Philippine prisoners dance Thriller in Jackson tribute

CEBU, Philippines (Reuters) - Filipino jail inmates who rose to Internet fame two years ago with their exercise regime featuring “Thriller” donned their dancing shoes once more on Saturday to pay tribute to Michael Jackson.

Prison inmates perform during a tribute to late pop icon Michael Jackson at prison grounds in Cebu city in central Philippines June 27, 2009. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Local and foreign tourists from Australia, England, South Korea, and Japan flocked to the provincial jail in the central Philippine province of Cebu, a known holiday destination due to its balmy beaches, to witness the two-hour show and honor the pop icon.

“It’s only fitting that it happens today and that we’re able to celebrate him in death as in life,” said Australian expatriate Carol Ann Macdonald.

In saffron uniforms and zombie make-up, the prisoners strutted and glided to “Thriller”, knowing the steps by heart thanks to their monthly dancing exercises.

They added interpretations of other Jackson hits such as “I’ll Be There”, “We Are The World”, and “Ben”, which they choreographed overnight.

“I was affected by his death, because he was the one who gave us inspiration in prison. He made us famous,” said 36-year-old Crisanto Niere, in jail for drug trafficking. He danced and led the rest of the dancers just like Jackson in the “Thriller” number.

The prisoners' "Thriller" dance, originally part of a physical fitness and stress-relief regime formed in 2007, became an instant You Tube hit attracting 23.4 million hits. It has been played on several television and cable networks. (here),

“I was so sad when I found out that our biggest idol, Michael Jackson, had died. All of us here really idolize him. We will miss his dance moves, especially his moonwalk,” said 19-year-old Igan Torrecampo, jailed for murder.

“The inmates consider Michael Jackson as a god here. If not for Michael Jackson, they wouldn’t have this international recognition,” said Byron Garcia, a prison security consultant.

Inmates dressed as nuns raised their arms as the rest swayed to the music of “I’ll Be There”, whose message of hope resonates with the prisoners, jail officials said.

Faced with prison terms of at least 20 years for crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and robbery, inmates numbering more than 1,500 find that dancing to uplifting music such as Jackson’s improves their lifestyle.

Jackson died of cardiac arrest on Friday at his Los Angeles home.

Reporting by Michaela Cabrera