“I’m very happy to be here,” Jackson told the audience. He then looked at Presley, who was smiling but also seemed nervous. “And just think, no one thought this would last.”
Jackson then removed his sunglasses, leaned in, and kissed Presley. The four-second kiss generated some of the loudest applause of the night from the crowd and dominated media headlines around the world, with some believing they had seen the couple consummate the marriage on national television.
They were the biggest item in show business. And Presley hated it.
“He knew I didn’t love that,” she said. Oprah Winfrey of the infamous kiss in a 2010 interview after Jackson died in 2009. “I would be there, awkward. And her hand was blue after we got off that stage. …I had squeezed it so hard. … But as his wife, she needed to do some things like that.”
The memorable moment in pop culture from nearly 30 years ago would be one of many that would follow Presley for the rest of his life. Presley he died Thursday in a California hospital at age 54. Her death was announced in a statement from her mother, Priscilla, just hours after Presley was taken to a hospital from her home in Calabasas, California. The cause of death was not reported.
Decades before they were married, Presley and Jackson met in Las Vegas in 1974 during one of the Jackson family’s shows at the MGM Grand, according to author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 book, “Michael Jackson: the magic, the madness, the whole story, 1958-2009.” Presley, who was 6 years old at the time, was a big fan of the Jacksons, especially Michael, who was then 16.
“I always liked him,” Presley recalled of Jackson in the 2009 book. “Michael fascinated me with his talent. I loved watching him dance. He wanted to get to know me better, but I always thought he was a little weird. I really didn’t want to get to know him any better than he already did.”
The two met again years later, in the early 1990s, at a private dinner hosted by artist Brett-Livingstone Strong, a mutual friend in Los Angeles. At the time, Presley was trying to find herself as a singer. Danny Keough, her husband, had produced a handful of songs for her, but had little confidence in herself as an artist and feared being compared to her legendary father, Taraborrelli wrote.
That changed once Jackson listened to her tapes and told Presley that she had “real talent,” a compliment that left the young artist floored. Strong recalled in the 2009 book that as the two were leaving the party, Jackson gave Presley a sharp look and said, “You and me, we could get in a lot of trouble. Think about it, girl.
From there, the two talked so much on the phone that Presley felt like she was seeing a totally different side of Jackson. When rumors of them being together intensified, they were meeting at Trump Tower in New York thanks to Jackson’s friend Donald Trump, who later brag, “I have known this secret for a long time.” Less than a month after she divorced Keough in 1994, Jackson proposed to her over the phone. Presley and Jackson married in a private ceremony in the Dominican Republic.
Months earlier, Jackson had settled out of court over allegations of child abuse in a deal that his lawyers said did not admit guilt. Concerned about his failing health and his addiction to painkillers, Presley said she “wanted to save him. I felt like I could do that,” according to Taraborrelli’s book. Part of that meant letting the world know that her marriage to Jackson wasn’t a publicity stunt.
“My married name is Mrs. Lisa Marie Presley-Jackson,” she said in a statement to the media after the ceremony. “I am very much in love with Michael and dedicate my life to being his wife. I understand and support it. We both hope to start a family.”
As the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards were about to begin, the announcer inside Radio City Music Hall turned the awards show into a wedding reception, introducing the newlyweds to the public for the first time: “Ladies and gentlemen, Please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jackson!
Salli Frattini, who helped oversee nearly two decades of MTV Video Music and Movie Awards shows, recalled that entertainment weekly in 2002 that MTV staff were “surprised” that Presley and Jackson were going along with the producers’ idea of having them start the show.
“We had gone to them with the whole concept [including the kiss], but I’m sure Michael improvised,” said the producer. “We brought them to a private gate and kept them in a private area. We kept him very quiet. They came down, did their thing, and when that was over, they left.”
Newspapers around the world headlined their coverage of the awards show with the kiss, and critics were highly amused by what they witnessed. In it philadelphia enquirer, Jackson was “inhuman as ever in a black military jacket”, while Presley looked “relatively normal in a skintight two-piece dress”. He New York Daily News wrote that Presley “seemed deeply embarrassed.” And the daily telegraph in Britain he claimed that Jackson had coerced Presley into “a grotesque display of public affection”.
“Few happily married men feel the need to kiss their spouses in front of an audience, especially an audience of 250 million people,” wrote the newspaper’s Tony Parsons. “But Michael Jackson is either too in love or too desperate.”
Presley filed for divorce from Jackson in 1996, citing irreconcilable differences, but later said that she and Jackson considered reconciling for years after their marriage ended. In what would be her last conversation in 2005, Jackson asked Presley if she still loved him. Presley, who years later admitted to Winfrey that she had closed herself off from having any emotion toward Jackson, told her ex-spouse that she was indifferent to him. The answer made him cry, she said.
“That’s part of the problem with my love life,” he once said of his marriages. I’m looking for someone similar to [my father]and no one could ever compare.”
But they always had that kiss in New York.
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