Doubts surround Jackson comeback bid

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LONDON - Michael Jackson came out of hiding this week and is running London's tabloid press ragged, but ahead of his long-awaited return to the stage many doubt whether the deposed King of Pop can reclaim his crown.

The reclusive 48-year-old has been photographed on a late-night shopping trip and dropped into the Guinness World Records offices to collect eight accolades including most successful entertainer of all time.

The exclusive Hempel Hotel has given over its entire main space to Jackson, his three children and an entourage of around 50 people, a spokesman said, and hundreds of fans have been waiting outside to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

His appearances in London, wearing a black coat, dark sunglasses and long, straight black hair, have made Jackson more accessible than at any time since he his acquittal of child molestation charges in a trial that ended in June 2005.

His arrival in London is seen as part of a gradual rehabilitation for a performer whose personal life and changing appearance have taken center stage for years.

The biggest step so far on the comeback trail is an expected performance on Wednesday of mega-hit "Thriller" at the World Music Awards.

The media greeted the announcement with some unease, saying the gig could become a freak show rather than a triumphant return for one of the top-selling artists of all time.

"Be afraid, be very afraid," was how top-selling daily newspaper The Sun reacted.

"He looks dreadful and hasn't performed for years -- I fear it's going to be a humiliating freak show which he will regret."

Music experts agree that the man who brought us the moonwalk and hits like "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" will struggle to get anywhere near the heights he achieved in the 1980s.

"I would say there's very little chance of him coming back from where he is," said Gareth Grundy, deputy editor of the Q music magazine.

Grundy said that despite being found not guilty last year, the accusations have stuck, and scenes of screaming fans mobbing Jackson at every turn in London should not be confused with a successful return to the top.

"I think people will always be fascinated by the freak show, and that's what's going on," he said. "I would categorize him as a celebrity as opposed to an artist."

Jackson heads a lineup at the annual World Music Awards that also includes U.S. actress Lindsay Lohan and singer Beyonce. As well as his performance, Jackson will receive a Diamond Award to honor artists who have sold over 100 million albums.

He will be hoping his first performance in Britain in nine years goes more smoothly than his infamous appearance at the Brit Awards in 1996.

During a live performance, Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker stormed the stage and later said Jackson's "Jesus act" was "a load of rubbish".
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