He's painfully thin, he hasn't properly trained, he's battled pain medication … can he make it through to the end?
Secreted in an airport hangar somewhere in the Los Angeles area, Michael Jackson is hard at work rehearsing for his 50-date concert series, “This Is It,” TheWrap has confirmed.
“He is fine and in great shape and is healthy and rehearsing in Los Angeles,” said friend and business associate Gary Pudney, executive producer of the World Music Awards, where Jackson made one of his rare public appearances in 2006.
That may come as a surprise to those who saw recent photos of Jackson shopping in Bel-Air, where the King of Pop’s painfully thin frame swam inside a black silk morning coat.
Jackson, his chin and cheekbones jutting out, looked nothing like a pop star about to embark on a strenuous 50-date concert tour.
As the 50-year-old former star preps for the grueling series, many wonder if the show will indeed go on, despite millions of dollars spent in sales of 750,000 tickets.
Jackson must now put his show together in less than two months — and it's been 12 years since his last tour. And at his last public appearance, three years ago at the World Music Awards, he barely whispered a few lines of “We Are the World.”
There is reason to wonder whether the drama-bound performer will be able to maintain the grueling schedule required by the addition of 40 new dates to what was originally a 10-date concert series.
“Healthwise, he has deteriorated,” Stacy Brown, the author of “Michael Jackson; The Man Behind the Mask told TheWrap. “Last July, he was photographed being pushed around in a wheelchair in Las Vegas. What I think you'll see is that it will be postponed for some excuse, that ‘he'll be back next week,’ and next week will never come.”
His 50 scheduled dates at the 02 dwarf even Prince's 21-day series at that arena in 2007, and Prince was 49 at the time.
Promoters and managers believe anyone embarking on a series like Jackson's should spend six months preparing.
“You have to exercise every single day,” said a veteran promoter and producer who asked for anonymity. “When Madonna goes out, she does six months of heavy-duty training.”
Jackson's stage theatrics are extremely demanding. Frighteningly thin at the child-molestation trial in 2005, he now weighs about 135, according to an individual close to the family. Some stars like Mick Jagger can lose more than six pounds a gig, and Jackson’s show is heavily dance-based.
Then there is the issue of his battles with prescription medication to lessen Jackson's chronic back and leg pain. “He gets sleepy, tired,” the individual close to the family said.
World Music Awards’ Pudney, however, insists, fans should not worry about Jackson pulling a no-show or giving a sub-par performance. “He's in very good health,” Pudney said. “He's taken very good care of himself, and anyone saying he isn't rehearsing is wrong. This is it. There are a lot of people out there who wish him ill.”
Jackson, however, does have a history of concert problems. Marcel Avram, a German concert promoter, won a multi-million-dollar judgment against the singer at a 2005 civil trial for damages arising out of Jackson's nonperformance.
Such conduct and images of the emaciated star have raised eyebrows in the insurance industry.
AEG Live, the promoter behind Jackson's 02 concerts, has been struggling to arrange a full cancellation policy with insurers, the London Telegraph has reported, and Britain's Guardian reported that the promoters secured insurance for just the first 10 days of the tour, as opposed to the whole 50.
If further insurance is refused, the only option is self-insurance, which could cost an estimated $350,000 to $500,000 a performance, and Jackson might have to agree to let it be taken out of his cut from the tour.
“The promoter needs business interruption insurance because historically these tours have not go on as planned,” said a veteran promoter who asked not to be identified. “The hall may not let you play without insurance. It doesn't want to be holding the bag.”
But Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar.com, which tracks the concert business told TheWrap that the promoters of MJ02, AEG Live, are successful enough to handle the risk of insuring the concerts series for any interruptions themselves.
“You have to have basic liability insurance,” Bongiovanni said, “but having nonperformance is not an absolute.”
Scheduled to begin July 8, the first concert, at London's 02 Arena, the concert is rumored to have fantastic elements including a jungle with elephants, monkeys and parrots, a high-wire act with Jackson performing like an airborne Peter Pan — and even a duet with his 12-year-old son Prince.
The comeback has already drawn an enormous amount of international attention because of the staggering number of tickets already sold — 750,000 in a matter of days. If he finishes the tour, Britain's Sky News estimates the one-time self-proclaimed King of Pop could moonwalk away with about $225 million — not counting merchandising.
The MJ02 concerts are another example of the disarray within the Jackson camp. A giant memorabilia sale, potentially worth millions of dollars, was recently cancelled because herbalist Dr. Tohme R. Tohme, who has as the singer's spokesman and manager, made a deal with Julien's Auction House, but MJJ did not have ownership rights to the items and Jackson stopped the bidding.
Joel Diamond, a former CBS music executive who managed David Hasselhoff's German tours and Engelbert Humperdinck, believes Jackson wants to succeed in this comeback.
“This series is really his way of showing why he is the greatest entertainer in our times,” Diamond said. “There is only one Elvis, only one Pavarotti and there is only one Michael Jackson. Love him or hate him, he is he best live performer in my lifetime.”