On the third anniversary of Michael Jackson's June 25, 2009 death, the world is still fascinated by any halfway-revealing Jackson artifact that turns up. The truly revealing ones intrigue us most, whether they're in the form of never-released demos or sad, handwritten notes. But we're also not above being curious when seemingly anything he ever verifiably touched turns up on the auction block, be it the red "Thriller" jacket, the headboard of his deathbed, or a surgical mask that contains "a single dark strand of Jackson's hair."
From the ridiculous to the (we can only hope) sublime, here are the most notable of Jackson artifacts that have made news in the months leading up to the three-year commemoration of his passing:
THE EXHAUSTED NOTE TO LISA MARIE PRESLEY. A handwritten note that Jackson penned to his then-wife was due to be the hottest item on the block at a recent auction before Julien's Auctions removed it from bidding out of a stated desire to maintain a good relationship with Presley. Presumably written some time between 1993-96, the missive established that Jackson's problems with sleeplessness predated his propofol-related death by many, many years. In spirit, it can be summed up as "Let me nap," but the full text read: "Lisa I truly need this rest I haven't slept litterally in 4 days now. I need to be away from phones and Business people. I must take care of my health first Im' crazy for you Love Turd." (That sign-off is one term of celebrity endearment we probably could have gone without knowing.)
THE QUEEN DUETS. Of all the outstanding recorded material that may or may not exist, is there anything more tantalizing than the prospect of unreleased duets between Jackson and Freddie Mercury? Queen guitarist Brian May revealed this spring that the surviving band members have received permission from the Jackson estate to release these previously unknown tracks. "Michael used to come and see us when we were on tour in the States. He and Freddie became close friends, close enough to record a couple of tracks together at Michael's house, tracks which have never seen the light of day," May said. But he didn't want to get anybody's hopes up for a rush-release. "The Michael Jackson estate are happy for us to go ahead with the music. But it's not something that we can rush."
THE MORBID HEADBOARD. Also pulled from a Julien's auction—this time at the behest of the estate—was the headboard of the bed in which Jackson died. (The mattress and other parts of the bed had been confiscated by the police as evidence and were never set to be included in the auction.) But the rest of the contents of Jackson's final home went on sale as scheduled and brought in nearly $1 million. Jackson's name wasn't officially attached to this particular auction, which was called "100 North Carolwood Drive" and featured items that belonged to the owners of Jackson's rented estate. He and his children had left his mark on some of them. here were bedroom chairs "smudged with Jackson's makeup." There was a rooster-shaped kitchen chalkboard that had the inscription "I (heart) Daddy. SMILE, it's for free." And there was one peculiar armoire...
JACKSON'S PEP TALK TO THE MAN IN THE MIRROR. Among the items at this last auction was an armoire with a mirror upon which Jackson had scrawled a message to himself. "Train, perfection" were the words on the top line. The next line laid out a simple timeline: "March April full out May," he wrote, presumably to remind himself how rapidly he needed to amp up his energy for the London comeback gigs that were scheduled for right after his death. Below these words was a stick figure. Jackson liked to draw those; a series of stick figures had been drawn into a separate shower bench that was on the auction block. But the one on the mirror oddly had its head bowed down or detached from the body, as if to indicate just how weary Jackson felt.
THE BAD OUTTAKES. The 25th anniversary of the Bad album is being commemorated with deluxe editions this September, including a full disc's worth of demos and outtakes from the original sessions. One track, "Don't Be Messin' Around," has already been released as a WalMart exclusive (as the "B-side" to a re-release of the "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" single). It's gotten a generally positive response from fans... maybe because, unlike the much-derided album of outtakes that Sony put out a couple of years ago, there have been no efforts to "finish" the obviously rough tracks. Everything on the bonus disc will purportedly be left in the form in which Jackson abandoned it, even if that includes ad-libs and instructions to the musicians. "One of the main intentions is to show that these are works in progress," said engineer Matt Forger. "To pull the curtain back. To actually see Michael in his natural work environment, how he directs, his sense of humor, his focus."
[Related: Jackson's brothers prepare for tour]
THE SURGICAL MASK. Bodyguard Eric Muhammad contended that the black mask he put up for auction was one Jackson wore the night before he died. It shows "visible traces of his makeup," the auction description promised, and bore "a single dark strand of Jackson's hair." No word on whether that singular hair had been glued to the mask to make sure it didn't come off in handling.
THE "THRILLER" JACKET. Last year, Julien's sold one of two red leather jackets Jackson wore in the "Thriller" video for $1.8 million. That broke the record for the highest sale ever registered by the auction house and may be the most valuable Jackson artifact ever. The jacket's designer was Deborah Landis, wife of the "Thriller" video's director, John Landis. (Ironically, John Landis has a yet-to-be-settled suit against the estate—which recently settled another suit brought by Jackson's female lead in the video, one-time Playboy Playmate Ola Ray.)
THE DEATH HOUSE. The Holmby Hills mansion where Jackson's life came to an end was listed for sale for $23.9 million... and, perhaps not surprisingly in this market, hasn't yet been nabbed. Pop star Robbie Williams was said to have been one of the first to tour the house when it was put on the market, but perhaps he didn't want to deal with the Jackson cultists' constant drive-bys in addition to his own fans. If you're looking for a nice property to "flip," the 17,171 square foot chateau located at 100 N. Carolwood Drive offers the buyer seven bedrooms and 13 (!) bathrooms in addition to the requisite movie theater and gym. Better hurry: TMZ reported late last month that a businessman had made a bargain-basement $17 million offer on the home that was probably an opening toward a negotiation. Meanwhile, if you want to buy the legendary Jackson estate on Hayvenhurst in Encino, you're out of luck on that one: Katharine Jackson's attorney said last fall that the family was withdrawing a motion to request permission to sell that world-famous home.
THE CATALOG OF UNRELEASED MATERIAL. Jackson fans expected a Tupac Shakur-style torrent of unreleased material to hit the market once Sony successfully negotiated for it, but so far, that hasn't been the case—although, as noted above, there'll be a trove of Bad outtakes released this fall. You can probably blame the tepid (or, really, terrible) reaction to the Michael album that was released posthumously in December 2010.. or maybe credit it for Sony being more careful about what they put out and managing the expectations for it. But Sony has some competition when it comes to releasing Jackson's shelved songs: hackers. In March, it was reported that Internet rogues had broken into the company's files and stolen hoards of the tunes Sony has been saving for eventual release.
THE DAVID LACHAPELLE PAINTING. This merits its own category, since it never belonged to Jackson and was created after his death. But it's a curiosity nonetheless: The artist and Jackson's dermatologist, Arnold Klein, have been locked in a legal battle over possession of "American Jesus," a controversial artwork created by LaChapelle as a Pieta parody, with Jesus cradling a Jackson lookalike in the way that Mary was depicted cradling Jesus. LaChapelle reportedly gave the piece to the "dermatologist to the stars" as payment for services, then took it back for supposed repairs, refusing to return it when he claimed he'd never gotten the dermatology he was promised. For now, the piece remains in police custody. In a Los Angeles Times news story, art theft detective Don Hrycyk sounded disgusted with both Klein and LaChapelle, saying he didn't want to give any more media attention to "these personalities" and that he'll be "glad to get rid of" the case. Wherever Jackson is, he can be glad this is one tacky property transfer case he had nothing to do with.