Hypothetical scenario: You’re at yet another fancy cocktail party hosted by that Junior Leaguer bitch—you know, the one with the constant need to undermine and one-up everyone around her. Some of the guests have retired to her sitting room to sip sherry and gab loquaciously about the news events of the day, when someone brings up Michael Jackson. After the easy sentiments and usual scuttlebutt have been exchanged, your self-aggrandizing host draws back the velvet curtain so everyone can admire her limited-edition Michael Jackson lithographs. “Yes, we went with the gold leaf frame,” she says haughtily in the awed hush that follows. “Gerald suggested teak! Can you imagine?” And as the nervous, ingratiating laughter dies away, you step forward languidly, bringing your thumb and forefinger to the precious jewel dangling from your earlobe, and with a tone of genteel nonchalance you say, “This diamond is made from an actual piece of Michael Jackson’s hair.” Stunned silence. Your host emanates jealous rage, her carefully maintained air of superiority crumbling. Someone starts a slow clap that soon builds into tear-streaked bellows of praise. Your heart swells up with pride. Your propriety over a dead pop star has been firmly established! You’re the best mourner! You win!
Making this dream scenario possible: LifeGem, a Chicago-based company that has scoffed its way through the recession manufacturing diamonds from the carbon remains of those passed on, making families who purchase mere headstones and silver urns for their loved ones look like hillbillies who “let the raccoons take care of it” in comparison. Its noble mission has dovetailed with the morbid need to own a piece of dead celebrities once before, in a 2007 auction involving stones made from a strand of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s hair, which the company then used to “start the LifeGem chain of fame.” But a chain of fame is only as strong as its most crassly opportunistic link, and this week fortune truly smiled upon LifeGem in the form of “world’s foremost hair collector” John Reznikoff, who managed to convince the executive producer of Michael Jackson’s infamous 1984 Pepsi commercial shoot to hand over a stray, scorched lock of Jackson’s, retrieved after the singer’s head accidentally caught fire. With Reznikoff’s help, now LifeGem can turn all of that precious DNA into something way more valuable than an illegitimate love child for Joe Jackson to “shape”: Tiny stones to sell to the highest bidders, who will use them to say they truly love the King of Pop. Because that’s what it means when you say it with diamonds.
But naturally, some people have turned a cocked eyebrow toward the idea of turning the remains of a dead man who hasn’t even been put into the ground yet into an ostentatious souvenir for outrageous profit—muckraking reporters like CNN’s Jeanne Moos, for example, who earlier today held LifeGem founder Greg Herro’s feet to the investigative flames like the latter-day Upton Sinclair that she is:
Jeanne Moos: The whole idea of picking up his hair and turning it into a diamond—right away, some people say, “Yuck.”
Gregg Herro: I’m usually able to disarm people when I say, “I bet your mother has a lock of your baby hair in your baby book.”
Snap! And your mother is so stupid, she probably thinks that hair is just for keepsakin’, not for turning into the world’s most ethically challenged diamond not to originate in Angola! (Note: We used to suck at this game.) But hey, at least this filthy lucre comes with an obligatory pretense to charity, with Herro saying at least one (and only one!) of those diamonds will be offered free to his three children “as a tribute to their dad”—because making them pay for it would be all kinds of tacky. And besides, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and LifeGem gotta turn a ghoulish dollar. In Herro’s own words, “We create diamonds from hair. We have Michael Jackson’s hair. It would almost be remiss of us not to make a diamond to offer that to the world.” How true! It’s like a Mt. Everest kind of thing—it’s because it’s there. Hey, we still have Michael Jackson’s frozen corpse, and we have Disney On Ice…