Pop icon pursued wide rage of ventures
In a life lived mostly in the spotlight, Michael Jackson pursued a wide range of showbiz ventures, some quixotic, some quite lucrative.
He had a reputation for announcing grandiose plans — he was going to play Peter Pan on the bigscreen, he was going to spearhead a theme park in India, he was going to produce a slate of movies for Sony Pictures — that never came to fruition.
His most recent initiative was a series of comeback concerts in London that were to have begun July 8. But that 50-date stand at London’s O2 Arena appeared troubled beginning in May, when it was announced that the first four performances would be pushed back. The three nights that were to begin the “This Is It” concert run were rescheduled for the tail end of his stint, which would have pushed the run into the first week of March. All of those concerts at the 15,000-seat facility were sold out, except the four rescheduled dates in March; ticket prices started at $81.
Jackson’s most successful biz venture, beyond his own album sales, was his investment in music publishing rights, most notably the Beatles’ catalog, which he purchased for about $48 million in 1985. He sold 50% of that catalog to Sony in 1995, and in recent years he was understood to have sold more of his remaining stake in order to support his opulent life style.
Jackson struggled for credibility in showbiz circles in his later years amid reports of increasingly eccentric behavior and allegations of child molestation. The “King of Pop” moniker that he earned in his heyday became a punchline as he struggled to muster respectable sales for his greatest-hits compilations and his last Epic Records release, 2001’s “Invincible.”
In February 1994, on the heels of the first eruption of child molestation allegations, Jackson and his family members mounted the NBC TV special “Jackson Family Honors.” It was billed as the start of an annual event to honor entertainers and others for charitable and humanitarian works. But the reports, tabloid and otherwise, about his alleged bedroom encounters with a 13-year-old boy at Neverland put a dark cloud over the event, and there was never a second installment. In its review of the spesh, the New York Times noted that “it scored a 10 on the bizarre meter.”
During AFM in 2002, Jackson announced a deal to invest $15 million-$20 million in Mark Damon’s MDP Worldwide Entertainment. The agreement was to have given Jackson equity in MDP and create the Neverland Pictures banner, in partnership with Indian producer Raju Sharad Patel. It’s unclear if any pics were produced through that banner.
More recently, Jackson faced a slew of lawsuits and legal actions, on everything from back pay for Neverland Ranch workers to prospective business partners and concert promoters to his former publicist who claimed he owed her a share of business deals she helped negotiate. The flurry of litigation during the past decade offered mounting evidence that Jackson was dire financial straits and living beyond his means in luxury hotels around the world and traveling on private jets.
Foreclosure proceedings began in 2007 on his famed Neverland Ranch near Santa Barbara, which in its heyday sported an amusement park, a private zoo and other amenities. Jackson, who owed more than $24 million on the 2,700-acre property he purchased in 1988, ultimately worked out a deal with an investment firm, Colony Capital, that allowed to retain a small ownership interest in Neverland, though he no longer lived there.
Just this month, he was hit with a lawsuit filed by a New Jersey promoter who claimed to have a deal with Jackson for a reunion concert with his brothers this summer. The suit filed by Allgood Entertainment claimed Jackson’s London stand violated the exclusivity terms of his deal for the reunion gig.
In April, Jackson got into a legal scuffle with auction house Julien’s, which was to have held a sale of more than 1,400 items of Jackson’s from Neverland. At the last minute Jackson sued to block the auction, saying that Julien’s had reneged on a promise to let him approve the list of items before the sale began. The sides eventually reached a compromise to hold an “exhibition” rather than a sale of the items, which was held over a two-week period at the BevHilton.
The array of items on display reinforced a sense of the fairy-tale world that Jackson crafted for himself at Neverland — complete with floor-to-ceiling portraits of himself in monarch garb.
(Steve Chagollan contributed to this report.)