Benny Collins, production and tour manager and 2014 recipient of the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award, died Jan. 27. He was 68. The long list of acts and artists he worked with include Journey, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Lionel Richie and U2.
Michael Jackson kept him busy in the 1990s, where he said it was a thrill to meet “every star I ever dreamed of. I was sitting on a case on the side of the stage, as I always did for the first two songs, because if you got through the first two songs, you knew you weren’t going to have trouble. While sitting there, Michael’s security came up and asked if two people could sit with me. I look up and I see Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren and I say, ‘Sure! No problem!’”
On Michael Jackson, Collins recalled, “it was my job to tell him we were 20 minutes away from show time, and he’d go warm himself up. During that time, I’d see this five-foot-nine person suddenly [seem to] grow into something 10 feet tall. You could see the switch click from person to performer, and then click off again when he walked off the stage.”
There are plenty of stories from the BAD and DANGEROUS periods.
“I’m sitting at a big desk in an office in L.A. when rehearsals were going on, and I hear this smack,” Collins says with a smile. He looks up and it’s Bubbles [Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee], who proceeds to give Collins a big hug. “Then he started walking around with me because he liked me so much.”
Proving once again that everyone likes Collins.
It was a wild ride, one that Collins seems grateful for. “Michael would hold these pre-tour production gatherings, encouraging people to throw out any ideas. He was always looking for the next big idea, no matter how out-of-left-field it was.”
It was technically challenging, too. “At that point, we were using [the new] Vari*Lites, and we had every problem you could think of, though we got lucky and it never held up a show.” But in 1988, one show didn’t go on, though it was because of Jackson. The sold-out crowd was waiting for him at Wembley Stadium when Collins got the word that Jackson was sick and not coming out just as the opening act was finishing up. “You know, sh*t rolls downhill, and somehow it ended up that I was the one who was to break it to the crowd.”
With trepidation, Collins strolled out on the stage knowing he was decidedly not the guy the audience was hoping to see. “I announced that he wasn’t coming, but that we’d be back.” He was surprised (and grateful) when the crowd, while disappointed, was calm while exiting.
“The next month we came back, had the same opening act, and after they were done, I again walked out on stage,” he grins. “Up came this ‘boo’ like you’ve never heard. I just looked out, took a bow, and left.”
Everyone speaks of Collins’ honesty and ability to tell the truth whether you wanted it or not. For the second tour, the pop star wanted to recreate a rollercoaster on stage. Collins told him: “That’s ain’t happenin,’ son.”
Not that Collins ever shied away from technical challenges. He tells of another bit they did pull off where they built a stage that recreated a graveyard, going 40 feet deep breaking to ground level. At the end of it he had six seconds to get Michael from below into a casket 20 feet above the stage. “That almost drove me to drink!” he jokes. “We worked 20 hour days to get that to work — going through plans, drawings, schematics, and getting all the designers, engineers and insurance guys to approve. But it happened.”
In another bit, a stunt double would fly out on a jet pack. The stories like this keep coming, but looking at all this through today’s reality of the accountants running the show, Collins must be stopped and asked: What was it like when money was no object?
“Money was an object,” he corrects. “But it wasn’t a problem when it was something he wanted. We weren’t going crazy, but the tours were costly.”
After Michael Jackson, he did a variety of acts, including Counting Crows, that took him around the world.
Then a different Jackson called: Janet, who shared her brother’s appetite for Big Ideas. Collins’ first tour with her, Rhythm Nation 1814, involved a black panther for her hit song “Black Cat.” Collins found one in Pensacola and brought it and the trainer into rehearsal. The bit involved Jackson being put into a cage by the dancers, and being replaced by the panther via a trap door. During the tour’s premiere night, the kitty apparently thought it a good idea to relieve himself during his stage début. “Have you ever seen a tiger piss?!?” Collins asked. “It’s like a river!” Several of her dances were slipping and falling in the urine. The panther was fired — his rock star career was over.
RIP Benny and thank you for the magic!
SOURCE: Facebook / plsn