Hard Rock memorabilia exhibition to tour U.S.

Mon May 2, 2011 10:55am EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters Life!) - An over-stuffed garment rack in a warehouse on the outskirts of Orlando holds some of the world's most precious second-hand clothing.

The frothy white wedding dress worn by Madonna in her music video "Like a Virgin" hangs at one end, while crammed in the middle is Michael Jackson's red leather jacket from the music video "Beat It."

The clothes, along with Justin Bieber's skateboard and Ray Charles' Braille Playboy magazine, are among 40 pieces of rock memorabilia that will go on tour in the United States beginning on May 18 to celebrate the Hard Rock Cafe's 40th anniversary.

"If an artist gives us memorabilia, they assume we're going to take care of it and we're never going to sell it. We have a responsibility," said John Galloway, Hard Rock's chief marketing officer.

Ever since Eric Clapton donated a red Fender guitar in 1979 to the original Hard Rock Cafe in London, Hard Rock International, now a subsidiary of Seminole Gaming, has assembled what is billed as the world's largest collection of rock memorabilia, estimated to include at 73,000 pieces.

Much of the collection decorates the company's 171 restaurants, casinos and hotels in revolving displays. The rest is housed in what looks like a thrift shop.

Hard Rock typically acquires items through donations from artists and purchases at auction, but many pieces, such as Jackson's jacket, have an interesting history.

In 1984 Jackson gave the red jacket, adorned with 27 decorative zippers, to 14-year-old David Smithee of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was terminally ill with cystic fibrosis. Smithee died a month later. Hard Rock historian Jeff Nolan said the family eventually contacted Hard Rock.   Continued...

<p>A rack with some of music's most iconic clothing waits to leave the Hard Rock's Rock Vault in Orlando, Florida April 21, 2011, as part of the Hard Rock's 40th Anniversary Memorabilia Tour. REUTERS/Scott Audette</p>