Bluebells dancer Rosalie Williams recounts healing Michael Jackson

By Sarah Harris

81-year-old taking to stage this week says pop legend ‘really was a good person’.

From dancing topless on the stages of Las Vegas to nursing Michael Jackson after his hair caught on fire, Rosalie Williams has led a star-studded life.

Now, aged 81, Williams is set to take the stage again in a flamenco dress as part of the Short and Sweet Theatre from September 6 to 10 at TAPAC in Western Springs.

Even after hundreds of theatrical performances and six major movies, nursing Jackson is a career highlight.

Auckland-based Williams was working as a nurse at the "Hollywood hospital" Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles when Jackson came in. The 25-year-old had second-degree burns to his scalp after his afro caught fire during a live Pepsi commercial in 1984.

"He came in the poor darling, he was a bit of a wreck. And the media, it was like a scrum, everyone wanted a bit of him.

"He really was a good person. He was so humble he wasn't making any demands. It was the family making all the demands."

After seeing his medical notes, Williams can put the rumour to rest that Jackson whitened his skin on purpose.

"He had vitiligo, that made his skin white ... So I know he didn't do any bathing in bleach. That'd be really sore."

Williams got her big break performing in a Christmas musical in London when she was 27. An agent approached her after the show to see if she would join the prestigious Bluebell Girls cabaret dancers who were known for their height. It was a no-brainer for Williams who was almost 6-foot.

Williams was whisked into a world of Las Vegas glitz and glamour. She wore tiny bejewelled costumes, voluminous feather head pieces and the stage would be filled with tigers, horses and hundreds of birds.

"The musketeer was riding a white horse at full gallop on a treadmill at the back of the stage. It was really quite exciting."

81-year-old Rosalie Williams nursed Michael Jackson when his hair caught on fire and was a blue bell dancer in Las Vegas. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
81-year-old Rosalie Williams nursed Michael Jackson when his hair caught on fire and was a blue bell dancer in Las Vegas. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Williams never felt self-conscious baring her breasts, even though it shocked her mother.

"Wearing those costumes nobody was really noticing if you were naked or not because it's all very artistically done."

The "very generous" mafia used to run Las Vegas, said Williams. She earnt $90 a week, which was a good wage back then. During this time she was asked to be a Playboy Bunny, but after another bunny told her what the job entailed she declined the offer.

When celebrities came to town they would do a special show just for the performers on the strip.

"We saw Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Gene Kelly, I met him backstage. Oh he's a heart-throb.

"We were lucky, it was a fantastic time. When we get together we always say it was the best time in our lives.

"We'd do three shows on a Saturday night, then we'd go horseback riding then go home to bed and get ready for a Sunday show.

"I have been very, very lucky in my life. I've met so many different wonderful people. In London I met Queen Victoria's cousin. The president, John Wayne - I took care of him for a while."

Williams performed in Las Vegas for five years before she got a call in 1968 to audition for a part in the risque lesbian film The Killing of Sister George. Williams, who was 33 at the time, was sent to New Zealand to promote the film only to find out it was banned in the country.

"It was really way ahead of its time."

The confidence Williams had in showbusiness never left her, even when she was held up at gunpoint in Nevada in the early 1960s.

"This car pulled in front of me with a gun and said 'hand over your handbag'.

"I'd just received my greencard, it was the most valuable thing you can get. So I said 'no way'. I blasted them with every nasty word I could think of."

After living in many of the big cities of the world Williams returned home to New Zealand in 1990, she's still in theatre and plans to perform as long as her health holds up.

"As one gets a bit longer in the tooth and getting real vintage, it does take its toll."

- NZ Herald

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