Untangling Jackson's Financial Empire

Questions About What Michael Jackson's Assets Are Worth, And How Much Debt Is Left Behind

As a performer, Michael Jackson's moves were unparalleled. Some say he was also the consummate businessman. But some of his financial moves were apparently not so shrewd.

When Jackson announced his plans for 50 new concerts in London that would rejuvenate his career and crumbling financial empire, little did he know his album sales would soon top the charts worldwide.

"His sales have gone through the roof since his death," says Bill Werde of Billboard magazine. "He's really sold 100,000 copies of three different albums in basically two days."

Werde says he's never seen anything like it. In fact, he says sales of Jackson's songs and albums made history today.

"It's unprecedented - the furor for his music - online [and] in stores where they literally can't keep Michael Jackson products on the shelves," Werde explains.

Werde tells "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant that Jackson's death compares with that of Elvis.

"There's a really strong parallel… Elvis was iconic - the lip sneer, the sideburns, the flamboyant outfits. Michael is the same way - the sequin glove, the curl of his hair, the dance poses, the tilt of his cap," he explains.

The two superstars had other similarities: both rose from poverty; one became the "King of Pop," the other, simply, the "King." Both men met with presidents and underwent physical changes - Elvis grew larger while Michael grew ever more bizarre. And both men had a land they loved - Elvis had Graceland, while Michael had Neverland.

"I create my world behind my gates. Everything that I love is behind those gates," Jackson said in a 2003 interview with "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley. "We have elephants, and giraffes and crocodiles and every kind of tigers and lions. And we have bus loads of kids who don't get to see those things."

"60 Minutes:" Confronting Controversy

But sadly, Neverland was also a place where bad investment dreams came true.

Forensic accountant J. Duross O'Bryan called Neverland a huge money pit. Hired by government prosecutors in 2005, O'Bryan's firm got a rare look into Jackson's secret financial empire.

"His accounting records were a complete shambles. It was quite astounding how irresponsible he and his advisors were," O'Bryan tells Van Sant. "This was the largest financial mess that I've ever seen of an individual that I've been involved with."

Matthew Miller of Forbes Magazine says it was costing Jackson as much as $5 million per year to operate Neverland Ranch.

"He was making $10 to 15 million per year, but spending $20 to 30 million. That's about $55,000 a day above his income," explains O'Bryan.

But it wasn't always this way for Michael Jackson: in his best years, after his "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" albums, he seemed to have a magical touch with money.

"It has been estimated in his heyday, he was making between $50 and 100 million a year," says Miller.

Matthew Miller on Jackson's Fortune

While Jackson the pop star had a child-like image, Jackson the businessman was all Donald Trump. In 1985, he made one of the great investments of the 20th Century. After collaborating with former Beatle Paul McCartney on several songs, Jackson asked him for some investment advice.

"So I said for a business, you ought to think about music publishing. It's a very good business. You love music. I'm into it. It does very well," says McCartney.

Unbeknownst to McCartney, Jackson took his advice. "And then a couple of weeks later we were chatting and he just kind of looked at me and he said, 'I'm going to buy your songs, you know.' And I went, 'Get out.'"

Jackson was deadly serious. He amazingly outbid a perturbed McCartney, paying around $50 million for his music. Today, that music is worth nearly $1 billion.

Jackson was hemorrhaging cash, defending himself against charges of child molestation. In 1994, he reportedly paid the family of a 13-year-old boy more than $20 million to settle a lawsuit. In 2003, he was arrested and charged with 10 counts of child molestation.

Jackson was acquitted, but the trial cost him millions. He stopped touring and moved to the Middle East.

"He wasn't touring any longer," says Miller. "Today, most musicians make their money on the road."

Which is why a frail and financially-strapped Michael Jackson planned his concert comeback, with the promise of making at least $50 million. But his death has thrown his estate up for grabs. There are reports that he recorded dozens of new songs and willed them to his children… a final windfall for them and a final gift for his fans.

Say Werde, "If it's new, the public will respond. It will sell millions of copies."

Michael Jackson: Picking Up the Pieces:

A Spectacle In Life & Death
The Delicate Question Of Identity
Jackson Expert On His Illnesses
Jackson's Financial Empire
Jackson's Legacy: Passing the Torch
Spike Lee's Memories
Randy Jackson On Michael's Magic
Sharpton Salutes Michael Jackson
Jackson's Fortune
A Ginuwine Fan
Tribute At the Apollo
On Stage With Michael Jackson
MTV: Michael Jackson Remembered
Complete Coverage

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