NEW YORK – It’s been nearly two weeks now since the shocking news of the death of arguably the greatest entertainer of all-time, Mr. Michael Joseph Jackson.
As news of his death unfolded and the media circus ensued, I kept waiting to see how his family, legal teams, handlers, “spokespersons” and “advisers” would roll out the game plan.
Today, my wife asked me a poignant question that I think millions are asking worldwide: “What is going on with his funeral? Is Tuesday, the funeral or an appreciation service?” she continued. “And, is the event at the Staples Center being conducted by the family or others?”
These questions, which I couldn’t answer, and dozens of others continue daily due to the lack of any seemingly clear information from the Jackson clan.
Indeed, like any family, they are clearly overwhelmed by the death of their beloved brother, son, father, uncle and friend coupled with a billion people demanding answers and following the family’s every move.
All we do know is: Joe Jackson has a record label with a member of the Chi-Lites (of “Have You Seen Her” fame) and the much maligned 80-year-old Dad is going to jump back into the music industry very soon.
Which only added more confusion?
On Monday morning, Katherine Jackson, the matriarch of the family marched into court and secured guardianship of the three kids of Michael Jackson and some control of his personal effects, but not the lucrative music catalog.
Then, there was all of the confusion over the estate and whether or not Michael either left out his family, transferred all assets to sister Janet, or died without a will altogether.
Initially, it was reported he was broke when he died.
Then reports surfaced that he had a catalog worth millions.
The family lawyer for the parents said they had not seen a will. Then a few days later, another attorney representing the estate of MJ introduced a will, dated 2002, in court, but the will didn’t include his father or siblings and left the kids under the guardianship of his aging mother, and 65-year-old Diana Ross, in the event his mother could not fulfill the duty.
Then, later we learned MJ had a net worth of nearly $500 million when he made his will 7 years ago. And, while it dropped significantly with his embarrassing trials and failure to tour and work, he was still worth over $200 million just 2 years ago in 2007.
As the tabloid press and mainstream press continued with a new update every hour, Michael Jackson’s last known personal doctor, Dr. Conrad C. Murray hired a lawyer to represent him as police investigated the death and news reports painted him out as a not-so-good doctor with a checkered past, who may have given Jackson drugs that killed him.
And, even when we thought we had enough, the paid-off Debbie Rowe resurfaced and reportedly is considering a legal fight for two of the Jackson kids she birthed.
More confusion ensued and will continue as the lawyers and handlers try to sort out his estimated $2 Billion dollar music catalogue, various lawsuits and all of the personal effects that once adorned his Neverland Valley Ranch.
Which by the way, was another source of confusion: We were told initially there would be an observation this past Friday at the 2800-acre, one-time home of Jackson. That was scrapped after neighbors complained and the city realized it would be a nightmare.
Instead, Friday morning we were surprised to see Jermaine Jackson touring the house and estate with NBC’s Matt Lauer, and then later that same day with CNN’s Larry King – still not explicitly addressing any plans for a memorial service in the U.S. or overseas for his younger brother, only sadly saying, “I wish it was me” who died and not Michael.
So with all of the confusion and worldwide media circus, this weekend, I jotted down some thoughts and suggestions as an entertainment lawyer who has advised high profile clients in tough situations and under pressure.
First, to the family, as I am respectful of the fact that no one knows what you’re going through in mourning, I ask that you please accept my suggestions with some consideration that you have to decide how you as a family wish to mourn and deal with the pain of losing a loved one, particularly one as widely loved as Michael Jackson.
Understand this: the confusion will prevail unless the Jackson Family makes a move and of course get Papa Joe under control.
