They're Bad: Inmates Dance to Honor Jackson

Unusual tribute comes straight from a Philippines lock-up

By Mark Morales
|  Saturday, Jun 27, 2009  |  Updated 11:15 AM EDT
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The Many Faces of the Man in the Mirror

Associated Press

Inmates perform "Thriller" in tribute to their hero, Michael Jackson.

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Prison inmates in the Philippines who became YouTube sensations after their rendition of "Thriller," took to the exercise yard once again to pay tribute to their fallen hero, Michael Jackson.

After learning about the pop icon's sudden death, 1,500 inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention Center in Central Philippines practiced for nine hours, from Friday night into Saturday morning, and stopped only to eat and find shelter from the rain, as they prepared for their Jackson tribute on Saturday.

"I felt sad because we lost our idol," said inmate Wenjiel Resane, who plays the role of Jackson's girlfriend in the video.

The inmates, dressed in their prison issued orange t-shirts and sweat pants, were cheered on by a crowd of 700 locals and tourists who watched the routine from a second floor corridor at the hilltop prison behind thick stone walls topped by electrified razor wire. The crowd stomped, clapped and swayed along to the sycronized dance number that locked in Jackson as a superstar, more than 20 years ago.  

The prisoners also performed "Ben," "I'll Be There" and "We Are the World," after starting with a prayer dedicated to the Jackson family. When the show ended, some held up a 5-by-10 foot tarpaulin of Jackson, seen holding a sword with his name written underneath, while others chose to wave flags of the Philippines and other nations.

The idea was the brain child of Brian Garcia, the Cebu provincial security consultant, who suggested synchronized dancing to help boost attendance to their exercise sessions.  

What resulted was an internet sensation.

The inmates quickly learned Jackson's dance routine and recorded their original performance of "Thriller" and posted it to YouTube in 2007. The video is one of about a dozen other dance numbers the inmates have performed, recorded and posted to the site.

It is, however, "Thriller" which has been viewed the most.

The "Thriller" video has attracted 24.3 million hits since it was posted two years ago, with nearly a million of them in the 24 hours since news of Jackson's death spread.

"I was sad because one of the songs of Michael Jackson, `Thriller,' made us famous around the world," said Francis Mercader, 36, who has spent a year in detention while on trial for drug charges.

"The fame brought them back their self-esteem," Garcia told reporters. "So that's why we have these public performances."

The dance number is part of a world-wide tribute from fans, crushed after losing the "King of Pop."

In Taiwan, two top Michael Jackson impersonators donned fedora hats and sequined outfits Saturday, moonwalking to "Billie Jean" in their own tribute to the pop star.

CNN reports tributes from fans all over, including fans who gathered around their cars listening to Jackson's music in London, to his songs being played and on displayed in a record store in China, to the initial shock of music lovers at the Glastonbury festival.

At the Apollo theater in Harlem, fans have lit candles, moonwalked and cried as they remembered Jackson.

His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has also seen fans lighting candles and wiping away tears as they console each other.

The upcoming BET awards is also getting, what organizers are calling, "a total overhaul" to pay tribute to Michael Jackson. The telecast is being lengthened, performers are being added to the lineup and additional guests are expected to attend.

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