The image of Michael Jackson that graces the cover of Q magazine’s August 2009 issue, which coincidentally went to press shortly before Jackson’s tragic death, has been widely circulated as the last authorized photograph of the singer. While that remains likely to be true, photographer John Wright tells the Music Mix that the photo shoot in question actually took place several years ago, in approximately 2007. Guinness World Records hired Wright at the time to photograph Jackson at the company’s central London office, where the star was accepting an award for his history-making album sales. “I got a call, ‘Do you want to shoot Michael Jackson next week?'” Wright recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I was extremely relaxed about it, because I was absolutely certain he would never show up. But about 2 p.m. in the afternoon, he walked in.”
Jackson was joined by “a fairly large entourage” including bodyguards, management, and a few lucky fans — but no makeup artist or stylist. “It was extremely underplayed,” says Wright. “The thing that excited me was it was an opportunity to do a really, really honest portrait of that face.” Jackson spent about an hour meeting and greeting Guinness officials before Wright got a three-minute window to shoot him. “What struck me was his shyness. He carried himself really quite humbly, I thought. I’ve shot a lot of celebrities, and was pleasantly taken with the fact that Michael Jackson went out of his way to introduce himself and shake hands with everybody on my crew, which was about four people on the day — even crossing the room to shake hands with one of my assistants, which was unnecessary, but he obviously felt compelled to out of a sense of grace and politeness.” Adds Wright, “I want to make it clear: He was attentive, he was focused, he was having fun. That wasn’t an ill man who was in the room with me.”
After photographing Jackson for about 90 seconds in total, Wright had three usable head shots, one of which he eventually sold to Q earlier this year when the magazine put together its August 2009 cover story on the King of Pop’s planned London comeback concerts. Now, as it becomes clear that the Guinness shoot may have been Jackson’s last, Wright says he’s been approached by a number of outlets looking to print the other two photos. While he provided one to a German tribute publication, he’s proceeding with caution. “It really depends on the context of what they’re doing. It will always be the picture that it is, and it’s looking like it could be the last official portrait that was shot of him. I’ve got no need to exploit the situation.” (When contacted by EW, Jackson’s reps were unable to confirm at this time whether this was his final photo shoot.)
More from EW’s Music Mix:
Joe Jackson says he sees performer potential in Michael’s kids; sweet, or kind of gross?
Rumor Patrol: Ashlee Simpson is NOT making Michael Jackson covers album
Michael Jackson memorial: Who was that singing “Heal the World”?
Michael Jackson memorial: Which performance moved you most?