Jackson leaves legacy, legal morass
Days following pop star's death filled with myth, griefMore Michael Jackson coverage
Overnight, Michael Jackson has entered the realm of myth -- and of mushrooming legal maneuvering.
On the first count, he already has ascended to the pantheon of such A-list stars as Elvis -- whose own demise 32 years ago seems eerily similar -- Princess Di and Marilyn, iconic figures now remembered by just their first names, and whose own lives, and deaths, have become the stuff of legend.
On the latter count, the King of Pop will live on as the centerpiece of court cases that will make the critique of the chancery system in Dickens' "Bleak House" pale by comparison.
But first things first.
Through the long, hot weekend, there were outpourings of grief, tributes from everyone from Nelson Mandela to Liza Minnelli and spontaneous celebrations of the man and the music from Tokyo, London, Paris as well as in and around the icon's star on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.
Whatever the weird, wacky or downright unsavory aspects of Jackson's life, appreciation of his talent dominated most of the early reactions to his untimely death Thursday at age 50. Quincy Jones, who worked with the singer in the early stages of his 45-year career, remembered him as "the oldest and the youngest man he'd ever known" and whose music was "like a narcotic." Smokey Robinson, speaking at the ASCAP Awards on Friday, described Jackson as having "revolutionized the delivery of a song."
The BET Awards show Sunday night was expected to be transformed into a blowout celebration of Jackson's music, with performers revamping their routines and an onslaught of news outlets descending on the Shrine Auditorium. The red carpet already has been elongated to accommodate the overflow.
There also was a messianic-like note sounded in news commentaries, disparate blogs and bulletins that issued from the grieving family, with patriarch Joe Jackson telling one outlet that he believes his son will be "larger in death than he was in life."
Ironically, what the pop star's 50-concert comeback tour in London might or might not have achieved, his death seems to have done instantaneously, catapulting Jackson again to the top of the charts and top-of-mind worldwide. As one hand-scrawled sign held up by a visitor to the makeshift shrine in front of the Holmby Hills home he rented read: "He was the soundtrack of my life."
Jackson's albums also became, in a nanosecond, the top 15 sold on Amazon and the top half-dozen downloaded to iTunes during the weekend. The fervor among young people over the political protests in Iran suddenly has petered out as this personal tragedy takes center stage in the pop culture psyche.
And that's only the beginning. There's now speculation, and moves by Colony Capital, the new co-owners (with the Jackson estate) of Neverland, that the ranch Jackson owned and inhabited for 20-odd years will be turned into the new Graceland.
"If Jackson is buried there and, in any case, because it is so close to a major metropolis like Los Angeles," one source said, "it could turn into a gold mine, helping wipe out the $500 million in debt in just a few years."
Just like Elvis and Marilyn, the business that is likely to grow up around Jackson's image -- ranging from books and series to coffee mugs and T-shirts -- already is being reckoned as a multibillion-dollar bonanza for those who can successfully claim a piece of it. (That's probably why SUVs came and went so expeditiously from the Holmby Hills home and Staples Center, where he was rehearsing for the tour, boxing up anything that might have been eBay-able by outsiders.)
Meanwhile, the media found itself switching from the solemn to the near salacious during the weekend as tributes gave way to instant psycho-babble, medical experts, friends and hangers-on from past iterations of the Jackson entourage holding forth on various aspects of what has become a series of mini-mysteries surrounding his death. Among the most tasteless to take advantage of the situation so far: the former nanny, Grace Rwaramba, who tattled to the London Times that Jackson was "a drug-addled nut" and "a bad father."
After the Los Angeles coroner ruled the cause of death was not foul play or trauma but inconclusive, authorities said an official toxicology report wouldn't be available for four long weeks. At the same time, Jackson's father released a statement saying that he does not believe his son died as a result of stress related to his upcoming tour.
Almost immediately after, the Jackson family ordered up its own second, private autopsy of the pop superstar.
"It's abnormal," Jesse Jackson told news outlets from Chicago a day after visiting the Jackson family at their Encino compound. "We don't know what happened. Was he injected and with what? All reasonable doubt should be addressed."
A private autopsy can allow the family to get information about a death almost immediately, including signs of heart, brain or lung disease or fresh needle punctures, Michael Baden, a medical examiner not involved in the Jackson case, told the Associated Press.
"Usually, if it looks normal with the naked eye, it looks normal under the microscope," said Baden, who recently performed a second autopsy on actor David Carradine.
What has become a leitmotiv through the coverage is the debate over the extent to which drugs played a part in Jackson's death, with questions about the star's apparent daily use of such painkillers as Demirol and Oxycontin being cited as likely culprits.
On Saturday, the cardiologist who was with Jackson during his final moments, Conrad Murray, sat down with investigators for three hours, helping to spell out the circumstances surrounding the death. The doctor rode in the ambulance to UCLA Medical Center and stayed at the hospital for hours Thursday with the Jackson family, but he was not the medical practitioner who signed the death certificate.
Questions about his role surfaced on the cable news networks Friday, when he couldn't be immediately located and then lawyered up. With the lack of other hard news in the case, the networks focused on deconstructing the 911 emergency call, especially the point as to why an inert Jackson apparently was not transferred to a hard surface like the floor in order to administer CPR.
Inevitably, more lawyers will glom onto the Jackson case as questions about the will -- apparently revised by the singer in 2002 and at least one copy stored in the vault of a former Jackson attorney and business partner John Branca -- the custody of Jackson's three children, the liens on the singer's estate, the fate of the ATV/Sony catalog that includes Beatles songs, the various unresolved lawsuits from previous years and other issues that no doubt will surface.
Roger Friedman in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.