The King of Pop Makes a Royal Visit

You'll never guess what had to be installed in Michael Jackson’s hotel when he visited Pittsburgh.



Already world-famous for his energetic singing and dancing, Michael Jackson was 12 years old when he first came to Pittsburgh with his four older brothers to perform at the Civic Arena on July 30, 1971. They returned to the arena in July 1972 and July 1973; when they came in 1974, they performed at Three Rivers Stadium. In October 1979 and August 1981 — now as The Jacksons, rather than The Jackson 5 — they were back at the arena.

Despite all those earlier shows, Michael’s solo appearance here in 1988 seems to be his best-remembered trip to Pittsburgh. Having just conquered Europe and the United Kingdom, he kicked off the second American leg of his phenomenally successful Bad tour with three shows at the Civic Arena on Sept. 26, 27 and 28.

People who worked at the arena at the time recall the preparation as extraordinary. It was helpful that Jackson’s manager, the late Frank DiLeo, was a native of Point Breeze who wanted his family and friends to see the show. A trio of arena employees traveled to the tour’s first domestic dates at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., seven months in advance, to check out the innovative presentation.

Ida D’Errico, then the Civic Arena Corporation’s director of marketing and public relations, remembers that show: “Everyone in the audience — which included many well-dressed families — was riveted to the stage, mesmerized and awestruck. With everyone standing on their chairs, you couldn’t take your eyes off Michael for fear of missing something.”

By that time, Jackson was already notoriously eccentric and fearful of bacteria, and he had lots of special requirements in his contract. He insisted on a leather couch in the dressing room — black, navy or gray — which D’Errico borrowed from Kaufmann’s.

Jackson stayed in the penthouse suite at the Vista (now the Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh). D’Errico remembers that a “professional wooden dance floor” had to be installed there so Jackson could practice — and “cool down” after his shows.

The three nights sold out quickly. Jackson pleased everyone with a set list that included a Jackson 5 medley as well as huge production numbers for “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal,” ending the main set with an unmatched trio of hits: “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Bad.”

Local music reviewers liked the shows. Peter B. King of The Pittsburgh Press wrote, “It ain’t natural how Jackson moves, like liquid that somehow holds to a human form.” Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was impressed, too: “The show was fresh and even ‘bad’ (in the street sense of the word).”

D’Errico remembers that the gray couch was returned to Kaufmann’s, but it had been scarred with lots of cuts and scratches. Jackson’s costume was decorated with many metal buckles that tore into the leather over the three days that he sat on it. When D’Errico explained to the department store what caused the damage, she wasn’t held responsible. As she pointed out, the couch was now a priceless collector’s item. 


Thanks to Lance Jones, Michael Gentille, Scott Mervis and Ida D’Errico.


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Then and Now: How 4 Iconic Pittsburgh Buildings Evolved over Time

Then and Now: How 4 Iconic Pittsburgh Buildings Evolved over Time

These expertly constructed downtown landmarks with striking architecture have stood the test of time.
VisitPITTSBURGH’s Newest Video Ad: Bring the Kids

VisitPITTSBURGH’s Newest Video Ad: Bring the Kids

The Kidsburgh campaign will debut in May in selected markets no more than a day’s drive from Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh's Dog Rescuers

Pittsburgh's Dog Rescuers

Two local businessmen have found a worthwhile weekend job –– flying dogs in need of rescue.
Cutch as a Steeler? Tomlin Likes the Idea

Cutch as a Steeler? Tomlin Likes the Idea

The Steelers coach says he has just the right role in mind for the Pirates outfielder.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Todd Kreidler, who helped to conceive the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright’s final written work, returns to Pittsburgh to direct that play, continuing his mission to keep the master’s words alive.
Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Lawrenceville hot spot Tender, once favored primarily for its libations, now is known as well for its culinary offerings.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module