckman explained. With Jackson living in Nevada, Van Pier worked with artist Patterson to repurpose his original robot concept into the design of a Michael Jackson hotel and casino that incorporated a "Transformers"-like Michael Jackson robot at its entrance.
"The idea came up as a proposal to build a giant robotic hotel," Patterson explained. "The face would move, shooting laser-beam-looking lights. The whole building would be covered with spotlights." Though André Van Pier passed away in August of 2008, Luckman and Patterson continued to develop the hotel/ casino concept after his death.
While Jackson's plans for a Las Vegas show came to a halt when he prepared for the "This Is It" concerts earlier this year, he remained interested in settling down in Las Vegas after the conclusion of his London engagement in 2010. In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Jackson realtor Zar Zanganeh spoke of a $16.5 million home in the same neighborhood as Wayne Newton and casino owner Phil Ruffin that Jackson intended to purchase.
"For some time, he was looking for additional lease properties — he wasn't sure if he was going to be staying in Vegas long-term — and when things looked like they were shaping up, we started looking at homes for him to purchase," Zanganeh told the Sun.
Just as Jackson remained hopeful about returning to Vegas, Luckman and Patterson also hoped the pop star would come back to the desert, where they were confident that he might one day be able to use the monolithic robot design Van Pier had come up with.
"We were supposed to meet with him in London this November," Patterson explained. "But then André died," and, on June 25, Jackson himself died. The London meeting would have been Jackson's first viewing of the re-imagined robot/hotel concept.
The duo can't say how interested Jackson might have been in becoming a Las Vegas casino owner after his return from London, and there are currently no known plans to build either the robot or the casino.