By ANNIE S. ALEJO
Michael Jackson may have fallen out of the entertainment radar in the last few years of his life – except for maybe a handful of dubious, one-sided reports of the superstar’s “strange” behavior and appearances – but his death, which marks its first anniversary on Friday, June 25, has actually put him in the forefront of people’s consciousness once again.
In fact, his death has inadvertently extended his reach to a platform he’s not really been associated with – the Internet. Whereas the pinnacle of his success may have happened long before the birth of blogging and social networking, news of his death significantly affected Internet traffic resulting in the lagging and crashing of various sites from TMZ (which broke the news of his hospitalization and then death) to Wikipedia and Twitter (where Jackson landed in 9 out of the 10 top trending topics at that time).
Google, at one point, was reportedly initially concerned that the spike in Jackson-related traffic was some form of hacking so they defaulted searches involving Jackson to an error page for more than half an hour. Elsewhere on the Net, YouTube had turned into a minefield of Jackson footage, including bootleg concerts and rehearsals, fan videos and rare audio, video and behind-the-scene clips.
Within the hour of his passing, CNN had switched their programming to run mostly Jackson-related news, interviews, and commentaries—completely overshadowing the death of Farrah Fawcett that happened a few hours prior. Within days, various networks and TV programs have also fashioned their own Michael Jackson reports and tributes—from CBS, Fox News, and MSNBC to "Oprah" (which waited until August to do so) and, much later, "Dancing with the Stars."
While most of the reports would still mention Jackson’s molestation trial and occasionally use the word “bizarre,” as if not willing to let anyone forget that they really weren’t on his side, various reporters were now paying lip service to the fallen pop hero. Whereas in 2005, nobody in the media would say anything positive about the man, plaudits were now, apparently, the order of the day. Even the African-American community – some of whom had come to regard Jackson as some sort of an embarrassment in the later years – now embraced the global phenomenon once again.
Of course, Jackson’s memorial as well as the first part of his funeral were also televised to millions of viewers. Later, a number of documentaries also aired, including the "BBC Culture Show to True Crime with Aphrodite Jones" on Investigation Discovery.
In print, one of the first magazines to put out a commemorative issue was Time. This was soon followed by “tribute” issues by Rolling Stone, People, Vanity Fair (which did several anti-Jackson features, especially around the time of his trial), and many others.
Self-appointed long-time “friend of the Jacksons” J. Randy Taraborrelli (who, incidentally, had not been in Michael Jackson’s circle for some time) would also immediately update his book with a chapter on Jackson’s death and re-title it "Michael Jackson: The Music, The Madness, The Whole Story." Other books would also come out, including Ian Halperin’s "Unmasked," where he put out bombshell revelations about Jackson’s sexuality that remained generally dismissed; rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s "The Michael Jackson Tapes"; and the only book Jackson authorized prior to his death, the 26.5 pound, 400-page, 13x18-inch "The Official Michael Jackson Opus."
There were also many tribute books that came out on Jackson, including "Treasures" (which had replicas of various Jackson memorabilia, including the certificate of his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley) and "For The Record," a comprehensive list of his discography, among others. But most notably, both Jackson's books "Moonwalk" and "Dancing The Dream" were also reissued.
One of the very first few controversial efforts to have come out after the superstar’s death was "This Is It," a movie that comprised lengths of rehearsal footage filmed for Jackson’s private library as well as new material for the concert that never was. The news of its release was initially met with skepticism from fans. It didn’t help that Jackson’s own father, Joe (who, by the way, had been practically estranged from his son for a long time), came out panning the filmmakers for using “body doubles.”
Some fans also rallied against the movie, claiming falsehoods and conspiracies to hide the truth about Jackson’s frail, near-death condition – reportedly spearheaded by, surprisingly, Jackson’s long-time makeup person and “friend.” These, as well as Joe’s allegations, would later be much harder to prove, especially when the full official autopsy came out to reveal that Jackson, at 50, had been fairly healthy for his age, and with no major organ damages. (The autopsy also revealed lack of melanin pigment in both physical findings and at the microscopic level, affirming Jackson's claim of vitiligo, which should finally end speculations about the radical change in his skin color.)
Looking at the King of Pop dancing and singing (albeit dubbed in some places) would paint a picture incongruent to the negative take some people believed. Whatever his true condition was at the time of the rehearsals, at least in those moments captured by the cameras, he seemed generally in good spirits and ready to storm the stage with dancers half his age.
