Last month we announced that Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” jacket had been acquired by a local philanthropist Milton Verret. Today, just weeks after auction, the costume made its Austin debut at Dell Children’s Hospital.
The pristine red leather jacket is one of two worn in the groundbreaking “Thriller” video (the other, caked with dirt and set aflame during the original shoot, is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and was recently purchased by Verret, a self-identified investor and entrepreneur. Verret is also the founder of gold coin dealership U.S. Money Reserve, a locally-based retail venture.
This acquisition is the latest in a string of charitable efforts for Verret, who has a particular interest in non-profits benefiting children’s health and wellness. While he’s made cash donations to groups like Make-A-Wish, ChildHelp, Bailey’s Café and Music Rising, Verret is also involved in some less traditional fundraising campaigns.
Verret’s projects tend to promote perennial giving through ongoing campaigns – in this case, he’ll be sending Michael Jackson’s jacket on an international tour circuit, with proceeds going to the hospital-affiliated Superhero Kids.
“Superhero Kids is a donor-designated fund at the Children’s Medical Center Foundation,” organization founder Samia Joseph explains. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all the children and the families who are going through cancer treatment here at the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center.
“We learned about these experiences firsthand when my husband and I were volunteering at the clinic and saw the needs that these families had; typically, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, one parent must stop working, and there goes half their salary. Our fund has done anything from helping to keep the lights on for families, paying for school supplies, sending kids to camp, providing transportation to and from the clinic, even things as small as pots and pans for families to use at home.“
Dean Leipsner , U.S. Money Reserve’s current CEO, had the honor of unveiling the jacket for a private audience which included hospital workers, patients and members of the press. In a flurry of flashbulbs and applause, the jacket – which celebrates its 30th birthday next year – looked right at home in front of a velvety, airbrushed tapestry featuring some of Jackson’s most recognizable roles.
Prior to auction, the jacket was owned by costume designers Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins, who received the piece from Jackson himself. It was both a gift and a guide – he loved the look so much, he instructed them to base future designs off it.
“The designers asked Michael if he could freely dance in a jacket like this, “ says Leipsner, “and Michael responded, ‘Have you seen the ‘Thriller’ video?’”
While it may seem odd that clothing belonging to a somewhat-controversial pop star can find new life as a fundraising engine, Verret plans to tour with the jacket, in partnership with global sponsorships, to continuously raise money for children in need across the globe.
“Several months ago, I knew the jacket was going to be up for sale, and I was going to buy it,” Verret recalls. “Then, four weeks before the jacket sold, I took a tour of Dell Children’s Hospital, because we were getting involved with the CowParade to raise some money for them. After that I kind of made it my mission to get the jacket. I knew that this is the most important piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia history. Ever. There’s nothing that can touch it. With that much awareness, you can raise millions of dollars.“
14-year old cancer survivor Kayla Sweet, one of the Superhero Kids who inspired this donation, was on hand to witness the unveiling. After the applause died down, Sweet and Joseph were presented with a very special gift.
“We made a deal with the designers prior to buying the jacket,” reveals Verret, “that they would donate some money to Superhero Kids as well. Here’s a surprise for you...” he pauses, posing with an oversized check for $100,000.
“It’s just beginning,” he promises.
Verret and the U.S. Money Reserve are major sponsors of another unique charitable event, the Austin CowParade. The citywide art project, which displays a horde of decorated plaster cows around town, is kicking off next Wednesday, July 27th at the Long Center.
This preview party will showcase nearly half of the cows on the parade, and the “Thriller” jacket will be on display. For a small donation to Superhero Kids, attendees can have their photo taken with it.
The chance to strike a pose with one of the most legendary costumes of all time, and for a good cause? Sign us up.