Victory seemed like the wrong name for it. True, it was to be a celebration of the singing Jackson brothers and their nearly 15-year, multimillion-selling musical history together. But as of a month before the Victory tour’s opening on July 6, 1984, the spirit of victory, not to mention the Victory LP itself, was nowhere to be found. Greed and disorganization ruled: Ticket prices, at $30 a pop, seemed out of reach of the group’s inner-city fans, and a gaggle of promoters (including the infamous Don King) vied to run the show. Even the brothers themselves were at odds. ”It was the parents’ idea to bring them together because the other brothers needed money,” says Michael Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. ”Michael didn’t want to do it, but his mother appealed to him and he can’t turn his mother down.”
Forebodings of doom floated around the tour like the smoke in Michael’s ”Thriller” video. The press skewered the unprecedented ticket prices. When the Jacksons finally settled on a promoter late that spring, they chose then New England Patriots executive VP Chuck Sullivan, a national-tour greenhorn (after agreeing to pay virtually all costs of the production out of his share, Sullivan ended up losing about $20 million). Brother Jackie injured his knee and was sidelined from the tour. About two weeks before opening night, the album Victory went on sale to a lukewarm reception. And as a metaphor for the whole overblown mess, when the eight-story Michael-designed stage (which took 240 people five days to assemble in each city) was erected at the tour’s first stop, in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, it made almost one fourth of the venue’s 60,000 seats useless.
Yet the public embraced the Jacksons from the start. Audiences marveled at the performance magic Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Randy, and Marlon (along with 64,000 pounds of sound and light equipment) could still make. Clearly, Michael was the biggest brother now: His moves, theatrics, and voice dominated the 90-minute extravaganza, while Jermaine was the only other brother who performed showcase numbers. Not one song from Victory was featured. According to Taraborrelli, the brothers resented Michael, but in concert they were united.
Five months later, after all was sung and danced, Victory proved to be the then-largest concert tour in rock history, playing 55 dates in 23 cities and selling some 2.3 million tickets. The brothers raked in about $5 million each. (Michael, in a much-publicized move, donated his cut to three charities, including the United Negro College Fund.) Meanwhile, at least six lawsuits for damages tallying more than $182 million had been threatened. On stage the music had ruled, but avarice, egos, and infighting left many wondering, What price Victory?
Time Capsule: July 6, 1984
TV viewers gushed over Dallas; readers were wound up with Wired, Bob Woodward’s bio of John Belushi; moviegoers called on Ghostbusters; and Duran Duran’s ”The Reflex” jumped to No. 1 on the singles chart.