"This Is It" eventually earned about $72 million in the U.S. and $188 million overseas, making it the highest grossing concert film in history. Billboard valued Jackson’s film and TV earnings, which included video sales and rentals, PlayStation3 bundling, nontheatrical performances, and such at $329 million.
And things continued to look up for Jackson. Under its executors John McClain and lawyer-slash-financial wiz John Branca, the man who helped Jackson amass his unbelievable fortune when he was still alive, Jackson’s estate had now generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. In a June 20, 2010, report by Billboard, here are the numbers:
Jackson’s music sales (across all platforms) in the past year were valued at $429 million. His music publishing revenues, meanwhile, were valued at $130 million. Licensing and touring, including non-refunded ticket sales for the concerts and a memorabilia exhibit in Japan, were valued at another $35 million. And a posthumous Jackson recording contract for 10 albums to be released through 2017 would bring in at least $31 million (and could reach up to $250 million if all albums in the deal were delivered).
This massive influx of revenue took Jackson’s estate out of the reported “financial shambles” and enabled it not only to support Jackson’s beneficiaries—his mother, Katherine Jackson (who gets 40%), his three children (40%), and various charities (20%)—it had also been able to pay off outstanding debts, including concert promoter AGE’s $35 million advance for the ill-fated concerts, and paid the city of Los Angeles $1.3 million for the July 2009 memorial; as well as various creditors’ claims, including the reported $341,000 owed to Tom Meserau, the genius lawyer that successfully defended Jackson in 2005.
By way of tributes in time for his death anniversary, and outside Joe Jackson’s almost-crazed shenanigans (from establishing a Jackson Family Foundation, whose first project had been to honor Joe Jackson himself, to selling Michael Jackson belts signed by Jackson’s own children) and Jermaine Jackson’s on-again, off-again (supposed) tribute for his brother in Italy, there are several ways Jackson will be commemorated.
Among them are: his mother’s book, "Never Can Say Good Bye: The Katherine Jackson Story," with previously unreleased photos with anecdotes about her son; Jackson’s childhood hometown of Gary, Indiana, will also hold a vigil at the family’s former house, purportedly to be attended by Katherine.
On TV, earlier this year, MTV, the Grammy’s, and BET Awards paid tribute to the King of Pop. On his death anniversary, HBO Asia will air "This Is It," while CBS News in the U.S. will celebrate the legendary singer in "The Early Show" with an hour-long tribute billed “The King of Pop: One Year Later.” TMZ is reportedly having a “Michael Jackson Day” dedicated to answering questions about the star.
In London, the “Thriller Live” (established in 2006) is still ongoing at the Lyric Theater in the West End (where a plaque will be installed to mark Jackson’s death anniversary), with two other simultaneous tours in UK and Europe. The London production won’t end until January 2011.
Cirque du Soleil has also entered a partnership with the Jackson estate for a “theatrical tribute” that should kick off with an arena show at the tail end of 2011, which will tour for one year in North America, and then the rest of the world for years. A permanent show will kick off in Las Vegas at the end of 2012.
Online, numerous fan sites have been established, and a handful of tribute sites are gaining ground. One such site is www.michaeljacksontributeportrait.com, a web community showcasing artist David Ilan, who is creating a special Jackson portrait using millions of dots each representing a real person—be it a fan or celebrity. Already, celebrities such as Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Larry King, Maya Angelou, Adam Lambert, Teddy Riley, some of Jackson’s This Is It artists, and more have joined over 250,000 fans worldwide that have signed up for their numbered dots.
Billboard.com has put up a video tribute to Jackson featuring 25 stars, posted on June 22, 2010.
Another Internet-spawned movement is www.mjworldcry.com, which spearheads a global vigil on Jackson’s death anniversary, as well as a commitment to continue his philanthropic work. Several cities worldwide are participating, led by “city ambassadors” who are organizing local activities. In Manila, an MJWorldCry vigil will happen in a private venue in Quezon City, spearheaded by the Michael Jackson Fan Club in the country.
While Jackson’s name now generates goodwill, the sad truth is, it had to take Jackson’s death to restore his image—perhaps far more effectively than anything he could have done. Nevertheless, his millions of fans worldwide (that now even includes teens, signaling a new appreciation for the Jackson magic) will be lighting candles and saying prayers for peace and justice for their departed icon, and will surely keep his legacy alive for years to come.