10 years after his death, Michael Jackson's legacy is tarnished — but profitable

10 years after his death, Michael Jackson's legacy is tarnished — but profitable

His songs aren’t being played on major Canadian radio stations, The Simpsons will no longer air an episode he once voiced and a documentary about molestation allegations is among HBO’s most viewed in the last decade, but Michael Jackson’s popularity appears robust 10 years after his death.

Darren Julien, CEO of Julien Auctions in Los Angeles, said the late superstar’s belongings still fetch top prices from buyers. He’s sold millions of dollars worth of Jackson memorabilia over the years, including his famous Thriller jacket, for $ 1.8 million US in 2011. 

“In the investing world, I would call Michael Jackson a blue chip,” said Julien. “He’s a good investment because his value is just going to continue to go up.”

Julien says a jacket Jackson once wore went up for auction in May — a few months after the documentary Leaving Neverland was released — and sold for $ 75,000 US. The amount is comparable to another one sold shortly after his death, which went for $ 60,000 US. It was re-sold five years later for double that price.

Music journalist Alan Cross said it’s not surprising.

“His reputation has definitely been tarnished,” said Cross, host of the radio show and podcast, The Ongoing History of New Music. “However, it hasn’t been tarnished to the point that people have completely given up on him.

“There’s also a very sizeable number of people who believe he’s innocent and believe that people have been out to get him.”

A calfskin jacket worn by Michael Jackson in his Thriller video sold for $ 1.8 million US in 2011. (Matt Sayles/The Associated Press)

‘Wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy’

Jackson died on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50 after being given a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol as a sleeping agent. His personal physician, Conrad Murray, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for administering the drug. He was released from prison in 2013.

A star-studded public memorial was held for Jackson in Los Angeles about two weeks after his death, in which Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher and the reverend Al Sharpton among others took the stage.

“I want his three children to know,” said Sharpton in his speech. “Wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with.”

Al Sharpton, Janet Jackson, Prince Michael Jackson II (aka Blanket), Brooke Shields, La Toya Jackson, Paris Jackson and Ken Stacey perform at the Michael Jackson public memorial service held at Staples Center on July 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jackson’s death appeared to temporarily bury any questions that lingered after his acquittal following child molestation charges in 2005. The singer had also settled a multi-million dollar law suit after being accused of child sexual abuse against another boy in 1993.

While Jackson and his family have always vehemently defended the star’s innocence, Jackson admitted in a 2003 documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, that he had slept in the same bed as children and didn’t believe there was anything wrong with it.

Shifting opinions

But when Leaving Neverland was released earlier this year, it forced many people — longtime fans included — to re-examine the veracity of child abuse allegations against him.

The four-hour documentary was a gut-wrenching portrait of two men — Wade Robson and James Safechuck — who say Jackson abused them for years. Both spent time at Jackson’s infamous Neverland ranch as children and denied anything was wrong while the singer was still alive.

Wade Robson, from left, director Dan Reed and James Safechuck pose for a portrait to promote the film Leaving Neverland during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. (Taylor Jewell/The Associated Press)

Robson and Safechuck filed lawsuits against the Jackson estate, which were dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Both are appealing. The Jackson estate launched a $ 100 million lawsuit against HBO, which the network has countered.

While the estate has been fighting to discredit the allegations in the court of public opinion, the film led to a significant and immediate response.

A 1991 episode of The Simpsons in which Jackson voiced a character was pulled from all future broadcasts.

Radio stations in Montreal took him off their playlists.

And Leaving Neverland became the third most-watched HBO documentary in the last decade, according to the network.

At the same time, support for the man and his music remains steadfast.

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE still runs two shows, five nights a week in Las Vegas. A musical inspired by his life, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, will premiere on Broadway in 2020. And Billboard reported in March that streaming and sales of his music increased after Leaving Neverland premiered.

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE continues to perform twice a night, five nights a week in Las Vegas. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

According to the Associated Press, Jackson’s estate has grossed more than $ 1.3 billion US through the end of 2016.

Julien, who started at Sotheby’s before running his own auction house for the last 20 years, said Jackson’s belongings are becoming harder to come by, which means their value could continue to rise. When asked whether collectors might have trepidation about purchasing Jackson’s items given recent controversy, Julien said “not at all.”

“We always have new buyers,” said Julien. “I would say he (Jackson) and Marilyn Monroe are the most collected celebrities in the world.”

Cross says while ten years is generally considered a milestone anniversary, there’s likely to be less fanfare for this one. 

“Michael Jackson will continue to maintain the legacy that he always had,” said Cross. “But there’ll be an asterisk beside it.”

CBC | Arts News

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