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.


Hot Reads

Review: One Thirty One East

Review: One Thirty One East

Located in the southwest suburban community of Carnegie, One Thirty One East embodies the area’s renaissance.
Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

The charismatic Maggie Meskey had tended bar for years before landing her gig at downtown bourbon haven Butcher and the Rye.
12 Hot New Restaurants

12 Hot New Restaurants

A diverse crop of eateries caught our attention this year, so we’re highlighting some of our favorites.
13 Bartenders You Should Know

13 Bartenders You Should Know

Get acquainted with this group of charming bar professionals working in various establishments around the city.

The 412

Local Developer Creates Pittsburghese Plugin for Google Chrome

Local Developer Creates Pittsburghese Plugin for Google Chrome

Have a little fun as you search the Web.
Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

The creator of the app — which takes any playlist on your smartphone or tablet and plays it in one-minute pieces — reminds users to please drink responsibly.
NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

The group behind the station's Sandwich Monday blog series orders the iconic sandwich and writes a review.
Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

The results of the Gawker poll are in: We’re No. 1.

Hot Reads

Review: One Thirty One East

Review: One Thirty One East

Located in the southwest suburban community of Carnegie, One Thirty One East embodies the area’s renaissance.
Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

The charismatic Maggie Meskey had tended bar for years before landing her gig at downtown bourbon haven Butcher and the Rye.
Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

PittGirl doesn't know why we say "warsh" — but she has figured out why we 'Burghers hit the brakes at the sight of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.
12 Hot New Restaurants

12 Hot New Restaurants

A diverse crop of eateries caught our attention this year, so we’re highlighting some of our favorites.
13 Bartenders You Should Know

13 Bartenders You Should Know

Get acquainted with this group of charming bar professionals working in various establishments around the city.
40 Under 40: 2014

40 Under 40: 2014

In their own ways, the 40 men and women we introduce here show us daily how we can ensure that Pittsburgh is deserving of its Most Livable City title.