A year after his death, the music superstar's legacy is spending more time in the courts than on the charts
MORE TO READ: "One Year Later: Our Complete Jackson Coverage"
Murder and money.
One year after his death, that’s the state of affairs for Michael Jackson, legally speaking.
In the last decade of his life, Jackson spent much more time in the courts than he did on the charts; posthumously, things haven’t changed much for the superstar.
The flurry of record sales and downloads that catapulted Michael’s music back into the Top 10 has subsided, but the legal maneuverings are just getting started. There’s Michael’s will and his money, which the late singer’s estate is quickly enriching – and various family members and business associates want a piece of it.
There’s also his actual death, and whether his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has blood on his prescription drug-administering hands.
Someone killed Michael Jackson – the question is, who?
On Aug. 28, 2009, just over two months after he was declared dead at UCLA Medical Center, Michael Jackson’s death was ruled a homicide by the Los Angeles County coroner. The cause, the coroner said at the time, was "acute propofol intoxication."
That report, which also cited lorazepam and Valium as contributing factors in the singer’s death, clearly showed Jackson, as many had suspected over the years, had a problem with drugs. It also implicitly laid responsibility on those who were providing and administering the powerful painkillers and sedatives to the singer.
On Feb. 8, 2010, as public pressure was building, Los Angeles prosecutors put that responsibility on Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael’s personal physician, who was in his house with him the day the singer died. According to the charge of involuntary manslaughter, Murray “did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Michael Joseph Jackson.”
If found guilty, Murray faces a prison sentence of up to four years.
However, despite presiding Judge Michael Pastor’s recent declaration that he wanted to prioritize the trial, don’t expect Murray behind bars or exonerated any time soon – the next hearing scheduled for Aug. 23 is still just another preliminary.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is running for California attorney general, doesn’t want any repeats of the fiasco that was the O.J. Simpson trial. However, he and deputy D.A. David Walgren, who is actually handling the matter in court, don’t want to be accused of railroading Murray, either.
The DA’s office also knows that Murray’s likely defense – that Michael administered the fatal drugs to himself – isn’t going to moonwalk itself away without many days, if not weeks and months, in court. Then again, Murray, who is primarily represented by the smooth but pugilistic Ed Chernoff, might have a more immediate charge on his hands very soon.
On March 27, as TheWrap reported, lawyers for Joe Jackson, who was left out of his son’s will, served Murray with a notice of intent to initiate legal proceedings.
(UPDATE: Joe Jackson filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Murray on June 25, the first anniversary of Michael's death.)
That 13-page document alleges, among claims Murray spent the night before Michael’s death drinking at a Los Angeles strip club and other accusations, that the doctor illegally gave prescription drugs to the singer and “acted with reckless disregard for Michael Jackson’s life.” It also claims that Joe has been injured and will be seeking damages for “loss of support, loss of comfort … loss of services … pain, suffering and general damages.”
Under California law, Joe Jackson, who also might sue concert promoter AEG, has to wait 90 days from the date the document is delivered before he can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those 90 days are up on June 25 – the one-year anniversary of Michael's death.
Joe Jackson’s lawyer, Brian Oxman, did not immediately respond to TheWrap's request for a comment. However, he has told TheWrap in the past that “Conrad Murray killed Michael Jackson and we will be pursuing a wrongful death suit before the anniversary of Michael’s death.”
Whether or not Joe goes ahead and if Murray, if found guilty in such a civil case, has any money to give the senior Jackson are both to be determined.
Then again, money, not murder, is what makes the world go 'round – even and especially if you are Michael Jackson.
Jackson died broke and heavily in debt. Despite having the best-selling record of all time in “Thriller” as well as extensive investments — especially the lucrative ATV music publishing catalog, which includes hundreds of Beatles songs – the singer had signed away or divided most of his assets; was living in a rented house provided by promoter AEG in the lead-up to his 50-date concert stint at London’s O2 Arena; and owed nearly $500 million.
What a difference a year makes.
Today, after a surge in sales, the hit “This Is It” concert film, a $250 million multi-album agreement with Sony and licensing and merchandising deals that make the estate of his former father-in-law Elvis Presley look small-time, the estate of Michael Jackson has made more than $1 billion in revenues and has paid off over $200 million of MJ’s debt.
That's in part why there are dozens of cases against the estate of Michael Jackson. Most, like those from ex-employees or tangential business associates, are no more than a nuisance and easily waved off by estate lawyer Howard Weitzman.
Others, like that of promoter AllGood Entertainment, which claims in a $300 million suit that Jackson broke an agreement for a family reunion concert last year by signing up for the O2 Arena shows, and Broadway’s Nederlander Presentations, which says the estate is blocking it from putting on an MJ musical to which the singer agreed in 2008, likely will go before a judge or be expensively settled.
Joe Jackson is hoping for the latter but might still grind away at the former. It is no secret that the two had not always been the closest of family members, to put it mildly. Michael essentially fired Joe as his manager when he turned 21, spoke of abuse he suffered at his father's hands, and left him nothing in the will he signed in 2002.
Since November, the 81-year-old Joe, who by all accounts has become an almost-doting grandfather to Michael’s children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, has been in courtroom trench warfare to get the estate to pay him a $20,000 monthly allowance.
The patriarch claims he has no regular income and that Michael, despite leaving him out the will, would have wanted him to have stable finances. Weitzman has repeatedly argued against it on behalf of the estate, reiterating time after time that Michael left money to his mother, Katherine, his three children and various charities – and that is that. Currently Katherine, who takes care of the children, receives about $26,000 a month directly from the estate and about $60,000 a month for the kids.
So while the family presents a united front at the Conrad Murray trial, in the terms of the estate, it seems to be a house divided … even though they all live together in the Encino compound. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 2.