Five years after his death, King of Pop bigger than ever

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been five years since Michael Jackson died, yet his career is more alive than it has been in decades.

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Five years after Michael Jackson's untimely death at age 50, the singer remains a pop culture powerhouse, proving to be just as big a moneymaker in death as in life.    FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Five years after Michael Jackson's untimely death at age 50, the singer remains a pop culture powerhouse, proving to be just as big a moneymaker in death as in life.

Just last month, the singer moonwalked across a Las Vegas stage in a nationally televised hologram performance. A new album recently debuted at No. 2 on music charts. And a traveling Cirque du Soleil show based on Jackson’s songs has logged nearly 500 performances worldwide.

The result has been an estate that has earned more than $600 million since the King of Pop’s death at age 50.

Some of the earnings support Jackson’s three children and mother. Yet an analysis by The Associated Press shows much more has gone to erase the singer’s massive debts and to run the estate that powers his robust posthumous career.

As would be expected, the last five years have brought their share of change and adjustment for Jackson’s children, known to the world as Prince, 17; Paris, 16; and Blanket, 12. They were at their father’s rented mansion on June 25, 2009, when he was given an overdose of the anesthetic propofol in his upstairs bedroom. And they were at the hospital hours later when he was pronounced dead. It would take more than two years before Jackson’s doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

A father who taught his children philanthropy, threw them lavish birthday parties and meticulously masked them from the paparazzi is gone. Michael Jackson, however, continues to provide.

Nearly $20 million had been spent to support Jackson’s children and his mother, Katherine, through 2012. Payments to the family
have increased each year since June 2009, according to court records. Adulthood will bring a sizeable inheritance for each child.

In the meantime, lawyers untangled Jackson’s finances, which itself has been expensive. Among the disbursements between mid-2009 and the end of 2012:

• More than $91 million on taxes and licenses, including $45 million paid to the federal government for taxes.

• More than $25 million in compensation for the estate’s executors, Jackson’s longtime attorney John Branca and family friend and music executive John McClain. The men receive a percentage of the estate’s earnings.

• More than $17 million to lawyers who represent the estate, Katherine and her grandchildren.

• Nearly $4 million to properly store and archive the trove of personal belongings and unreleased music that Jackson amassed during his lifetime.

“This is a complex estate with unique issues,” said Katherine’s attorney, Perry Sanders Jr. “Under all the circumstances, Mrs. Jackson and the children are certainly being well cared for.”

Sanders, who has conducted audits of the estate’s spending, said everything is in order and detailed financial records match precisely what has been presented in court.

“It’s surprising how big the numbers are, but then when you realize what goes into it – and that a judge has approved those numbers – then it becomes not so shocking,” said Irwin Feinberg, an attorney who specializes in probate litigation.

While Jackson craved success, his priority in later years was his children. The trio is a large part of the singer’s legacy, and the music, dance moves and business pieces he left behind assure them a comfortable, if not care-free, lifestyle.

Jackson’s children live with their grandmother in a hilltop home in the celebrity enclave of Calabasas, home to the Kardashian family, Britney Spears and others. The estate pays for private schools and tutors, a chef, private security and family vacations, giving the Jackson children the stability their father strived to provide.

“Michael’s number one priority was his children, not wealth or fame,” said Tom Mesereau, the attorney who successfully defended Jackson against child molestation charges and stays in touch with his family.

“He wanted them to get the best education possible,” Mesereau said. “He wanted them to be worldly.”

Although the family’s privacy is carefully protected – neither Mesereau nor Sanders would discuss specifics – some of the domestic drama has become public in recent years.

In 2012, Katherine was absent for 10 days when some of her children took her to an Arizona spa, causing a family rift that resulted in TJ Jackson, an adult cousin of Michael Jackson’s children, being named their co-guardian.

Paris and Prince were deposed in Katherine’s lawsuit against the promoters of her son’s planned comeback concerts. Prince ably testified about his father’s impact on the children, but Paris was hospitalized during the trial after authorities responded to a 911 call that the teenager had cut herself with a knife and taken 20 Motrin pills.

Lawyers and family members, including TJ Jackson, have said she is fine, but offer no further details. Paris, according to relatives, took her father’s death the hardest.

