Michael Jackson is Worth More than Ever, and Uncle Sam Wants his Slice of the Pie

This Is It, the 2009 documentary based on Jackson’s last planned tour, made $290 million globally.
This Is It, the 2009 documentary based on Jackson’s last planned tour, made $290 million globally.

Jackson’s star lawyer made a mint for his heirs, so now the government has to be startin’ somethin’.

Seven years after Michael Jackson’s fatal overdose of propofol and lorazepam in 2009, the statute of limitations on gossiping about the deceased is, apparently, over. In one of her rare interviews in the midst of the presidential campaign, future First Lady Melania Trump told the luxury magazine DuJour how Jackson, a friend of Donald’s and onetime Trump Tower resident, mischievously suggested they kiss to make her husband jealous. Then Madonna, on CBS’s Late Late Show, revealed that she’d smooched amorously with him long ago. And the New York Post’s Page Six dropped a chunk from Tommy Hilfiger’s memoir, American Dreamer: My Life in Fashion and Business, about the designer’s visit in the 1990s at Neverland Ranch, the singer’s compound in Santa Barbara County, Calif. After encountering a giraffe and a string of baby elephants outside, Hilfiger found Jackson in his office, with a bandage on his nose, wearing sunglasses and sitting on “an enormous gold-and-burgundy throne.” His two oldest children, Prince and Paris, were there, dressed “like characters from a Broadway show or The Sound of Music—velveteen knickers, dirndl jumper, ruffled blouses, patent leather shoes, each in full makeup.”

Paris, in response to such banter and because she’s now 18, just gave her first full-length interview in a Rolling Stone cover story, setting the record straight: She’d had a wonderful childhood until her father’s death at age 50. After, she struggled with drugs and attempted suicide several times, but she’s now happy, clean, and, the magazine reports, “heir to a mammoth fortune—the Michael Jackson Trust is likely worth more than $1 billion, with disbursements to the kids in stages.”

That number could change if the IRS has anything to do with it. The agency’s lawyers are taking the executors to trial, set to begin sometime this month in U.S. Tax Court in Los Angeles. The IRS intends to prove that $702 million of that inheritance is owed in penalties and back taxes. The crux of the case is the disputed value of Jackson’s name and likeness, which is to say the right to use his visage on everything from coffee cups to baseball caps. An estate tax filing is supposed to be a snapshot of the person’s assets on the day of his expiration, and under California law that includes the value of a star’s name and likeness. The IRS claims Jackson’s should have been valued at $434 million. The estate claims that it was worth a mere $2,105, implying that his image had been rendered all but worthless by stories about skin bleaching, his obsession with plastic surgery, prescription drug abuse, odd parenting choices—such as covering his children’s faces in black veils or Spider-Man masks in public—and allegations that he molested young boys who visited Neverland.

Paris, in response to such banter and because she’s now 18, just gave her first full-length interview in a Rolling Stone cover story, setting the record straight: She’d had a wonderful childhood until her father’s death at age 50. After, she struggled with drugs and attempted suicide several times, but she’s now happy, clean, and, the magazine reports, “heir to a mammoth fortune—the Michael Jackson Trust is likely worth more than $1 billion, with disbursements to the kids in stages.”

That number could change if the IRS has anything to do with it. The agency’s lawyers are taking the executors to trial, set to begin sometime this month in U.S. Tax Court in Los Angeles. The IRS intends to prove that $702 million of that inheritance is owed in penalties and back taxes. The crux of the case is the disputed value of Jackson’s name and likeness, which is to say the right to use his visage on everything from coffee cups to baseball caps. An estate tax filing is supposed to be a snapshot of the person’s assets on the day of his expiration, and under California law that includes the value of a star’s name and likeness. The IRS claims Jackson’s should have been valued at $434 million. The estate claims that it was worth a mere $2,105, implying that his image had been rendered all but worthless by stories about skin bleaching, his obsession with plastic surgery, prescription drug abuse, odd parenting choices—such as covering his children’s faces in black veils or Spider-Man masks in public—and allegations that he molested young boys who visited Neverland.

