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Don’t stop till you get enough

What does it mean to grieve for a celebrity?

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A wax figure and tribute to Michael Jackson stand in front of Madame Tussauds Las Vegas at The Venetian.
Photo: Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau

There was a time when Michael Jackson’s statue at Madame Tussauds wax museum, in the Venetian, wore a red-and-black outfit and black loafers. No more; wax Jackson now wears a militaristic spacesuit of white and gold. According to the museum, while on a private tour Jackson liked the red-and-black suit so much he offered to trade. (Oddly, the trade apparently didn’t include shoes; the statue is still wearing the black loafers.) So on Sunday, as tourists tossed their arms around the statue for photos, they had no way of knowing they were touching clothes from the late singer’s actual closet. In that moment, they were unwittingly closer to the star they were mourning than they ever could have been in real life.

Tussauds had placed Jackson outside the paid exhibit to be more accessible to fans. Signing the condolence book, many thanked Jackson for music that had transformed their lives. Typical comments: “Michael you will live in our hearts forever.” “I will always love and miss you.” “He was our Thriller.” A few expressed sympathy for the family, to whom the comments book will ultimately be presented. Of course, some took the opportunity to leave less solemn messages, which was inevitable and indicative of Jackson’s mixed legacy: “Just Beat It,” “Good night. See you later.” In front of the statue, fans left toy bears, about a dozen bouquets and handmade signs expressing eternal devotion to Jackson.

Michael Jackson Tribute @Madame Tussauds

The hardcore fans were no longer much in evidence Sunday afternoon. Few signed the comment book. That was probably just as well—based on the jokes and total lack of solemnity, many were looking for a souvenir photo with a star whose notoriety mattered more than the death of a man with a family.

One person placed his hand over the crotch for a photo of Jackson’s famous dance move. One bridesmaid in her dress posed with him while a second helped plot ways to bring the entire wedding party for a shot.

One suspects few celebrities outside Michael Jackson had the sort of fame in which, even in death, there was such a temptation toward frivolity and punch lines. One mother told her child he could not have his picture taken with even a wax MJ. “I don’t want you anywhere near that man,” she said. Then the son took a picture of his parents on either side of the statue.

Callie Morano, 16, visiting Vegas from Mississippi, posed for a few pictures with the statue. Was she a fan? “No.” Speaking over the Jackson music playing in the background, she explained, “He just died. It seemed appropriate. But I don’t like Michael Jackson.”

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Richard Abowitz

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