Though gone too soon, Michael Jackson left a tall legacy and a tower of hits when he died at 50 a year ago on Friday. He also left debts, void contracts, unrealized dreams, grieving fans and lingering mysteries. The knottier conundrums and contradictions in the King of Pop’s life may never be explained, but even the simplest propositions can be vexing in the Jackson hereafter and its eternal maze of hype, sealed data and shifting spokesmen. USA TODAY addresses 10 questions that surface in discussions about the man in the rearview mirror, who may endure as pop culture’s best-known and least-known icon.
1. What happened to the promised all-star tribute concert?
Given Jackson’s enormous influence over a range of genres and artists from Usher to Justin Timberlake, an all-star musical sendoff seemed inevitable. His brother Jermaine’s attempts to stage one last year fizzled, and there’s no sign of the show he pledged to mount this month.
“Tribute concerts, especially ambitious ones, don’t get off the ground for a lot of reasons, the biggest being funding,” says Ray Waddell, Billboard‘s touring editor. “An obvious milestone hook was missed this time around with the one-year anniversary of his death, but Jackson’s legacy and appeal are not going to lessen in the foreseeable future.
“A star-studded tribute concert, most likely with a philanthropic angle, is not only possible but probable someday.The seal of approval of the estate and a deep-pocketed promoter would help tremendously in making it happen.”
2. What about the Jackson reunion tour?
The surviving members of the Jackson 5 announced in December that they would tour as the Jackson 4 and re-create the sound of their childhood band. That endeavor never got off the ground, but the brothers did do a six-episode A&E reality show called The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty.
Speculation persists that sister Janet will join such a reunion, and more than a year before Jackson’s death, she told CNN‘s Larry King, “I would love to open for them. … It would be an honor.” But Michael issued a statement saying he wouldn’t participate: “My brothers and sisters have my full love and support. … at this time I have no plans to record or tour with them.”
3. When is Jackson’s next album coming, and what else is in the recording pipeline?
In March, the estate announced a deal with Sony Music worth $250 million for 10 albums of unreleased material. First up is a 10-song album.
Neither the estate nor Sony has offered specifics, but co-executor John McClain has been in the studio with brothers Marlon and Jackie sorting through material. Jackson is thought to have compiled a slew of never-released songs during sessions for previous albums and in collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, Akon and will.i.am. His last album was 2001’s Invincible, but he had been in contact with such artists as Ne-Yo to work on his next project.
The November release would arrive just in time for holiday shopping. “Michael Jackson has the kind of fans that would still buy physical CDs because they would want a keepsake,” says Gaylord Fields, senior editor at AOL Music. “That’s why Sony didn’t just rush anything out. They are making sure they do it right. It’s not like Michael’s fandom is going to dissipate in six months.”
4. Will Jackson remain a chart force?
Jackson’s posthumous market strength bears out the showbiz adage that death is a good career move. He sold 2.3 million albums in the three weeks after his death. Though that pace slowed, he managed to move 9 million albums and 13 million digital tracks in the past year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“People have focused on Jackson’s music for the first time in years, and they remembered how much they liked it,” says Paul Grein, a veteran pop analyst who writes the weekly Chart Watch column for Yahoo.
In SoundScan’s 2009 tallies, Jackson set a record with four of the year’s top 20 albums, Grein points out. The singer also had nine of the top 200 digital songs. His appeal runs deeper than impulsive souvenir purchases and should drive perennially robust sales.
“Very few artists have ever had great records spanning so many years and so many phases of their career,” Grein says. “Jackson made great records with the Jackson 5, as a teen star, in the Quincy Jones years, and even into the ’90s.
“His music will remain popular going forward. He has broad appeal, crossing virtually all demographic lines, to all ages and races. As great as Elvis and Frank Sinatra were, I’m not sure that their appeal is as broad.”
5. Where’s the investigation headed, and how did he die (really)?
Jackson’s personal physician, Conrad Murray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the death was ruled a homicide, and a coroner’s report determined the singer died of acute propofol intoxication. He faces a maximum four-year prison term. Murray told investigators he attempted to wean Jackson off the anesthetic, but little else is known about how he might defend himself. His preliminary hearing is Aug. 23.
The criminal case may be upstaged by a wrongful-death suit Jackson’s father is expected to bring against the doctor. Joe Jackson has also been critical of prosecutors for not filing stiffer charges.
The Associated Press obtained a complaint Joe Jackson filed with the California Medical Board against AEG Live, charging the promoter with “unlawful practice of corporate medicine.” Documents show Murray requested that AEG provide a heart resuscitation unit, catheters, needles, a gurney and a medical assistant for Jackson’s This Is It tour, but none were in place while Jackson was in rehearsals.
Autopsy findings have faced no credible challenges. Ditto for the obituary. Yet Michael sightings abound on the Internet, along with theories of murder (embraced by some family members), divine resurrection and a faked death.
6. What’s to become of Neverland?
There are currently no plans to sell or refurbish Neverland, Jackson’s ranch in California. The sprawling 2,676-acre Santa Barbara County property is jointly owned by the estate and the investment company Colony Capital LLC. The amusement park rides and zoo animals that once shared the grounds were removed long before the singer’s death. (Jackson refused to return after police searched the Tudor-style mansion in 2003, seeking evidence to support child-molestation charges.)
