Long live the king of pop

Michael Jackson’s dead, but the show will go on, and on

Long live the king of popDespite the shimmering gold coffin and the weepy eulogies at Michael Jackson’s memorial service, it marked the beginning of another chapter in the King of Pop’s reign. No matter what people say about Jackson’s life, there is only one way to characterize his death: right or wrong, it was among the biggest public funeral spectacles in history. More than 20,000 fans, relatives and friends assembled inside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, and another 6,000 watched on a Jumbotron next door. Tens of millions of people held vigils in streets, malls, living rooms, movie theatres and office cubicles around the world, many crying or waving signs proclaiming, “Michael Jackson Lives.”

No one could have imagined this outpouring of wild emotion to Jackson’s sudden death on June 25 of cardiac arrest, possibly due to a prescription drug overdose. A dozen fans so overcome with grief they attempted or committed suicide. The ghost of Jackson apparently spotted in a posthumous video of the Neverland ranch. Rumours that Jackson’s comeback tour—50 concerts at the O2 Arena in London, which was supposed to start on July 13—will proceed with him appearing in hologram form. Even Jackson’s Facebook page reflects how death has boosted interest in him: it’s gone from 80,000 fans to more than 6.4 million. That’s 20 new fans a second, making him more popular online than anyone else, even Barack Obama.

The only thing that rivals the enthusiasm of mourning fans is the indignation of critics who don’t approve of all the attention being paid to a has-been entertainer at best, or a child molester at worst. New York Republican congressman Peter King posted a rant on YouTube condemning media and the public for “glorifying” him and insisting that accolades should go to soldiers, police, firefighters, volunteers and teachers instead. “To be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?” he said, after calling Jackson a pervert and pedophile. Even some of the pop star’s closest allies have been unsettled by the mania. Elizabeth Taylor refused her invitation to the memorial because she said she didn’t want to be part of the “public whoopla.”

But the weirdest stuff may be yet to come, especially as more is revealed about what may have caused or contributed to Jackson’s death. The leading suspicion is that he overdosed on Diprivan, also known as Propofol, which is an anaesthetic administered intravenously and never used outside of a hospital. Medical observers are worried that it won’t be easily detected by the autopsies (the Jackson family ordered a private one, too), because it only stays in the body for a few minutes or hours. There may have been byproducts of Propofol in Jackson’s liver or bloodstream, physician Sanjay Gupta told CNN, but he wasn’t confident that coroners would find it. He said that even if the private autopsy showed lethal levels of the anaesthetic in Jackson, his family has control over that information, so it may never be clear if that’s what killed him.

The most stunning theories about Jackson’s death appear in a forthcoming book by Montreal journalist Ian Halperin, who wrote in the Daily Mail that Jackson was suicidal lately. The pressure of the hyped-up London concert series was too much for the 50-year-old pop star. (Jackson apparently had only wanted to do 10 shows, but was bullied into doing more by greedy handlers and the crunch of his debt, up to US$500 million, accumulated over years of lawsuits and shopping sprees.) As recently as June 21, Jackson allegedly told the author’s source:

“ ‘It’s not working out. I’m better off dead. I don’t have anywhere left to turn. I’m done.’ ” Halperin says that Jackson may have been anorexic and suffering a rare lung disease known as Alpha-1 antitrypsin, which can lead to respiratory problems such as emphysema. For this, Halperin believes that Jackson “could never have completed, not mentally, and not physically,” the comeback tour. In fact, he says Jackson “would still be alive today” had he not faced such tremendous pressure to perform.

Of course, Jackson’s passing is most devastating for his three children, Michael Joseph, 12, Paris Katherine Michael, 11, and Prince Michael II, seven, also known as Blanket. In his will, filed seven years to the day that he was memorialized, Jackson named his 79-year-old mother, Katherine, as their guardian. She’s taken responsibility of the kids, but there may be a bitter custody battle brewing now that Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife, has indicated she may fight for them. Legal experts have said that Rowe will have an advantage over the Jackson matriarch, even though she relinquished her claim to the children when she divorced Jackson, because she is younger and a biological parent to two of the three kids. But Jermaine Jackson, the singer’s older brother and long-time mouthpiece, won’t even consider the thought of that happening, telling Larry King otherwise: “The will is what it is.”

Whatever issues Jackson’s children face as they grow up, money probably won’t be one of them. Jackson bequeathed them 40 per cent of his estate, estimated to be worth US$237 million. He also left them more than 200 unpublished songs, which creditors can’t touch. His mother, whom Jackson said was the only person in the world he could trust, is the only other relative named in his will, and she receives another 40 per cent of his wealth. (The remainder goes to charity.) Observers predict that Jackson’s debt will be paid off by the sale of his catalogue of music royalty rights, valued at US$2 billion. With that out of the way, many people wonder what kind of manipulation Katherine may face from her other children, some of whom are cash-strapped. Marlon, for instance, had his home foreclosed and works at a San Diego supermarket.

There is no shortage of curious sideshows: just minutes after the memorial wrapped up, news broke that Jackson’s body was not going to be buried at the Forest Lawn cemetery, as had been speculated. The family had held a private service there earlier in the day. Jermaine wants his little brother buried on the grounds of Neverland ranch, but that’s against California law. “The thing is, where do you rest Michael Jackson?” he said.

Wherever he is buried, there is more to be unearthed about Michael Jackson. And one thing is for sure, it won’t be simple. He was a paradox: the biggest star in the world, and an untrusting recluse. A boy-man obsessed with experiencing as an adult the childhood he never had, and yet haunted by charges of pedophilia. Even the details surrounding his death amplify his dichotomy: despite his poor health and drug addiction, footage from a recent concert rehearsal showed him looking strong and electric.

The most poignant moment of Jackson’s memorial came at the very end when Paris, who had for the entire 11 years of her life been shielded, literally, from the public and media by her outlandishly protective parent, edged her way toward the microphone. In a matter of seconds, she defied her father and gave him the perfect alibi. “I just wanted to say,” she began amid tears, “ever since I was born Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much.”

For a consummate entertainer such as Jackson, this may be the best he could have hoped for: it’s been one heck of a show. And it will go on.