Michael Jacksons family: where did it all go wrong?
Inter-generational Twitter feuds, alleged abductions and the direst
allegations of false imprisonment of an elderly parent; world-famous
siblings embroiled in protracted legal battles that recall Jarndyce and
Jarndyce; and at the centre of it all, at the eye of a ghastly familial
hurricane, lies a musical legend the foremost musical legend of the
past 40 years who at his death had accumulated debts nearing half a
billion dollars but who now, after three years as a corpse, and thanks
to astute management of his estate and back catalogue, will soon once
more be awash in accountants' black ink.
Prince, Paris and Blanket Jackson, January 2012
Even in his grave, Michael Jackson lies uneasy, as his survivors
collectively do as much to dishonour his name as the overzealous Santa
Barbara police department twice did with its controversial failed
child-molestation trials in 1993 and 2003. We are a very long way from
Gary, Indiana, from Hitsville USA and from Motown's Sound of Young
America. It makes you want to cry out: "Stop! In the name of love."
On one side of this toxic contretemps are the Jackson family
matriarch, 82-year-old Katherine Jackson the one truly dependable and
loving person in MJ's life and Michael's three children, Paris, Prince
and Blanket, who together are the King of Pop's four principal legatees
(along with a number of MJ's favourite charities, which get about one
fifth of the estate annually). Michael made a point of excluding his
siblings and his abusive father-manager, Joseph, from his will. This did
not sit well with some of those on the other side of the dispute
Jermaine, Rebbie, Randy, Tito and, latterly, Janet, but not LaToya,
Marlon or Jackie. Many of them had been receiving allowances from their
superstar brother for years all of which stopped at his death.
Several of the aggrieved have sworn that Michael's will could not
have been signed in Los Angeles on the date the document bears since,
they argued, their late brother was in New York on that day. Thus, they
said, Michael Jackson died intestate. In the state of California this
means that the deceased's assets are portioned out by the state, not by
the family's lawyers, with these going first to children, then to
parents, then to siblings, depending on which of them survives the
deceased. Such a situation can become the focus of multiple lawsuits,
frivolous or otherwise, much more easily than can a well-managed,
properly willed estate.
This slender claim has been the basis for a family lawsuit (backed
for a while even by Katherine) that was thrown out by first the Los
Angeles superior court, then the California court of appeals and finally
the California supreme court in the years since Jackson died. Why has
the issue resurfaced now, and done so far more noisily than it did at
the time of the comparatively low-visibility court cases?
Katherine Jackson with some of her family, 2011
The focus of the recent disputes has been the team managing the
Jackson estate, legendary entertainment lawyer John Branca and Jackson's
friend, lawyer John McClain. Both were appointed by Michael as his
executors well before his death, and he could scarcely have made a wiser
choice. They have done a sterling job of turning Jackson's estate into a
functioning money-spinner once again, all under the consistently
approving eye of California superior court judge Mitchell Beckloff. Now
that Jackson isn't buying up department stores' complete inventories of
furniture, renting out entire hotel floors, or taking ruinously
expensive narcotic safaris to the outer reaches of the Physicians' Desk
Reference, expenditures have fallen off considerably.
McClain and Branca meanwhile two of the sharpest lawyers in modern
entertainment, whose client base includes half of the Rock'n'Roll Hall
of Fame made a series of fantastically remunerative deals and
licensing arrangements that have piloted the stricken estate from
developing world debtor nation status to something approaching solvency.
And the money will not stop pouring in over the years to come.
Jackson sold 35m albums in the 12 months after his death as a wise man
said, death really is a great career move while the rehearsal film
about preparations for the This Is It tour made $260m (£166m) worldwide
during a limited two-week release. Jackson's executors cut a lucrative
deal allowing Pepsi to associate itself with the 25th anniversary
reissue of the Bad album, and licensed the Jackson catalogue to Cirque
de Soleil for its Immortal show, which has toured nationwide in the US
and packed them in steadily at its home base in Las Vegas.
