MICHAEL JACKSON: The King of Pop reclaimed his crown after his death, towering over the year in music. The surreal saga began in March, when Jackson, mired in debt, accepted AEG Live’s proposal that he perform 50 shows at London’s O2 Arena, as handicappers placed odds on how many of the shows he’d actually do, or whether he’d show up at all.
These questions continued during the ensuing weeks of elaborate rehearsals, right up to the afternoon of June 25, with the shocking news of Jackson’s death. This incomprehensible event led to a litany of names in the news: Dr. Conrad Murray, M.J.’s extremely well paid personal physician, who’d allegedly administered the fatal dose of Propofol. Frank DiLeo, who’d managed Michael during the glory years, brought back by AEG in hopes that this old hand could bring a modicum of stability to the potentially volatile situation. AEG Live head Randy Phillips, whose grandstanding, combined with a long-standing credibility problem, led to his becoming a target of media ridicule, making him the most disrespected executive of 2009. Jackson’s parents and siblings, not all of whom were on the same page in their attitudes toward how to approach Michael’s legacy and the anticipated mega-windfall. Estate co-executors John Branca and John McClain, who found themselves in a crossfire between the family’s interests and those of the heirs, as they took on the daunting mission of honoring Michael’s memory and doing right by his offspring. And Columbia/Epic chief Rob Stringer, who suddenly faced a huge global demand for Jackson music, while at the same time contemplating how to deal both honorably and practically with some extremely sensitive issues. Now, in the less than six months since his death, Jackson albums have collectively sold nearly 7 million albums in the U.S. alone, the vast majority physical units—both staggering achievements in this day and age—while the This Is It documentary has far surpassed the box office of any previous musical film, with the upcoming DVD all but certain to shatter more records when it’s released in late January. Posthumously, Jackson has reminded us of the golden age of the music business, an era driven by superstars…and he may well turn out to be the last of them. Certainly, no other act is capable of selling an astonishing 29 million albums worldwide in less than a half year.