Michael Jackson didn't have much to say when he finally hit the makeshift stage at the O2 Arena this afternoon.
The press conference for his big comeback was scheduled for 11am, EST but went off at 12:42pm. The reason given: Jackson's van was stuck in traffic in Blackwall Tunnel between London and the arena.
Jackson strode into the Arena looking pretty healthy considering all the reports of his near death or fatal illnesses. Indeed, his face looked recently refreshed by cosmetic surgery, which would explain the many pictures of him with scarves and bandages. His mouth and chin are now more reminiscent of Steven Tyler. With the hair, he could also be confused with Carly Simon. But it's Jacko, he's wacko, and he's backo.
PHOTOS: Jacko still looks wacko! Today's pics, plus Michael's previous incarnations.
In his few minutes on stage he told the crowd of fans that he loved them and that he'd see them in July. He also promised to sing all the songs they loved. Other than that, Jackson had nothing else to say except that he wasn't "kidding" and this would be his "final curtain call."
But Jackson must say that to sell the number of tickets required to make this effort a success. His worldwide fans must be convinced that they will never have a chance to see him again. But in reality Jackson - who wouldn't know the truth if it moonwalked on him - said it was last appearance in London. Whatever.
Now producer AEG Live has to ensure that ticket sales take off like a rocket. To do that they've taken over total sponsorship this Sunday of "Dancing on Ice," on Britain's ITV Network. The producer will show a three minute clip of Jackson's videos, touting the shows. Let's just hope that Jackson himself isn't skating on thin ice.
So why is Michael Jackson committing to his summer shows in London? Other than money?
A source close to him tells me, "Michael’s doing it for his kids. He wanted them to see, at least once, what he did for a living."
And so maybe he shall if everything goes mostly as planned. I’m told that Jackson’s old musical director Kenny Ortega has already been contacted to direct the show. The production itself will be handled out of AEG Live’s London offices.
If all goes according to plan, Michael’s comeback will also be a coup for AEG Live’s Randy Phillips. It was Phillips who got this ball rolling two years ago, talking to Jackson when the O2 Arena was still the Millenium Dome and making the transition to rock venue.
But still, there may be trouble ahead. I’m told that Raymone Bain, Jackson’s former general manager and publicist, is thrilled that Jackson is heading back to the stage. But Bain, like so many former Jackson advisers, may soon make a legal claim against the former pop star. Bain’s friends say that she was the architect of the deal with AEG Live back when it first surfaced in 2007. Jackson turned it down after much negotiation back and forth. Now, they say, Jackson may not be aware that his new adviser, one Tohme Tohme, re-started Bain’s original plan.
While Jackson stands to make anywhere from $10-$200 million on all his deals with AEG Live, friends point out that Bain toughed it out with during the lowest point in his financial history. Last year, Bain helped put together the deal that moved Jackson’s $325 million to a consortium of banks and brought him $25 million in cash through refinancing. A little over a year ago, I wrote in this space that Bain had left Jackson. In fact, I’m told that Jackson prevented her from leaving his employ several times. Her actual status with the singer is still up in the air.
Meantime, the vast monies that could come from the London concerts has thrown a wrench into Jackson’s other plans. Emboldened by suddenly having money again, Jackson is now suing Julien’s Auction House in Los Angeles, trying to stop the auction of his memorabilia that Tohme arranged for next month. Jackson is claiming that he never authorized the auction and that he and Tohme have been somehow conned and lied to by Darren Julien, well known and respected Hollywood auctioneer.
I spoke to Darren Julien this morning by phone. He told me, "We can’t believe this happened. We have a contract with Michael, and I’ve spoken to him directly. We’ve provided him with several inventories of the items removed from Neverland — at his request. Any time he’s asked for anything back or removed from the auction, we’ve sent it right back."
Julien told me that just a few days ago, Jackson and Tohme called and asked to have back the three Rolls Royces that were being included in the sale. "Michael also saw a painting of his son, Prince Michael. He said, Hey, that’s my son. I said I understood and sent it over."
For the auction, Julien says he was first contacted by Tohme who claimed that Michael thought his auction house was "wonderful." Neverland had to be emptied out quickly of all its contents, so Julien sent 10 "semi’s" to the Los Olivos, California ranch. His staff methodically inventoried every single piece, sent copies to Jackson, and prepared catalogs. The catalogs have just been printed and are due to go on sale shortly.
Julien says he’s not worried about the lawsuit, which has been filed but not served. He’s going ahead with the auction and a planned showing in New York beginning March 24th of the highlights of the show. The auction house is famous for conducting sales of huge lots belonging to stars like Cher and Barbra Streisand. He told me, "Michael has storage facilities. If he’d wanted to store things, he didn’t need us. He called us to auction off everything."
The scenario is reminiscent of so many in Jackson’s litigious past, including a lawsuit that he settled for $3 million with Damon Dash’s cousin after his brother, Randy, acted on his behalf; and the entire child molestation/conspiracy case he walked away from, which was essentially caused by his then manager mishandling an entire family.
You can’t say enough nice things about Tom Hanks. Now he’s produced a movie called "The Great Buck Howard" that stars his kid, a talented and cool young actor named Colin Hanks.
A kind of great failed cable movie, "Buck Howard" gets a premiere next week from the ludicrous Cinema Society. That’s the screening group where sort of bad movies with big stars get underwritten by desperate sponsors who want their names attached to celebrities. The guests at the screenings are people you’ve never seen before. As one observer sniffed: "They look like refugees from a mixer in Westhampton."
Some of the sponsors in the past include Salvatore Ferragamo and The Wall Street Journal. They don’t seem to realize that Cinema Society movies are usually castoffs that are headed straight to DVD and cable.
"Buck Howard" is one of those films. It was shown at Sundance a year and three months ago. I’d almost forgotten it existed. Like a lot of second string Sundance films, "Buck Howard" has a lot of charm but no real reason for being. It’s a nice acting showcase for John Malkovich and for Colin Hanks, who’s also opening next Monday night opposite Jane Fonda on Broadway in "33 Variations."
So what about Colin Hanks? He has a totally different screen disposition than his dad, and that’s good. Where Tom was charmingly acerbic and a little dangerous in his early days. Colin has more of a sweetness to him. He’s perfect for that show. But the sweetness can cut both ways, and with a little imagination you could see Colin Hanks as a heavy in a Scorsese movie or psychological thriller. He has a lot of possibilities.