It’s June 25, 2009. Ambulance 71 pulls out of 100 Carolwood Drive. Not much later the astonishing news breaks: Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, has died. Since that fateful day, Jackson’s legacy has been riding the same rollercoaster that characterized his years among the living. From being the best-paid dead celebrity in 2018 to a resurfacing of accusations of child sexual abuse in 2019, Jackson’s legacy has its highs and lows, but never stops.
Nobody expected it to happen. Jackson was about to revive his career when he passed away at the age of fifty. Shocked, the world remembered the unique talent it had lost, and like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Jackson’s songs dominated the landscape of pop music once more. According to Forbes, the Michael Jackson Estate earned $400 million in 2018 alone, on top of hundreds of millions of dollars grossed in the years since his untimely death. As a result, Jackson’s debts were settled, his children were provided for, and his financial slate was wiped clean.
All seemed to go well, even though Jackson’s fan community split over the exploitation of Jackson’s creative legacy. Indeed, not all projects initiated by the Jackson Estate were as fans had hoped for, the worst of which being Jackson’s first posthumous album Michael, which contained three new tracks sung by what appeared to be a sound-alike. Additionally, the use of Jackson’s hologram at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards caused controversy, with fans accusing the Jackson Estate of denying the singer the one thing he had craved for all his life: peace.
Peace seemed even further away for Jackson, when accusations of child sexual abuse resurfaced in 2013. Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who spent time with Jackson as children, claimed Jackson had sexually abused them. They then provided detailed descriptions of the alleged abuse in a Channel 4 documentary called Leaving Neverland, which aired in March 2019. The documentary proved to have major flaws, however. Depending solely on the testimonials of Robson and Safechuck and their families, the work lacked context, was unbalanced, and included timeline facts that later proved to be impossible.
It also failed to scrutinize Robson’s and Safechuck’s characters, which, particularly in Robson’s case, would have brought new facts to light. During Jackson’s 2005 trial, for example, Robson – then an adult – testified adamantly and under oath that he had never been abused by Jackson. It wasn’t until years later, when the Jackson Estate denied Robson the position of head choreographer at Jackson’s Cirque du Soleil show ONE, that Robson suddenly realised he had been sexually abused by the singer.
Remarkably, Robson then decided to use his traumatic childhood experiences to shop for a tell-all book deal rather than to seek justice. When no publisher showed interest, Robson filed a lawsuit against the Jackson Estate for $1.6 billion and persuaded Safechuck, who then also remembered being abused by Jackson, to do likewise. Both lawsuits were dismissed by probate court, but are continued in civil court to this day.
Absent in this discussion is, of course, Jackson himself, who can no longer tell his side of the tale. Not that it would have mattered. With the majority of media taking the accusations at face value, Jackson’s legacy was bound to get damaged. Within days, a number of radio stations pulled Jackson’s music from their play lists, Jackson statues were removed from the National Football Museum in Manchester in the UK and from a McDonald’s restaurant in Best, the Netherlands, and Jackson’s former home, Neverland Ranch, had to reduce its asking price by half.
The 10th anniversary of Jackson’s death is thus overcast by dark clouds. Still, as Jackson strongly believed, the truth will hopefully prevail. Until then, his legacy continues, scratched and dented, but with a core strength that only a solid career such as Jackson’s can produce. It’s not without reason that Jackson’s combined album and song sales have increased by 10% since Leaving Neverland aired. His legacy is far from being erased from pop music.
In the meantime, a campaign using the hashtag #HonorMJ has been launched, focusing not on Jackson’s accolades in the music industry, but on his philanthropy and humanitarian efforts. For musical legacy and allegations aside, Jackson’s one steady and resilient force is his timeless message to heal the world. Perhaps that’s the common ground where all who call themselves fans of Jackson’s music can meet and commemorate the King of Pop.
© Annemarie Latour
You can help heal the world by supporting trustworthy charities such as Michael Jackson’s Legacy, which aims to build a better future for our children, and our children’s children – in Michael’s memory.