Kevin Mazur, who photographed the singer's final rehearsal, says Jackson was "so energetic and into it"

By Simon Perry
Updated June 30, 2009 03:15 PM
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Credit: Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty

The man who took the last shots of Michael Jackson rehearsing for his shows in London says there is no doubt the fit-looking singer was set to dazzle his fans.

“My first impression when I saw him hit that stage was it was the same old Michael I’ve photographed over the years,” longtime rock photographer Kevin Mazur tells PEOPLE. “I was so thrilled to see him so happy, and so energetic and into it.”

But two days after Mazur took the rehearsal shots at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, his subject was dead – an event that stunned the world and the man who had only just witnessed him dancing and leaping from a stage.

“I was so shocked – especially from what I saw earlier,” says Mazur. And that was a man who was “back,” he adds. “He’s the greatest talented artist I have ever photographed. But he’s also a true professional. He was right on.”

Mazur watched as Jackson ran through around a dozen songs on June 23 and witnessed the whole production for “Smooth Criminal,” which featured Jackson in his famous Fedora-topped poses, as well as the selection process for the specially made puppets and costumes for the “Thriller” number.

“After he got off the stage,” Mazur says, “he and [show director] Kenny Ortega were looking at different props they were going to use. One was a skeleton-zombie like thing for ‘Thriller.’ Michael loves that kind of stuff, so he had a big smile on his face. He was really happy with all of that. He was asking questions about it.”

The attention to detail did not surprise Mazur, adding, “He’s a perfectionist. The only time he stopped was to tweak a few minor things here and there – either musically or with the dancers. It was about getting everything right. From what I saw, everything looked amazing but he’s a perfectionist and there were certain things he would tweak.”

On the day Jackson died, Mazur was photographing another music legend, Elton John, for his White Tie and Tiara party at John’s home in Old Windsor, west of London. “Elton came up to me and said, ‘what have you been up to?'” says Mazur. “So I was telling him about photographing Michael Jackson. Later, I was taking some pictures of some other people and Elton leaned into me and said, ‘did you hear Michael died?’ I thought it was just a rumor and then someone else came up to me and said it was confirmed on CNN. And I called L.A. and Michael’s people told me it was true. I was really taken aback. I literally walked out of Elton’s event to have a moment to myself.”

Mazur says that based on what he saw last week, “This was a man who was back. He was fit. I have pictures of him jumping in the air. I am so shocked that this happened. From what I saw it was the same old Michael.”