Fortuitously, the Beach Boys’ accountant also did Jackson’s taxes. In 1980 he introduced Braun and Branca to the ascendant pop star, who’d recently turned 21 and was in the process of distancing himself from his domineering father and primary manager, Joseph Jackson. Branca found Jackson pleasantly eccentric. “He had sunglasses on, and he pulled them down and he goes, ‘Do I know you?’ ” Branca recalls. “I go, ‘I don’t think we’ve met, but I look forward to getting to know you.’ And he goes, ‘Are you sure we don’t know each other?’ I said, ‘Michael, I would remember if we had met.’ ” The next day, Branca got a call from the accountant. Jackson was hiring him to be his attorney.

One of the first things Branca did was renegotiate what he describes as Jackson’s “absurd” contract with his label, Epic Records, winning him a royalty rate that only a few artists such as Dylan enjoyed at the time. When Jackson was ready to unveil Thriller, he wanted to spend $1.2 million on the video for the title track. Branca protested—this was a time when music videos typically cost $50,000—but Jackson curtly told him, “I don’t care. Just figure it out.” Branca persuaded Showtime and MTV to pay a total of $600,000 for a movie about the making of the Thriller video and got another company to spend $400,000 on the home video rights. The finished 13-minute film featured a troupe of corpses rising from a conveniently located graveyard to dance with a zombielike Jackson, their knees high and claws up. Jackson, then a Jehovah’s Witness, decided it was blasphemous and should be destroyed. Branca came up with another crafty fix. He told his client that Bela Lugosi, the star of the classic 1931 Dracula, was also religious and had had the movie’s producers include a disclaimer to the theatrical release saying it didn’t represent his personal views. “It was a complete fabrication,” Branca says, laughing. Jackson added the disclaimer, and the hugely popular video helped propel the album’s sales to 100 million copies worldwide. It’s still the best-selling record ever.

In 1984, Branca learned that the Australian corporate raider Robert Holmes à Court was shopping a company called ATV Music, which held the rights to more than 200 Beatles songs, including Yesterday, Revolution, The Long and Winding Road, and Hey Jude. An excited Jackson told Branca to spend whatever it took to acquire ATV. “It’s my catalogue!” he wrote in a note. But Jackson and Branca’s $47.5 million offer was beaten by Marty Bandier and Charles Koppelman, two New Yorkers who promised $50 million.

Bandier remembers flying to London on the Concorde with Koppelman to meet with Holmes à Court. “We thought it was a closing,” he says. He noticed Branca on the same plane but didn’t think anything of it. When they arrived, Holmes à Court said he’d accepted Jackson’s lower bid. Branca had offered to let the seller’s daughter, named Penny, keep the rights to the Beatles classic Penny Lane. He’d also agreed to have Jackson appear for an hour at an event in Perth put on by Holmes à Court’s favorite charity. “It was depressing,” Bandier recalls. Branca sold off the rights to the catalog’s cinematic background music for $6 million, which brought the effective price down to $41.5 million. In the end, Jackson, who borrowed $30 million to cover his costs, put only $11.5 million in cash on what would become his life raft when he was drowning. Jackson gave Branca a Rolls-Royce for his efforts.

Three years later, Branca helped Jackson buy Neverland, listed at $60 million, for $17.5 million. Jackson was so pleased that he rewarded his attorney with another Rolls-Royce. Around the same time, Jackson was best man at Branca’s wedding to his first wife. He brought along his beloved chimp, Bubbles, in a matching tuxedo. “I’ve got fun pictures of Bubbles with my ex-wife and people at the wedding,” Branca says nostalgically. Little Richard, it should be noted, performed the service.

Click here to continue reading…

SOURCE: Devin Leonard 
BloombergBusinessweek

When you purchase a book below it supports the Number #1 Black Christian Newspaper BLACK CHRISTIAN NEWS NETWORK ONE (BCNN1.com) and it also allows us to spread the Gospel around the world.