Death Benefits: Jackson Imitators Thrive

This Aug. 7, 2009 photo shows Frederick Henry performing a tribute to Michael Jackson during American Superstars at the Stratosphere Casino Hotel, Friday in Las Vegas. AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

Michael Jackson impersonator Frederick Henry had to go overseas to find steady work in recent years as the pop star's behavior got weirder and weirder. Many of his colleagues quit the business altogether.

But in the past few weeks, Henry's act at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas has become so hot that the hotel-casino had to beef up security to keep fans from swarming him after the show.

"It's been crazy," Henry said. "But it's all in fun - they're showing love."

The King of Pop's death has had an electrifying effect on business for those who make their living imitating Jackson in all his moonwalking, crotch-grabbing, tee-heeing glory.

One club proprietor hopes to launch a permanent Jackson show by the star's birthday in late August, and booking agents have seen surges in applications from would-be impersonators and calls for their services.

In a town in which guys made up like Elvis will marry you, serve as emcee at your business conference or sing "Viva Las Vegas" at your private party, Royal Talent, a booking agency for impersonators, said its Michael Jackson act is now the most requested.

Kenny Wizz, who has played the King of Pop since 1984, said: "It's a whole other ballgame. It's like wildfire now."

The Stratosphere recently revamped its billboard and magazine ads for its American Superstars show to feature only Jackson, even though the show includes five performers impersonating other music celebrities.

Henry became a full-time Jackson impersonator in 1995 and took the act overseas during Jackson's later years. Things were tough then in the United States, Henry said, as the celebrity battled allegations of child molestation.

Everything changed when Jackson died June 25.

Click here for complete coverage of Michael Jackson's life and death.

"Now is the time to shine again," Henry told fellow Jackson impersonators through a blog on MySpace. "It's been a long time for some of us Michaels to survive."

They responded with pledges to step up their acts, practice harder and sing better out of respect for the star and his fans all over the world.

Impersonators aren't the only ones hoping to profit from the outpouring of fan interest after the singer's death. A probate judge has signed off on a movie deal, and Jackson's estate want to put trading cards, calendars and other memorabilia on the market.

Some say Jackson's estate could be as lucrative as Elvis Presley's, which earned $55 million last year.

A recent show at Stratosphere went on with typical Vegas kitsch. A sweaty Elvis wearing gold and sequins serenaded a middle-aged audience member, and fans watched as a scantily clad Britney Spears impersonator tousled a man's hair. The tension peaked when the lights dropped and "Billie Jean" came on.

Out of a cloud of stage fog and spotlights, Michael Jackson materialized in a red jacket, white glove and thick eyeliner. Fans hooted as he did the moonwalk. They sang along on some of the choruses. They were enthralled when he descended from the stage and summoned a 10-year-old girl to dance with him as he sang in a soft falsetto.

Colleen, Fremont and Alex Courson of Dallas said they came to see both Jackson and Elvis and agreed both stars have Vegas staying power.

"Michael will be there just as long as Elvis," Colleen Courson said.

Lisa Bannock, 48, of Colorado, sat in the front row at the Stratosphere show and touched the Jackson lookalike's hand. "He was very good - he knew all the moves," she said.

After the show, Henry posed for photos with fans, wearing a bandanna over his face just as the real Jackson did. Henry had taken off some of his chalky makeup and stripped away the medical tape that gives him a thin nose like Jackson's surgically altered one.

Fourteen years after getting his start as a "Mike," Henry said he never gets tired of performing as "the greatest entertainer that ever lived." He also has a "big, fat contract" at the Stratosphere.

"I love it. I love it!" he said. "Plus, the check's nice."
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