Michael Jackson, Inc.: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Billion-Dollar Empire
Zack O'Malley Greenburg
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The surprising rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story of how Michael Jackson grew a billion-dollar business.
Michael Jackson is known by many as the greatest entertainer of all time, but he was also a revolutionary when it came to business. In addition to famously buying the Beatles’ publishing catalogue, Jackson was one of the first pop stars to launch his own clothing line, record label, sneakers, and video games—creating a fundamental shift in the monetization of fame and paving the way for entertainer-entrepreneurs like Jay Z and Diddy. All told, Jackson earned more than $1.1 billion in his solo career, and the assets he built in life have earned more than $700 million in the five years since his death—more than any other solo music act over that time.
Michael Jackson, Inc. reveals the incredible rise, fall, and rise again of Michael Jackson’s fortune—driven by the unmatched perfectionism of the King of Pop. Forbes senior editor Zack O’Malley Greenburg uncovers never-before-told stories from interviews with more than 100 people, including music industry veterans Berry Gordy, John Branca, and Walter Yetnikoff; artists 50 Cent, Sheryl Crow, and Jon Bon Jovi; and members of the Jackson family. Other insights come from court documents and Jackson’s private notes, some of them previously unpublished. Through Greenburg’s novelistic telling, a clear picture emerges of Jackson’s early years, his rise to international superstardom, his decline—fueled by demons internal and external, as well as the dissolution of the team that helped him execute his best business moves—and, finally, his financial life after death.
Underlying Jackson’s unique history is the complex but universal tale of the effects of wealth and fame on the human psyche. A valuable case study for generations of entertainers to come and for anyone interested in show business, Michael Jackson, Inc. tells the story of a man whose financial feats, once obscured by his late-life travails, have become an enduring legacy.
huh?” Branca first met Michael Jackson in January of 1980 as a baby-faced twenty-nine-year-old attorney whose only professional experience was doing legal work for the Beach Boys with accountant Michael Mesnick—the one who’d arranged the meeting with Jackson. The singer had just turned twenty-one and was looking for a lawyer. Sunglasses seemingly glued to his face, Jackson settled into a conference room seat and quietly listened as Branca and David Braun, an older partner at the firm where
father. Though the elder Jackson had been relieved of his managerial duties, he still felt he could exert his influence over anybody in Michael’s sphere. “I met with Joe, who basically said I needed to do what he told me to do,” he recalls. “Michael said, ‘Branca, tell me everything my father said.’ And I repeated it all back, and he said, ‘You don’t listen to a thing he says.’ And the fact that I would have repeated [Joe’s words] to Michael let him know that I was working for him and not his
would pass away in 1999, was one of the biggest names in Hollywood during the second half of the twentieth century. As Sinatra’s right-hand man, he guarded his client’s interest with the vigor of a mother bear. Four years after hurling a $2 million lawsuit at author Kitty Kelley over her 1987 unauthorized biography His Way, Rudin sued her for including his name in the acknowledgments of her next book, a dishy tome on Nancy Reagan that suggested that the First Lady had a long-term affair with
higher learning (Harvard, his alma mater), publications (Forbes), and the way he was feeling that day. When we met for lunch at the Yale Club in New York a few days later, his outlook hadn’t darkened a bit. Decked in a blue blazer, a blue-and-white striped dress shirt, and neatly knotted yellow tie, the seventy-year-old came from a family accustomed to grandness and glory. His father founded the NFL’s New England Patriots and owned the team for three decades. Sure enough, when the waiter asked
that he and his firm had been terminated, effective immediately. Jackson gave no reason for the move, explaining only that LeGrand would be his new attorney.19 LeGrand then hired Interfor, a private intelligence company reportedly run by former Israeli Mossad agents, to look into the matter. Though the agency did suggest it might be possible to uncover a potential offshore scheme if it had “additional time and a proper budget,” it was unable to find any signs of impropriety.20 In the end, the