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In youth, Pa. man mirrored Michael Jackson

Nobody could be like Michael Jackson on stage. Few entertainers even tried.
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Nobody could be like Michael Jackson on stage. Few entertainers even tried.Del Smith was one of the brave souls who did. He's spent much of his life attempting to emulate Jackson's ridiculously prodigious song-and-dance skills.Not that he had much choice.From the time Smith began performing for friends and neighbors as a young boy growing up in Bristol, about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia along the Delaware River and New Jersey border, audiences thought of him as Michael Jackson.Not because he was anywhere near as talented as Jackson _ hardly anybody in the world is _ but because he looked uncannily like the music superstar."Growing up, I must have had a trillion people say to me, 'Man, you look like Michael Jackson,'" Smith says. "I grew up being him. When I got into my 20s, I finally had to ask people to stop calling me that."Smith, 47, used the resemblance to his advantage, performing professionally as a Jackson impersonator in local clubs during the height of King of Pop-mania _ the 1979-84 "Off the Wall"-"Thriller" era.Jackson was EVERYWHERE at that time, so the ability to sing and dance like him, even a little bit _ and, of course, look like him _ was obviously a boon to Smith's social life."Guys would come up to me and ask if their wives could dance with me," he recalls. "It was so flattering."He met his first wife while performing as Jackson at the old Holiday Inn in Bristol."I studied his dance moves, everything about him," Smith says. "I could sing every song he ever made."Smith lost most of the photos of himself performing as Jackson in a fire, but there's a picture of him sporting an afro published in 1980 that you'd swear is a young Jackson staring back at you from the yellowed newspaper clipping.Smith first began emulating Jackson in the late '60s, when he was the precocious, charismatic lead singer of the Jackson 5. Smith's parents were musically talented _ his mother Marian taught ballet and had performed under the stage name Tangerine _ and they encouraged him to show off his own talents and physical likeness to Jackson.He remembers being asked by his parents to perform for the neighborhood in front of the family's storefront home."I didn't mind at the time, but looking back, I can see how he felt," Smith says, referring to the way Jackson's childhood was sacrificed for a career in music.Smith's last performance as Jackson was six years ago, and it was a surprise to the 300 people in attendance. It came during his wedding day with his second and current wife, Jenny.He sneaked out of the room during the reception and re-emerged wearing a tux similar to the one Jackson wore on the cover of his 1979 "Off the Wall" album, complete with a white shirt and a white glove that Smith made himself.He grabbed the cordless microphone and sang the early Jackson 5 classic "I'll Be There" to his new wife."It was kind of my last hurrah," he says.Smith stopped impersonating Jackson in his mid-20s _ "he changed his nose, his skin tone, and I couldn't portray him anymore" _ but his affinity for Jackson the musician, or the man, has never wavered."He helped shape some of my character as a human being _ all his charity work and the way he gave back to others," Smith says. "Listen to his songs, and they all have meaning. 'Man in the Mirror' _ when I was younger I used to run around and do some dumb songs _ and that song hit me so strong."So it's no surprise that Smith was still in shock days after Jackson's death."I'm, like, totally down," he says. "It's like part of our generation has died."Smith's dancing days are done _ "I can't cut a rug like I used to" _ so the retired diesel technician spends much of his time building cars. He worked for four years on the 1987 Pro-Street Camaro in his driveway, a car he calls his "Thriller."Somehow, everything in his life always gets back to Michael."It's really heartbreaking that a person who was such an icon is out of our lives," Smith says. "In his later years, like a lot of rich, eccentric people, he got a little strange, but I'll always love his music."___Information from: