In the end credits of Leaving Neverland, the explosive HBO documentary in which two men detail years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson, is a series of undated photographs. They show accuser Wade Robson standing next to a bonfire, burning various pieces of memorabilia as his young son looks on—including, it seems, the famous jacket from the music video for Jackson’s hit “Thriller.” Could these be the authentic items going up in flames?
Mike Pesca, host of The Gist, asked director Dan Reed whether the items are “actual Michael Jackson–worn gloves and jackets,” and Reed responded that they’re the real deal. “Of course, it’s all genuine. I verified this with Wade,” he said in an interview. “He’s not gonna go and buy some Michael Jackson memorabilia on eBay and then burn it in front of his little boy. I mean, come on.”
Robson does say in the documentary that, while he and his family were visiting Jackson’s home in Hayvenhurst, Jackson let him pick out souvenirs from his wardrobe. He specifically names a pair of buckled gloves from the “Bad” music video and a white fedora from the “Smooth Criminal” music video. But Robson sold both items through Julien’s Auctions in 2011, for $31,250 and $49,920, respectively. Julien’s recently verified the sale on Twitter in response to critics of Robson, who are accusing him of participating in the documentary for financial gain.
In any case, it’s actually Safechuck, not Robson, who says Jackson let him take the “Thriller” jacket home. “I wore it to the grocery store,” he says in Leaving Neverland. But was it the “Thriller” jacket? And then what do we see Robson preparing to burn?
It was costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, wife of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” director John Landis, who put Jackson in the original Marc Laurent Paris jacket for the video to make him appear more “virile.” That jacket sold for more than $1.8 million to a Texas commodities trader in 2011, so it’s presumably not the one Robson burns. But that isn’t the only “Thriller” jacket ever to exist. The 1983 video was used by Jackson’s longtime collaborators Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush to design additional versions for Jackson to wear at his concerts over the years. Further complicating matters is that after Jackson’s death, his brothers launched the J5 collection with 1,000 signed collector’s edition replicas of the “Thriller” and “Beat It” jackets in Jackson’s size.
The result is that there are tons of sanctioned “Thriller” jackets floating around (to say nothing of copycats and knockoffs), many of them signed by Jackson and later auctioned off. Here’s one sold in 2010, with a black signature from Jackson on the breast pocket. Here’s another from 2012, this one signed in silver on the back. Yet another, sold in 2011, comes with a lively backstory: “The jacket is accompanied by a letter from the jacket’s original owner, who obtained the signature when he attended the September 11, 1988, show during Jackson’s Bad World Tour in Liverpool, England. He accompanied his sister backstage after she fainted. Together with the original concert ticket from this show. size 36.”
Slate has reached out to Reed to ask him to clarify which jacket Robson burned and will update this post with that information. In the meantime, he did offer an explanation for why Robson burned anything at all. “The other day he described it as he wanted to, like, get the yuck off his body, get Michael off him, and by incinerating these mementos he felt that he was taking a step towards that, towards freeing himself,” Reed said. “He’s really moved on from there, and he’s done a lot of therapy and a lot of thinking. I think today you wouldn’t find him incinerating anything. He’s got better things to do.”