So, briefly here are 10 things the Jackson Family should do immediately to calm down some of the confusion and bring order to the chaotic media circus:
The TOP TEN
1) FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: Bring all handlers, managers, lawyers, agents and publicists for the various Jackson Family members into one room and designate one sound person as the spokesperson. Then conduct a press conference with all of the brothers, sisters, parents and extended family members present, but one person serves as the spokesperson. Present a united family front, one that is mindful of the many millions of people worldwide who cared so deeply for Michael and who are also grieving;
2) The Michael Jackson Celebration Week: To calm down the demand by millions to be a part of this memorial celebration and cramming into the much-too-small Staples Center, announce a week-long celebration kicking off on August 29th (MJ’s birthday) and ending Labor Day weekend thereafter;
3) EUROPEAN TOUR: Consider a European Tour (and possible domestic tour) featuring a Jackson Five/Jackson Family Reunion Tour. Include all of the Jackson Siblings, and possibly invite Usher, an artist who is very successful and admittedly incredibly influenced by Michael Jackson, out on certain dates to fill in for MJ (also, the use of video and technology, could beam MJ in for various numbers and dance steps). This is not done to exploit the situation, but instead to celebrate the music and give the fans something millions are yearning for in the wake of his death;
4) SONY PARTNERSHIP: Announce a Partnership With SONY BMG or whomever was MJ’s current record label to release a “Best of” Commemorative CD featuring some original music, interviews, and other never-before-heard audio;
5) BET, MTV & NETWORKS: Meet with the networks and announce a Jackson Family Special on BET to “Remember The Time”. Also, as MTV initially refused to air Black videos, this is a wonderful time to meet with them and announce a partnership and TV special. There are several other networks that can do specials, too;
6) GRAMMYS/NARAS: Meet with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (GRAMMYS) and announce that Michael Jackson will be honored in 6 months at the 52nd Annual Grammys with the show being dedicated to him, as well as the creation of a special award named in his honor;
7) AEG/PAY PER VIEW: AEG, the concert promoter, has released two minutes of the countless hours of rehearsals and practices, should announce the final concert will air on pay-per-view, with the proceeds to benefit a charity, as well as free pay-per-view to children ill at hospitals, group homes, etc … given MJ’s work with the sick and ill;
8.) SCHOLARSHIP FUND: Jackson did a lot of work towards education and scholarship. Immediately announce a $50 million dollar pledge from his estate towards the establishment of scholarship for “young Michael Jackson Scholars” at Colleges nationwide, and in particular, for struggling Historically Black Colleges and Universities;
9) The Jackson Family, An American Story: do a multi-media deal with Time Warner for books, audio, digital and print for an autobiographical book on the family, the legacy and other aspects, as well as any audio available from MJ;
10) NEVERLAND RANCH AND GARY, IN. Museum: Work out a deal that Neverland Valley Ranch will become the Graceland of the West Coast as Elvis’ brilliant team did in Memphis and go back to Gary, Indiana and create a museum and school, with the proceeds from these business ventures going to The Michael Jackson Foundation, various charities, and offset the expenses of the ranch.
There are several other suggestions; however, these 10 suggestions would accomplish several things. First, it would give the fans something to hold on to and look forward to and understand: there is Jackson Game Plan.
Secondly, this would allow the family some time to grieve and plan out many of the suggestions above, as most would not require an immediate act by any of the family members and would take legal time for lawyers to hash out.
Lastly, with all of the negative publicity, if the Jackson Family announced some of the next steps, such as these, it would help to cement the legacy of MJ and let the world know that this family is still a close, tight unit and aware of the implications of their son, his legend, and what must be done to preserve it.
Again, to the Jackson Family, which I correctly called our Kennedys on several news outlets last week, take as much time as you need, but the world is not going to rest simply by holding a jam-packed ceremony on Tuesday morning.
Matter-of-fact, with 1.6 million people clamoring for less than 20,000 tickets to the Staples Center tomorrow, it’s pretty obvious we’re going to have more confusion in the air.
James L.Walker, Jr. is an attorney who is based in Stamford, CT. He is the owner of the law firm of Walker & Associates (www.walkerandassoc.com), recently named CT SBA Minority Business Champion of the Year. He is frequently a guest on BET, CNN, ABC, CBS and Court TV, to name a few. He is also the Author of the top selling “This Business Of Urban Music” and an adjunct professor of Entertainment Law at UCONN Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.