Nate Giorgio, an artist who Michael Jackson relied on to illustrate him over the years, recalls the last time he saw the singer, just days before his death this summer. The pop icon wanted him to create dazzling murals of his children as well as artwork for his "This Is It" concerts, and Giorgio got out his pen during their talks.
"I was doing little drawings on the spot of him, and he loved it," says Giorgio of his black-and-white sketches. "He was great, he was really excited."
Those never-before seen sketches, as well as other rare artwork and photos of Jackson, are now part of a lavish new book, "The Official Michael Jackson OPUS." The art book, the only publication officially sanctioned by Jackson's estate, not only contains unseen images of perhaps the world's most famous face, it also has essays about the superstar written by friends and those who worked with Jackson over the years, from Motown founder Berry Gordy and Paula Abdul to John Landis and David Blaine.
While many Jackson books have been printed since Jackson's June 25 death at age 50, Jeff Wald, president of OPUS Media Group, which published the book, says his stands out.
He and his team decided "this would not be a red carpet sound bite kind of a book," he says. "It wasn't about, 'Yeah, he's a great singer, a great dancer.' It was much more in depth about the human being that he was."
To that end, OPUS executive vice president Jordan Sommers elicited essays that weren't quite tributes, but personal reflections. Some talk about Jackson the jokester; others recall his artistic genius; still others reflect on his friendship.
"There's a lot of information from the book that comes directly from sources that will clear up a lot of misconceptions," he says. "There are stories told directly from the likes of Smokey Robinson (and others) that they've never told before."
The photos, some of which were provided by friends like Gordy, range from Jackson's childhood to his many transformations as an adult.
"Our mandate ... was to have most of the photos either not be seen ever before or never ever seen in the format in which they had been (shown)," says Wald.
There are also drawings of Jackson done by Giorgio and other artists. Giorgio says Jackson was a voracious art collector and was very specific about the kind of imagery he wanted of himself, jotting down instructions, some of which are included in the book.
While Wald talked about the book (which costs $249) benefiting the Jackson children and his mother, the Jackson family did not play any role in the creation of the 400-page, 26-pound book.
"We just decided this would be something apart from the family," Wald said. "It was about Michael... We really stayed narrowly to that."
Wald first met Jackson as a teen and stayed in touch with him throughout the years. Jackson reached out to him earlier this year because he was a fan of the OPUS books and wanted two done on him: one based on the "This is It" concerts and another chronicling his career.
Wald said Jackson, who at times had battled an addiction to prescription drugs, was lucid and energetic when they met for two hours at his home.
"He seemed clear eyed, not drugged... he was in great spirits," he says. "He was just happier than hell, he had a sense of humor about him... it was nothing like you hear on all those breathless reports on television."
Giorgio, who illustrated the book's cover sketch, recalls Jackson being anxious for him to start work on huge murals he planned to put in his Las Vegas residence: He wanted a painting of himself and his children walking through a forest.
"He kept telling me, come on, we gotta start on this _ the kids are growing, and they are changing," he says.
While Giorgio drew elaborate, fantasy images of Jackson for the legend, he says the quick sketches he took of Jackson just before he died reveal the most: "They really capture more of the essence of him."
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