These big moves and others, including album sales and the judicious
exploitation of the Jackson-owned Beatles publishing rights, took the
asset value of the estate from minus $500m to minus $25m in less than
three years. It will only grow and grow. This is a Sinatra-sized musical
legacy, at least in terms of cash, that will pay off for decades to
Michael Jacksons siblings at his memorial service, July 2009
Apparently, though, the contesting siblings see the executors as a
new avenue of attack. Their particular issue with Branca and McClain
concerns the 10% they earn from the estate in their role as executors.
That's a pretty standard fee for managing a large estate, but that
didn't stop siblings Randy, Jermaine, Tito, Janet and Rebbie from
writing to the executors last month and demanding their resignations.
Never mind a court ruling that the period to challenge the will had
expired; they claimed that it remained "fake, flawed, and fraudulent",
and that their brother had "despised" the executors while he was alive.
Brother Randy later added a more startling allegation, claiming that
"anyone who stands up to the executors is denied access to my mother".
Which makes the disappearance if that's what it was of Katherine
Jackson only days later all the more intriguing. It also brought the
next generation of Jacksons, the children with no memory of Gary,
Indiana, or Motown, into the picture. They are teenagers, so social
media is their go-to avenue of communication, which troubles the older
members of the scandal-prone, tabloid-catnip family.
Jackson's daughter Paris the one with the Village of the Damned
eyes stepped up as her generation's chatty, flying-thumbed
representative in the feud. On 21 July, she tweeted: "yes, my
grandmother is missing. i haven't spoken with her in a week i want her
home now." And: "8 days and counting. something is really off, this
isn't like her at all. I wanna talk directly to my grandmother!!" And
finally: "9 days and counting
so help me god I will make whoever did
The next day, several of Jackson's siblings showed up at the gated
community in Los Angeles where Katherine lives with the children. The
LAPD arrived on the scene after a call about a scuffle in which the
elder siblings, Janet, Jermaine and Randy, allegedly tried to confiscate
the mobiles of the increasingly talkative teenagers. Randy and Jermaine
seem to have come to blows with Trent Jackson, a cousin who works for
their mother, in a scene that one anonymous witness likened to The Jerry
The same day, Katherine was spotted by a photographer in Arizona,
evidently very contented and healthy, giving rise to speculation that
Jackson's siblings had sent their mother there so as to better control
the situation in LA. Instead, they had made it worse.
The executors had already moved to have custody of the children
signed over temporarily to Tito's son TJ (Tito's children get some
support from the MJ will).
Katherine, it emerged, was at a spa in Arizona, incommunicado,
without her phone, iPad or a functioning TV, leaving her blissfully
unaware of the endless spats unfolding in LA. Local police interviewed
her at her daughter Rebbie's home nearby and found no reason for
concern, but LAPD investigators who later turned up to check on her were
turned away, as Arizona is outside their jurisdiction.
Jermaine issued a statement on behalf of the family, or whichever
faction of it he is in: "No one is being 'blocked' from speaking with
Mother. She is merely an 82-year-old woman following doctor's orders to
rest-up and de-stress, away from phones and computers. Everyone has been
well aware of this within the family, but I would like to reiterate my
reassurance to the outside world that Mother is fine. In the meantime,
thank you for all your thoughts and concerns."
What do these confusing titbits and unsourced accounts add up to? The
whole story is riddled with contradictions, competing claims and
counter-claims, and speculative accounting about other people's money.
It is complicated by the fact that the Jackson family and all its tacky
and embarrassing scandals can still, three years after Michael's death,
drive the worst elements of the tabloid press into an orgasmic feeding
frenzy, causing them to rely on paid witnesses and disgruntled, possibly
mendacious former employees and when they are not at hand, simply to
make stuff up.
The tabloid narrative on the Jacksons was set in stone decades ago
and no one wishes to upset that money-spinning apple cart of rumour, lie
and innuendo. So when something with a grain of truth to it rolls
around, like this story of which we really know very little that is
utterly reliable, that grain of truth has to be painstakingly extruded
from a veritable Sargasso Sea of misinformation. You have been warned.
- The Guardian