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.
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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.
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 untimely 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 several 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 have busily 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 are 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 many 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 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, his cousin TJ Jackson said.
Mesereau said the family seems to be doing reasonably well. Of their father, the attorney said, “He’s missed very much.”
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