Michael Jackson earning power skyrockets
The private world of Michael Jackson, fiercely shielded by the superstar in life, was exposed in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. But rather than suffering harm from revelations of drug use, experts say Jackson’s legacy and posthumous earning power will survive any damage done and could actually grow after he was portrayed as a victim of a money-hungry doctor.
Jackson died before he could launch a series of highly anticipated comeback concerts in London as he tried to regain the towering status he enjoyed when he released the “Thriller” album in 1983. But his death did breathe new life into record sales and boosted other projects to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for his estate, even as his already tarnished personal life took another hit by revelations about his drug use. Jackson zoomed to the top of the Forbes Magazine list of highest earning dead celebrities and his executors are moving quickly on more projects designed to burnish the performer’s image and expand the inheritance of his three children. A Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour opens in Las Vegas this weekend, a precursor to a permanent installation at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, and fans are expected to flock there for a “Fan Fest” exhibit of Jackson memorabilia.
After the trial, a judge made it clear that the defense effort to cast Jackson as the villain in the case had been a miserable failure. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, called a reckless opportunist and sentenced to the maximum four years in prison. Judge Michael Pastor also blasted Murray for experimenting on the pop star with the operating-room anesthetic propofol to help him battle debilitating insomnia, even though the drug was never meant to be used in a private home.
Some experts say the revelations made the King of Pop look more like a regular person coping with a difficult challenge. “In the final analysis, not a lot of damage was done,” Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborelli said. “I think the trial humanized Michael Jackson. It presented him as a human being with problems.”
As evidence unfolded, “It definitely made our hearts go out to Michael Jackson. He was a person suffering a great deal and not getting the help he needed,” the author said.
Taraborelli said the entertainer’s family, fans and estate executors were concerned before the trial that testimony would paint Jackson as responsible for his own death while resurrecting past accusations of child molestation and bizarre behavior by the King of Pop. But the judge limited testimony and evidence to Jackson’s final months and specifically ruled out any mention of the 2005 molestation trial.
Thomas Mesereau Jr., the attorney who won Jackson’s acquittal in that case, believes the Murray trial did damage Jackson’s reputation but said the impact would likely be short term. “It certainly didn’t help to have all this testimony about drug use,” Mesereau said. “But as time passes, people will focus more on his music and the negatives will fade.”
While Murray was ultimately shown to be negligent, the portrait of his patient that emerged during the trial was one of an aging superstar desperate to cement his place in entertainment history while providing a stable home life for adored children, Paris, Prince and Blanket. The image of Jackson as a caring father had never been illustrated quite so vividly. A probation officer who interviewed Jackson’s mother, Katherine, said she told him: “Michael Jackson was his children’s world, and their world collapsed when he left.”
A leading expert on the licensing and branding of dead celebrities believes the trial engendered so much sympathy for Jackson that in the long run it will eclipse negative fallout from his past. “I don’t think any tawdry revelations that may have come out of the trial will have any impact on his lasting legacy,” said Martin Cribbs, who is based in New York. “We as a society tend to give everyone a second chance. Michael’s legacy will be like Elvis and the Beatles. It will be his music, his genius. and his charitable works ”
Cribbs has represented the estates of such deceased luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Steve McQueen and Mae West. He is not involved in the Jackson estate but praised its executors’ efforts. Beginning with the rapid release of the concert movie, This Is It, he said, “They have done a brilliant job of reminding us of Michael’s genius.”
Taraborelli also cited the film based on rehearsals for Jackson’s ill-fated concerts as a spectacular move setting the stage for a posthumous comeback of the Jackson entertainment empire. “It made you want to embrace him,” said the author of Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness.
Jackson’s eccentricities and bizarre behavior often made headlines. Whether it was traveling with a chimp named Bubbles, sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber or dangling his baby Blanket off a balcony, he managed to alienate many people. The molestation trial pushed him further from the mainstream. “That all ended on the day the news was announced that Michael was dead,” said Lance Grode, a former music executive and onetime attorney for Jackson who now teaches legal issues in music at University of Southern California. “The public decided they prefer to remember Michael as this great superstar and music prodigy and to forgive and forget any negative things they had heard over the last 10 or 15 years,” Grode said. “Nothing came out at the trial that was nearly as bad as things they had heard in the past.”
Grode said evidence of public acceptance is seen in the Jackson estate’s ability to generate a half-billion dollars in the wake of his death. The Cirque show, which launched in Canada, is slated for 150 dates across North America through July and expected to run through 2014 internationally. The permanent Las Vegas show is due in 2013.
The year he died, Jackson sold 8.3 million albums in the U.S. — nearly twice as many as second-place Taylor Swift — and This Is It became the highest-grossing concert film and documentary of all time. Joe Vogel, author of a new book on Jackson’s music, and others said the most shocking part of the Murray trial was the playing of a recording of a drugged Jackson slurring his words while dreaming aloud about his future concert and his plans to build a fantastic state of the art children’s hospital. Vogel said the recording, found on Murray’s cell phone, reveals the dark side of Jackson’s world. “Michael had a difficult life. He said once that you have to have tragedy to pull from to create something beautiful and inspiring. And that’s what he did. His music has staying power,” Vogel said.
Rich Hanley, a pop culture specialist who teaches journalism at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, said Jackson had “complexities on top of complexities.” “There may be collateral damage to his reputation from the trial. His inner sanctum was penetrated for the first time,” he said. However, “his music is eternal. It brings universal joy to people and will continue as much as Elvis’ work continues to attract new fans even though he’s been gone for generations,” Hanley said.