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LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Jackson is expected to announce a series of comeback concerts on Thursday, but fans are wondering whether it will be the moonwalking genius of his heyday or the shambolic figure of recent years who shows up.
The London dates would be Jackson's first major performances since he was acquitted of child abuse charges in a 2005 trial, after which the 50-year-old lived the life of a semi-recluse.
And even before a single concert has been confirmed, there is widespread skepticism that Jackson is capable of playing a potentially lengthy residency at London's 20,000-capacity O2 arena this summer.
British bookmaker William Hill has already offered odds that Jackson would not turn up for a run of concerts.
"With Jackson, you never can tell," said Hill spokesman Rupert Adams.
Despite being one of the biggest musical acts of all time who created seminal albums like "Thriller," headlines over the last decade or more have been dominated by the trial, Jackson's parlous finances, his odd behavior and physical appearance.
If Jackson can pull it off, a string of concerts at a single venue would be both lucrative and less demanding than a full-fledged tour. "A series of hit-packed gigs would remind everyone precisely why Michael Jackson was so famous in the first place: not because of his eccentricity, reclusiveness or bizarre flights of fancy, but because of his superhuman powers as a performer," said Luke Lewis in the NME music magazine.
But if the comeback fails to materialize, or is regarded as a flop, Jackson would find it harder than ever to resurrect a career that has lain largely lifeless since his last album of new music -- "Invincible" in 2001.
Jackson also performed in London at the World Music Awards in 2006, but that much-hyped return was described by critics as a shambles after he sang, in a broken voice, just a few lines of his charity single "We Are The World."
Jackson's record label has declined to give any details about the nature of the promised announcement.
Media reports have said that any O2 residency could be as short as 10 dates and as long as 50, and could be worth anywhere from 50-100 million ($70-140 million) pounds to the singer.
Fellow performer Prince gave his profile a major boost with a successful 21-night stay at the O2 in 2007, and Britney Spears is due top appear there in June.
Jackson began his musical career with his siblings in the Motown group the Jackson 5 and went on release a string of hit solo records including 1982's "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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