When Michael Jackson died in 2009, he was more than $400 million in debt. Ten years later, the King of Pop’s estate is thriving — but a new documentary may threaten its continued success. Jackson is back in the spotlight due to Leaving Neverland, an HBO production that accuses him of sexually abusing Wade Robson and James Safechuck as boys. The allegations are already hurting the musician’s reputation:
fashion brand Louis Vuitton scrapped a Jackson-inspired collection, and radio stations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have stopped playing his songs. Now, the estate’s bottom line could take a hit. “In our world today, there is going to be an effect where there is a direct relation between the stream of income and people’s emotional connection,” says Donald N. David, a lawyer who worked on Tupac Shakur’s estate.
“It will absolutely have a negative impact; I just can’t tell you how much. Anything having to do with the Jackson estate inherently involves millions of dollars because of the value of the underlying assets.” Over the past decade, Forbes reports, Jackson’s relatives have raked in more than $2 billion — as much money as he earned while he was alive. Here’s everything you need to know about how they did it (and what could come next for them).
How Much Money Did Michael Jackson Make?
Jackson sold a reported 750 million albums, purchased a $19.5 million ranch and once starred in a movie that cost over $1.7 million per minute to make. He had a clothing line and an autobiography. He even bought the Beatles catalog.
All of that translated to profit: Forbes reports that Jackson earned about $2 billion before his death (when adjusted for inflation). A 13-time Grammy Award winner, he was named the highest-paid entertainer in the world twice. But his lifestyle led him to take out several loans, and from there he slid into financial ruin. When he died, Michael Jackson’s net worth was $236 million, according to the Associated Press.
A banker would later testify he was in “financial crisis.” “Millions of dollars annually were spent on plane charters, purchases of antiques and paintings,” Alvin Malnik, once a financial adviser to Jackson, told the New York Times in 2006. “I think that Michael never had any concept of fiscal responsibility, or logical fiscal responsibility. He was an individual that had been overindulged by those that represented him or worked for him for all of his life.”
What Is Michael Jackson’s Estate Worth?
Nobody agrees on this. In fact, the topic is at the heart of a complicated dispute over estate taxes. In 2013, the IRS said the estate’s total value was $1.3 billion and Jackson’s likeness was worth $434 million. In 2017, it revised the number to $161 million — but that still didn’t jive with the estate, which argued his name and image were only worth $2,105.
“No celebrity’s name and likeness rights have sold for anywhere near that much — not Elvis [Presley], not Marilyn [Monroe], not [Muhammad] Ali,” estate attorney Howard Weitzman told the Wall Street Journal. “They are trying to take what Michael’s estate created for his children after death and extract an unreasonable and excessive tax.” The legal battle is ongoing, and at least one expert says it could wrap up this spring. Stay tuned.