Prince is still interested in pursuing a career in film production. As a child, he and his father would watch movies together, meticulously dissecting scenes. He recently attended a Hollywood premiere.

Blanket practices karate and is looking forward to a summer of swimming, TJ Jackson said.

Mesereau said the family seems to be doing reasonably well. Of their father, the attorney said, “He’s missed very much.”

JACKSON'S ESTATE PROSPERS AFTER DEATH

Michael Jackson’s death sparked nostalgia for the singer’s music that has transformed his image and catapulted his estate to the top of earnings charts. But the success of the estate was not a foregone conclusion. Here’s a look at how it has refurbished his image to provide for his family in the past five years:

STILL A CROWD PLEASER: Jackson’s death returned him to the top of the charts and generated hundreds of millions of dollars through deals for new albums and a movie created from his final rehearsals for his planned This Is It comeback concerts. Jackson’s posthumous album Xscape debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart last month, and a touring Cirque du Soleil show based on his music has played nearly 500 shows. All that translates into major money for his estate, which generated more than $600 million in gross earnings through 2013.

NOT ALL IN THE FAMILY: Jackson’s will calls for his estate to support his mother, Katherine, and his three children, leaving nothing for his siblings or father. The will left Katherine Jackson as primary caretaker of Prince, 17; Paris, 16; and Blanket, 12. The four receive a stipend and the estate pays for the children’s education, vacations and a mansion in Calabasas, Calif. Through 2012, the estate paid nearly $20 million to support his mother and children.

WHO’S IN CHARGE: Jackson named attorney John Branca, who served as Jackson’s lawyer during the singer’s heyday, and family friend and music executive John McClain as the executors of his estate. For their services, the men receive a percentage of the estate’s earnings.

WHO’S GETTING THE MOST MONEY: So far, the biggest share of the estate hasn’t gone to his family. Instead, paying $91 million for taxes and business licenses proved to be the estate’s biggest expense between June 2009 and January 2013. The executors of the estate have been paid more than $25 million in compensation, most of which came in the first year when deals for new albums and the This Is It film were made.

– Associated Press

ESTATE STILL HAS UNRESOLVED CLAIMS

Five years after Michael Jackson’s death, his estate continues to earn tens of millions of dollars a year and has resolved most claims filed against it by creditors. But some are still seeking a share of the pop superstar’s wealth.

Here’s a look at the biggest remaining threats to Jackson’s estate:

IRS: The IRS is seeking more than $700 million from Jackson’s estate, which includes taxes it contends are owed, plus penalties.

The dispute arises over a difference in valuations of Jackson’s assets when he died. The singer had borrowed heavily against his half share of the Sony-ATV music catalog, and hadn’t toured or had an endorsement deal in years.

The IRS says Jackson’s image was still worth millions, as were other assets, while the singer’s estate points to his debts and an image tarnished by child molestation allegations as reasons supporting lower tax valuations.

LAWSUIT: Choreographer Wade Robson testified in Jackson’s defense at the singer’s 2005 child molestation trial, vehemently denying the singer ever touched him inappropriately.

Last year, Robson sued Jackson’s estate for what his attorneys described as molestation that spanned a seven-year period. Robson met Jackson when he was 5 and spent the night at Neverland Ranch more than 20 times, sleeping in the singer’s bedroom on most visits, he told jurors during the trial, which ended with Jackson’s acquittal.

The merits of Robson’s claim against the estate haven’t yet been argued and his attorneys haven’t said how much they are seeking.

Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman has cited Robson’s previous statements supporting Jackson and called the new accusations “outrageous and pathetic.”

MANAGEMENT: Tohme Tohme served as Jackson’s personal manager in 2008 and early 2009 but was fired during preparations for the ill-fated This Is It concerts.

He worked with Jackson’s estate in its first months in 2009 and returned $5.5 million to the estate that he said he was holding to purchase a “dream home” for the singer.

Tohme sued in February 2012, seeking a 15- percent share of the estate for his role in reviving Jackson’s career. Jackson’s estate is seeking to block any payments to Tohme, and the two sides have been battling over records and potential evidence.

– Associated Press


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