Brother Jermaine campaigned to bury Michael there, a possible first step in transforming the site into a Graceland-like shrine. But Santa Ynez Valley lacks the infrastructure of roads, sewer systems and hotels to support such an attraction, and it would be a struggle getting approval for such changes in the rural area. Virtually all traces of Jackson have been removed from the grounds, and the house now stands empty.
“It was very strange and very eerie,” says longtime biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, who was interviewed at the estate after Jackson’s death. “I had never seen the house like that, and Michael hadn’t seen it like that because he had bought it furnished. So when I was walking around, I was struck by how empty it was. It was as if the whole property was in mourning.”
7. What’s the state of his estate?
When Jackson was alive, he was dead broke. Juggling massive debts while reveling in the lavish lifestyle of a pop sultan, he frustrated his accountants and creditors. But now he’s loaded: Billboard estimates that Jackson’s estate has generated at least $1 billion in the past year in music-based revenue, including $429 million from record sales, $392 million from film and TV and $130 million from his Mijac and Sony/ATV publishing interests. The bottom line got a big boost from a new Sony record contract and the This Is It documentary.
The estate has paid off 40% of Jackson’s $500 million in debts, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that his mother’s home in Encino, Calif., was set to enter foreclosure the day the singer died. A remaining $300 million loan, backed by Jackson’s 50% share of Sony/ATV, must be paid or refinanced by year’s end.
The estate should thrive as long as Jackson retains a stake in Mijac and Sony/ATV, “which may be the smartest investment he ever made,” says music consultant Tom Vickers. “Unlike virtually any other aspect of the music industry, music publishing has retained its value. With Jackson owning The Beatles catalog, the most lucrative diamond in the publishing crown, his estate will generate revenue for generations.”
8. Who’s minding the kids?
The singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson, has custody of Prince Michael, 13, Paris, 12, and Prince Michael II (aka Blanket), 8, and the kids have been exposed to the public more in the past year than at any other point in their young lives. They were seen at their father’s public funeral July 7 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and again accepting Jackson’s lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Awards in February. Still, the children, who were kept in seclusion when Jackson was alive, remain shielded by a retinue of family and bodyguards whenever they leave the Jackson compound.
This week, in her first interview since Jackson’s death, Katherine Jackson told London’s Daily Mirror the children were doing well, though they still missed their father greatly. “They don’t have any friends. They don’t go to school, they have private lessons at home — but that will change in September, when they are due to enroll at private college.”
Jackson’s mother, who with Vintage Pop Media has released Never Can Say Goodbye, a coffee-table book of photos and her remembrances about her son, plans to have a private memorial with the children and family this weekend.
“You see them around town all the time in their karate uniforms and going to the shopping malls,” says Taraborrelli, author of last year’s Michael Jackson: The Magic, TheMadness, The Whole Story. “They seem really well-adjusted, but … the only ones that really know are the ones living with them.”
9. Will Jackson be relocated?
It’s unlikely. When Jackson was interred Sept. 3 at Forest Lawn’s Great Mausoleum in Glendale, Calif., a statement issued by the family called it “his final resting place.” But there was confusion about where Jackson’s body was taken after the July funeral service (his casket was never seen leaving the Staples Center) and when his remains would be released for burial (investigators kept Jackson’s brain several weeks for neuropathology tests). There was also division among family members about where he should be buried.
There won’t be any official ceremony marking Jackson’s death. Cemetery and city officials have announced steps to limit fans’ access to the gravesite on the first anniversary, meaning any commemorations will have to come from afar. Fans will be allowed on the grounds to pay their respects but won’t get to enter the ornate mausoleum, which houses dozens of other deceased celebrities, including Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Walt Disney and Sammy Davis Jr. They also will not be allowed to make ostentatious displays — releasing balloons or doves, and performing or dancing to his music. Police are prohibiting overnight camping or parking around the cemetery or merchandise sales.
10.How will Jackson be remembered?
Before he died, Jackson had drifted from the musical spotlight to become the “Wacko Jacko” tabloid target whose 50-date comeback plan was met with derision and doubt.
“A year after Jackson’s death, there’s no question his music has again become central to coverage of the late singer,” says Nelson George, author of the new Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson. “The exuberance of the Jackson 5, the massive impact of Thriller and many other dynamic records have reasserted Jackson’s greatness as a recording artist. The upcoming trial may shift the discussion back on the sadder side of Jackson’s life, but overall, his massive catalog of music is back on center stage.”
Though Jackson’s hard-core following remained loyal over the scandal-pocked past 20 years, George says, casual fans gradually forgot Jackson’s magical entertainment powers until his death unleashed buried regard, reflected now in sales and media attention. He’ll be long cherished for his talent, even by fans who have yet to discover him.
“Even after death, he’s still picking up young fans,” he says. “Jackson’s videos capture the attention of children, who want to do his dances and sing his songs. Kids fall in love with his style, voice and his joy in performing. In an age of Miley and the Jonas Brothers, Jackson still matters to a new generation.”