The Legends Next Door:Inside the "Thriller Villa" where Michael Jackson & Liberace collide
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
Two of the most intriguing performers ever to be associated with Las Vegas never shared the same stage in life. But now, years after they've both passed, you can find the legacies of Liberace and Michael Jackson together under one roof, with some diplomatic help from the consular community.
One was a pianist, "Mister Showmanship" who performed here from the mid-40s to mid-80s. The other was a singer and dancer, the "King of Pop" who first played Las Vegas with the Jackson Five in the early 70s and grew to love the city. Today, you find the collection from the Liberace Museum in the mansion that was home to Michael Jackson in his final years. The sprawling hacienda has a storied history.
"It was built by and for Horst Schmidt, who was an eccentric theater developer in Las Vegas for many years," says Liberace Foundation President Jonathan Warran.
Schmidt had been involved in other Las Vegas theaters before building and expanding what would become the Red Rock 11 Theaters on West Charleston at Brush Street. Before closing in 2001, the theater complex was well known for its interior design, which featured a unique indoor park setting, which set the stage for unique and quirky home he developed on Palomino Lane.
Warren--who happens to be the Honorary Consul of Monaco--knows the history.
"The house is owned by the honorary consul of El Salvador Aner Iglesias," he recounts. "He purchased it from the Schmidt estate back in 2003, I believe."
Then in 2006, Iglesias leased the home to Michael Jackson, who is portrayed sitting casually on a throne in an eight-foot-high portrait just inside the door.
"One of the reasons we had a big portrait of him made in a comfortable position...because we knew he was happy here," says interior designer Paulina Briggs Sparkuhl, who also happens to be the Honorary Consul of Chile. "His children always say that this was the happiest time they ever had in their lives when they were living in this house."
After Jackson's death, Sparkuhl was commissioned by Iglesias to convert the bare walls into the opulent villa that can be seen today.
"This house is quirky, and Consul Aner wanted to make it more like a hacienda style that it makes sense for his guests and friends to entertain," says Sparkuhl.
Both Michael Jackson and Liberace were comfortable on the big stage with costuming, effects, and dancers in from front of large audiences. At "Thriller Villa"--as the "Hacienda Palomino" is popularly known--a more intimate setting, with a chapel that can serve a performance venue with seating for up to 74.
"It wasn't used as a performing arts hall then," says Warren of the room now referred to as Neverland Chapel. "But we know that that's how it was designed by Horst Schmidt, because the sound is so perfect. It is completely soundproof.
When the Liberace Museum on East Tropicana closed in 2010 and the entertainer's collection needed a new home, the Consul of Monaco made a suggestion to the Consul of El Salvador.
"He agreed and so he donated that space, and that's how we ended up here," sums up Warren.
Portraits of Michael Jackson portraits are at ground level. To get to the Liberace display, you have to know which door hides a staircase.
"When you walk down," explains Briggs, "I wanted to get that feeling that you were going to go down into a mine shaft. Then you go through the next door and you're in a gallery. So you're completely detached from the rest of the world really.
That's also where you can see the legacies of the two entertainers merge.
"Liberace and Michael Jackson were friends," observes Warren. "They even travelled together to a couple of events in England."
No one knows exactly what the two discussed, but there were certainly areas of commonality.
"There is record of the influence of Liberace on Michael Jackson with regard to costuming, especially through a mutual costume designer," notes Warren.
Liberace's vast collection came together after decades as a top-earning performer in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
"The years that I've spent in show business have been a gift that was given to me by God, and I try to use it to the fullest advantage," Liberace told News-3 in an undated report from the mid-80s.
Of course, he had no way of knowing that his vast collection of costumes and memorabilia would end up in the mansion that was a creative inspiration to Michael Jackson in the last three years of his life.
"Some of the neighbors tell us about some of the things they heard during practice sessions, those sorts of things," muses Warren. "Especially for the tour that never happened."
That was the 50-stop "This Is It" tour planned to begin in July of 2010.
"I'll be performing the songs my fans want to hear," Jackson told the assembled media in March of 2009. "This is it, this is really it. This is the final...this is the final curtain call."
Jackson passed away suddenly in June of 2009. Liberace had died after a lengthy illness in 1987.
"Hacienda Palomino"/"Thriller Villa" is not open to the public, but is frequently used for fundraisers for non-profits, social events and private tours.
The Liberace Car Collection will be open to the public starting on March 1st. Information will be available on the Liberace Foundation website.