It's a wonderful afterlife for Michael Jackson

Mon Jun 21, 2010 1:17am EDT
 
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By Cortney Harding

NEW YORK (Billboard) - On March 5, 2009, when Michael Jackson announced that he would perform a run of 50 concerts at London's O2 Arena in a comeback tour called This Is It, the British media largely greeted the news with derision.

The Guardian wrote that a quickly erected stage at the press conference "served only to heighten Jackson's physical weirdness -- the sunken cheeks, the upturned nose, the overpronounced chin cleft." The Daily Telegraph described his behavior as "bizarre," and so many rumors circulated about his ill health that the tour's promoter, AEG, was forced to issue a statement that Jackson had undergone a battery of tests to prove he was in condition to play the dates.

Following his acquittal in 2005 on charges of sexual abuse, Jackson had spent much of his time in seclusion -- at his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif.; in Bahrain; in Ireland; in Las Vegas -- emerging only, it seemed, to fend off financial ruin, either through ill-fated recording projects or embarrassing public divestitures. Many saw the concerts as little more than a desperate, money-raising gambit.

Despite his ability to sell out 50 arena dates, the King of Pop was seen, even by some of his supporters, as little more than a hallowed oldies act, a performer whose heyday, albeit phenomenal, was more than two decades in the past. To his detractors, though, Jackson was even less than that: either a laughingstock -- "Wacko Jacko" -- or worse: a freak, a deviant, a pariah.

Flash-forward 15 months, and Jackson's image in the public consciousness has undergone a dramatic revision. In the days, weeks and months following his death on June 25, 2009, from drug-related cardiac arrest, a popular reclaiming of Jackson as a beloved, once-in-a-lifetime musical genius took hold. While cable-news pundits endlessly pored over the tawdry circumstances of his demise, millions of fans new and old simply shrugged their shoulders and happily popped in their "Thriller" CDs.

In July, Jackson regained his spot at the top of the Billboard sales charts, moving 422,000 units in the week after his death alone -- to date, the Jackson catalog has sold 9 million copies in the year since he passed, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Spontaneously, kids from Bed-Stuy to Beijing were seen sporting bootleg "Thriller" T-shirts and blaring "Billie Jean" as if it were 1983 and Reagan was in the White House.

In the fall, the film of Jackson's rehearsals for the mocked This Is It tour became the highest-grossing concert movie of all time, earning $72 million at the North American box office, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. (The soundtrack to "This Is It," Sony Music's only release of new Jackson material since his death, has sold 1.6 million copies.)

In March, the Jackson estate, led by co-executors John Branca and John McClain, signed a 10-album, $250 million deal with Sony that will include the release of a collection of previously unreleased tracks, set for November, as well as repackages of Jackson's 1979 solo breakthrough, "Off the Wall," and his 1987 album, "Bad." One month later, Cirque du Soleil, which created the Beatles' show "Love" to great acclaim, announced it would produce both a touring and permanent show based on Jackson's music.   Continued...

 
<p>A hat, a pair of glasses and a glove sit on a chair on a stage at the Michael Jackson public memorial at the Apollo Theater in New York June 30, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>