At height of his fame, Jackson thrilled Knoxville

Michael Jackson is seen backstage at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 28, 1984.

Photo by REED SAXON

Michael Jackson is seen backstage at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 28, 1984.

Michael Jackson brought down the house at Neyland Stadium 25 years ago when he moonwalked to his song "Billie Jean."

It was a defining time for the "King of Pop," who died Thursday in Los Angeles. He was arguably the world's biggest star, singing his biggest hit and performing his most famous move.

It was also a defining time for Knoxville. The "Victory" tour, featuring the Jacksons (Michael plus his brothers Randy, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon), was an ambitious undertaking for the city that had two years earlier hosted the World's Fair.

The tour pulled into Knoxville for three shows Aug. 10-12, 1984, wedged between dates at New York City's Madison Square Garden and Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome. Tour promoters Stadium Management Inc. reported selling some 120,450 tickets for the three shows at a going rate of $29.75 each. The largest crowd, estimated at more than 50,000, attended the Saturday, Aug. 11, show, which was the 16th performance of the tour and its biggest audience to that point.

Knoxville's hotels were packed for the occasion, and the Jacksons themselves stayed at the Airport Hilton in Blount County, taking a mile-long motorcade up Alcoa Highway to perform at the stadium.

The single-glove-wearing Michael Jackson was the main draw. Although he was known as an eccentric, he had yet to suffer the scandals that would eventually ruin his reputation and career.

Ron Payne of South Knoxville, a longtime Jackson fan, attended the Friday, Aug. 10, performance.

"Though I was 17 years old, it was like being 3 or 4 years old," says Payne. "It brought back a bunch of childhood memories. It was awesome."

The tour's stop wasn't without problems. Rain washed over the stadium the first two nights and scalpers took a bath because despite the hefty attendance figures, the shows weren't sold out. There were also death threats against Jackson, as well as religious protesters who demonstrated outside the stadium. Worst of all, an accident claimed the lives of two pedestrians - 9-year-old Lisa Neuenschwander of Houston and her grandfather, Knoxville physician Dr. Harold Neuenschwander, 68 - when they were struck by a vehicle as they stood in the median at Circle Park and Volunteer Boulevard after they attended the Aug. 10 show.

Still, for a few days Knoxville was the epicenter of Michael Jackson's kingdom when he was at the peak of his reign.

Entertainment writer Randall Brown contributed to this report. Entertainment editor Chuck Campbell may be reached at 865-342-6443.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2009 Knoxville.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Already activated? Login