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In the days following his death, it was hard to go anywhere without hearing Michael Jackson’s music playing. In bars all across America, fans remembered Michael as a talented singer and entertainer. With thirteen number-one hits as a solo artist, the best-selling album in U.S. history (Thriller), and countless other records, Michael Jackson was certainly a prolific artist who earned his title as “The King of Pop.”
But in recent years, Jackson was in the spotlight for a different reason—for his prolific legal battles. Over the years, Jackson faced two child molestation investigations, two divorces, custody battles, near-bankruptcy and threatened foreclosure, in addition to a myriad of civil lawsuits. In the last decade alone, Jackson paid more than a dozen people, including former managers, financial advisors, lawyers, and business partners, to settle lawsuits over cancelled concerts, nonpayment, and soured business deals. He even settled a claim by the son of the King of Bahrain over a failed $10 million recording venture.
And it wasn’t just his life that was filled with courtroom battles. The legal fallout from Jackson’s death began almost immediately. Within one week of his death, a custody battle emerged over his three children—Prince Michael I, Prince Michael II, and Paris. In a will filed in court on Wednesday, July 1, Jackson entrusted care of his children to their grandmother, Katherine Jackson. Although the court had already granted an order of temporary guardianship to Katherine Jackson on June 29, Michael’s ex-wife and mother of his two oldest children, Debbie Rowe, is already poised to challenge that guardianship.
Jackson’s estate is also embroiled in civil actions that survived his death, including claims by his former publicist, concert promoter, and John Landis, the writer and director of the “Thriller” video. Landis filed a lawsuit against Jackson in January of this year for breach of contract, claiming he is owed thousands of dollars in royalty payments from “Thriller” spin-off projects.
All of this beckons the question: will Michael be remembered for his music or for his legal woes?
– Elizabeth M. Renieris
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