LOS ANGELES — While Michael Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray is facing jail and the end of his career, the star’s fortunes have ironically been resurrected by his death and the furor which has followed.
Only last month Jackson was named as the world’s top dead earner for a second straight year by Forbes magazine, which said he made $170 million for his estate over the past 12 months.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Murray’s manslaughter trial in Los Angeles has been accompanied by a flurry of Jackson events, including a new Cirque du Soleil show and a tribute concert in Britain last month
The King of Pop’s second posthumous album — appropriately entitled “Immortal” — is due out later this month, and will presumably not be damaged by the surge in publicity for Murray’s trial.
“In a commercial society that overly fixates on celebrity status, this outcome of a death boosting reputational fortunes is predictable, although ironic,” said professor of management Diane Swanson of Kansas State University.
“This observation in no way detracts from Jackson’s immense talents,” she told AFP.
Murray was found guilty Monday over Jackson’s death from an overdose of powerful sedatives including the clinical anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009, at the age of 50.
The King of Pop was in Los Angeles rehearsing for a series of planned “This is It” comeback concerts in London — intended to resurrect his career and reputation, torpedoed half a decade earlier by child molestation charges.
In the final years of his life, Jackson’s finances were widely reported to be in chaos, with the singer facing foreclosure on his famed Neverland Ranch and struggling with debts of roughly 500 million dollars
But the months following his untimely demise saw soaring music sales, the blockbuster movie “This is It” — based on the rehearsals he was attending when he died — and an array of commercial spin-offs.
In March 2010, the administrators of his estate, John Branca and John McClain inked a deal with Sony Music Entertainment believed to be one of the biggest ever.
The recording contract will see the release of 10 albums over seven years until 2017 in a deal expected to guarantee the Jackson estate as much as 250 million dollars.
The first of those albums, “Michael,” was released last December and was a best-seller despite lukewarm reviews and questions over the authenticity of the vocals, garnered from studio outtakes over the years.
The second, “Immortal,” is due out in a few weeks’ time, on November 21 either as a 15-track single or 22-track double disc album.
The album provided the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s “Immortal World Tour” tribute to the pop idol which had its global premiere in Montreal at the start of October, days after Murray’s trial started on September 27.
Then on October 8, Jackson’s mother Katherine as well as his children Prince, 14, Paris, 13, and nine-year-old Blanket turned out for a tribute concert for 40,000 fans in Cardiff, Wales.
But the Jackson money-spinning has not all been without strife — in fact, wrangling over the star’s legacy has long been a source of tension within his family.
While much of the family was at the Cardiff show, brothers Jermaine and Randy Jackson slammed the timing of the concert during the Los Angeles trial, saying it would be inappropriate to be involved with such an ill-timed event.”
Legal wrangling has also accompanied the money making.
Jackson’s father Joe caused a stink by striking a deal with a French perfume maker earlier this year, to launch themed scents “Jackson’s Tribute” for men and “Jackson’s Legend” for women.
But in the end the Jackson commercial bandwagon rolls on — as proved by the latest Forbes list, which placed the King of Pop ahead of every other pop music act of the past year — both living and dead — except for Irish rock band U2.
For management expert Swanson, it is no surprise.
“In death the target of interest cannot respond, (so) the full weight of public fascination with celebrity explodes without being curbed by the reality check of the live entertainer,” she told AFP.
“In short, death becomes an opportunity to recreate the market,” she added.