HBO’s controversial Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland begins tonight exploring two parallel stories of young boys who were befriended by the pop star at the height of his popularity. James Safechuck met Jackson at the age of 10, while Wade Robson met him at 7. The alleged victims, now 40 and 36, respectively, are telling their stories of sexual abuse and the complicated feelings that surfaced after both men became fathers to young sons of their own.
Jackson’s estate has denounced the two-part doc calling it “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death,” according to the Associated Press.
Produced and directed by Dan Reed (Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks and Terror at the Mall), Neverland recently premiered in the Special Events section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck and Robson have led to tons of controversy regarding the events that occurred, the original court proceedings, and the biases of the film in general.
Jackson was the biggest pop star of our time (perhaps even of all time) and his finances, including his very public debt, continue to make headlines even after his death in 2009. What is Jackson’s net worth and what is the latest on his former home, Neverland Ranch? Here are five fast facts you need to know.
1. Michael Jackson’s Net Worth is Estimated to Be $500 Million
At the time of his death, Jackson’s net worth was reported as half a billion dollars. However, the singer was heavily in debt thanks to decades of overspending and over-borrowing, especially during the period of 1985-1995. During that same time period, Jackson earned between $50-100 million thanks to touring, record sales, endorsements, and other merchandise sales.
One of those endorsements was a record-breaking deal with Pepsi with an earning potential of $5 million. The marketing deal included ads with a version of “Billie Jean” in them, tour sponsorship, Jackson logos on the cans, and events with the singer.
Even after his death, Jackson remained a highly profitable celebrity and one of the most popular stars in the world. To date, Jackson has sold over a billion albums, including 35 million that were sold in the year after he died alone.
2. Michael Jackson’s Music Catalogue Remains His Greatest Asset
Not surprisingly, Jackon’s music catalogue continues to be his estate’s most valuable asset. While his own copyrights have an estimated value of $100 million, his purchases of other artists’ songs actually became the highlight of his estate.
In the early ’80s, Jackson purchased the catalogue of Sly and the Family Stone. He then went on to buy a series of classic singles such as “Great Balls of Fire,” “Shake Rattle Rattle and Roll,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and “Runaround Sue.” His biggest purchase, however, came in 1984 when he bought The Beatles’ catalogue ATV music for $47.5 million. According to The A&R Power Summit, it was ironically Beatle Paul McCartney who taught Jackson about the publishing rights business. The site wrote:
In 1982, while recording the song “Say, Say, Say” together in London, Michael briefly lived with Paul and Linda McCartney. After dinner one night, Paul retrieved a thick leather book from a shelf. The book, Paul explained, listed every song right that he had purchased in the previous decade. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Paul bragged that in the last year alone, he had made over $40 million in royalties ($96 million in 2013 dollars) from his song rights. When Paul was done speaking, Michael looked at him and said: “Some day I’m gonna own your songs.” Paul laughed, and responded: “Great, good joke!” Michael definitely was not joking.
Jackson eventually merged ATV Music with Sony to create a 50/50 joint venture called Sony/ATV. Sony agreed to pay Jackson $95 million for half of ATV Music’s catalogue rights, and it was a deal that Jackson couldn’t turn down. Accepting the deal doubled his initial investment automatically.
In 2016, The Jackson Estate sold its share of Sony/ATV for $750 million, and two years later the estate received another $287.5 million for its stake in EMI Music Publishing. Today, ATV/Sony is estimated to be worth $2.2 – 2.4 billion.
3. Michael Jackson’s Excessive Spending Landed Him in Hot Water Financially
While Jackson did earn about $500 million during his lifetime (or $2.1 billion adjusted for inflation), at the time of his death, he was essentially in debt for almost that same amount. After a life filled with elaborate luxury and complicated spending, Jackson was nearly broke. His lifestyle alone cost him somewhere between $30 and $50 million per year. Debt continued to surface as unpaid bills to lawyers, agents, and publicists stacked up.
Additionally, Jackson’s estate was bogged down by a $20 million settlement for a child molestation lawsuit. The singer also spent $65 million on various film projects, including a short film he co-wrote with Stephen King. His divorce from Debbie Rowe, the mother of two of his children, cost another $12 million. This doesn’t take into account the tens of millions the singer spent on cars, antiques, art, clothes, chimpanzees, diamond-encrusted gloves, and a slew of other toys that filled up his home, Neverland Ranch. The interest alone on all of his debts tacked another $5 million on top every year.
Jackson took out a $380 million loan in order to help battle his rising debts. The loan was borrowed against the value of his music catalogue, though Jackson was “notoriously naïve” when it came to finances, perhaps due to an inflated sense of his net worth. Jackson quickly went through his loan and had little chance of ever paying back the interest let alone the principal amount. This debt became one of the main reasons Jackson began staging a comeback tour titled “This Is It,” which ended up becoming a film of the same name following his death.
4. Jackson’s Home, Neverland Ranch, Was Another Costly Factor in the Singer’s Life
Jackson purchased his estate, Neverland Ranch, for somewhere between $17 and 30 million in 1988, though upkeep at the compound cost another $5-10 million in annual maintenance fees. After the initial purchase, he spent $35 million remodeling the property into his own mini private theme park he deemed “NeverLand” after the fantasy island in the story of Peter Pan. Jackson needed large enough grounds for his monkeys, llamas, snakes, birds, and other animals, and the “theme park” turned out to be just the place.
The 2,800-acre ranch saw makeover after makeover as Jackson built amusement park rides, a movie theater, an arcade, a zoo and installed the property’s own railroad system.
In 2008, just one year before his death, a foreclosure auction on the estate was canceled after an investment firm, Colony Capital LLC, purchased the loan. The home has been on and off the market unable to find a new owner; however, Jackson’s home of 15 years was recently put back on the market this year for $31 million at a nearly 70 percent discount from its original asking price of $100 million, according to Refinery29.
The estate is now known as the Sycamore Valley Ranch and is located about 40 miles outside Santa Barbara. The house has six bedrooms, a lighted tennis court, a train depot, and an entertainment pavilion, but the amusement park and zoo are long gone, reports Deadline.
5. The Legacy of Michael Jackson
Jackson was a former child star who began performing and recording with his brothers as The Jackson 5. The group sold millions of albums in the ’70s with their biggest seller being their first Greatest Hits album in 1971.
As a solo artist, Jackson produced 10 albums, not including one live album, six EPs, and over 30 compilation albums. Thriller, his second record after leaving Motown, became one of the best-selling albums of all time. While Jackson has sold over a billion albums worldwide, Billboard reports that Thriller accounted for 110 million of those sales alone.
Jackson took the world by storm. He was nominated for 38 Grammys throughout his career, winning 13 of them starting with his first when “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Jackson was honored with The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and the prestigious Grammy Legend Award in 1993.
The King of Pop proved to have earning power well past his days on Earth. In October of 2017, Forbes announced that Jackson had topped the publication’s list of top-earning dead celebrities for the fifth straight year, raking in a sizable $75 million.