LOS ANGELES — If Michael Jackson were still alive today, he would have just celebrated his 55th birthday and the world would know the outcome of his comeback efforts. He might be embarking on a new career in filmmaking and probably would be nudging his eldest son in the same direction.
As a trial pursued by the singer’s mother against the promoters of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts draws to a close, jurors may soon be considering intriguing what-ifs had the King of Pop lived.
Throughout the trial, which has spanned 21 weeks and more than 50 witnesses, the panel of six men and six women has heard evidence about Jackson’s ambitions and his undisputed devotion for his three children and mother. If jurors determine that AEG Live LLC is liable for Jackson’s death, the group will then have to decide how much to compensate the singer’s three children and his mother for the loss of a loving father and an entertainer potentially capable of earning tens of millions of dollars a year.
In order to award Jackson’s family any money, the panel would have to determine that AEG Live hired the doctor convicted of administering an overdose of the anesthetic propofol in June 2009. AEG denies it hired former cardiologist Conrad Murray or bears any responsibility for Jackson’s death. The company’s lawyers point to evidence that Murray treated Jackson for years before preparations for the “This Is It” shows began and testimony that the singer was secretive about his medical care.
Yet whether or not the jury will need to determine compensation for Jackson’s family, the trial has revealed new details about the superstar’s post-tour plans.
Witnesses have described the entertainer’s interest in another career as a filmmaker after wrapping up his “This Is It” shows, which were slated to begin in July 2009. The singer’s contract included provisions for a worldwide tour after the singer completed a run of 50 shows planned at London’s O2 Arena, but AEG executives say the global shows weren’t a certainty.
Experts hired by Jackson’s mother have testified Jackson could have earned a billion dollars or more on a worldwide tour, a figure that defense experts have attacked as speculative and far in excess of earnings from the singer’s previous tours.
Jackson’s success or failure during the “This Is It” shows would have determined his future course. By many witnesses’ accounts, including his son Prince and a trusted nephew, Jackson was eyeing a second career as a filmmaker. He considered his long-form music videos such as “Thriller” and “Remember the Time” as films, but was eyeing even bigger projects on Egypt’s King Tut and a Chicago gangster film
Prince Jackson, 16, recalled during the trial that his father would often show him films twice – the first time with the sound off so that they could analyze shots together. The teenager still has aspirations in show business and told jurors he is considering film school, a decision his father might have steered him toward if he was alive.
The singer suggested to his nephew Taj that he study filmmaking as well, urging him to focus on 3-D technologies that hadn’t yet become mainstream in 2009. “He just loved the technology and he wanted to do something groundbreaking with it,” Taj said. He said his uncle talked about working with famous directors and about doing movies based on some of his hits, including “Smooth Criminal.”
Jackson’s devotion to his three children has been a major focus of the trial. The entertainer closely guarded their privacy and often had them wear masks while in public. Since their father’s death, Prince, Paris and Blanket have become household names and their faces are now well-known.
The children now live with Katherine Jackson and are supported by their father’s estate, which has successfully erased the singer’s sizable debts and have kept interest for his music high. But their father’s death has taken away the children’s primary caregiver and a father who by all accounts during the trial sought to bring his children happiness and instill in them a sense that they should help others.
The family’s attorneys haven’t told the jury how much they’re asking for the loss of Michael Jackson. In the grand finale of closing arguments, probably on Thursday, they are likely to reveal how much they are seeking. They are expected to ask for more than $1 billion.
Attorneys and experts hired by AEG Live have presented a different version of Jackson’s long-term prospects throughout the trial, showing evidence that the singer was deep in debt and sought out the anesthetic that eventually killed him in the months before his death.
Jackson was on the brink of losing his signature asset, his stake in the Sony-ATV music catalog that includes songs by The Beatles and other top acts, the company’s experts told the jury. The singer’s medical care has also been thoroughly detailed throughout the trial and it has revealed new information about Jackson’s relationship with Murray.
It will take at least nine jurors to agree that AEG indeed hired Murray if the panel is to then consider the what-ifs of Michael Jackson’s ambitions.