We all know Michael Jackson is in financial peril. There were some stories published this week that echoed what this column has been saying for four years.
On Dec. 20, Jackson's $270 million worth of loans are due. It would seem simple: Pay up or be foreclosed on. Regular Americans go through this all the time.
Jackson is not a regular person, so there are many twists and turns in his story.
For one thing, Jackson has been in violation of his agreement with Fortress Investments since July. He's made no payments on the loans, which include an $18 million lien against Jackson's Neverland Ranch, that the company bought from Bank of America in April. One of the loans is for $200 million and is secured by the singer's half-interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
The $70 million loan, which carries the lien, is secured by Jackson's own publishing company, MiJac, which includes his own hits and some of other artists, including Sly Stone.
Fortress could have foreclosed on Jackson already, so the Dec. 20 date — while looking grim — is not necessarily dried in cement. In fact, I'm told that Peter Briger, who runs Fortress and is said to be a good guy, will probably extend the loans three to six months.
But Jackson's situation is unlikely to change much in that time. Sony, which owns the other half of the publishing company, is merely waiting to see what happens.
It's very simple: If Fortress forecloses, Sony will probably buy Fortress's half of the company. Other people could step in, but so far they haven't.
Jackson remains in Bahrain, but he's cut himself off from all of his regular contacts at home. Atlanta music business attorney Joel Katz is in Bahrain now, trying to set up a deal between Michael and the prince who's been hosting him. Katz would represent Jackson.
They tried this once already a couple of months ago, but it didn't work. Katz attempted to involve one of his other clients, Island Def Jam president L.A. Reid, but it didn't work. Reid and Jackson, sources tell me, didn't get along, and Reid left.
There was a report that Neverland was shut down, but that's a bit premature. I told you last month that Jackson has frequently missed payroll dates. His accountant spends a lot of time cobbling together money due every two weeks.
Somehow they've pulled it off. There are still people working at the ranch, just no guests. The rides are shut down. The zoo remains a question mark.
Jackson, I'm told, is no longer communicating with whatever is left of his company, MJJ Productions. The company is really just Evvy Tavasci, his loyal, longtime aide who runs things from her garage.
I told you a couple of weeks ago that Tavasci had been fired. Through intermediaries, she denied it. But I am told that's just semantics. Tavasci has not been able to get through to Jackson in some time. You have to feel for her. She's been left holding the bag. And it's empty.
By now Sting knows that his wife, Trudie Styler, the mother of his four youngest kids, can do just about anything she attempts. It's kind of awe-inspiring.
To prove it, she has directed a 20-minute film called "Wait," starring Kerry Washington and Debi Mazar with a knockout script by "Sex and the City" team Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky.
It's part of a series of five short films commissioned by Glamour magazine from stories written by their readers. Moxie Pictures, which represents a lot of cool directors like Cameron Crowe, did the production work. (It's very high quality.)
"Wait" is a home run for Trudie, and just to make it all sweeter, Sting's song in the film, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," was nominated for a Grammy yesterday.
One of the other films in the group, "Dealbreakers," was co-directed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore. Another, "Gnome," starring Lauren Graham of "Gilmore Girls" as a suburban housewife who gets a ride home from a bunch of lively transsexuals, was written and directed by "Sex and the City" former writer Jenny Bicks.
Talia Lugacy's "Little Black Dress," starring Rosario Dawson, and "Good Morning Baby," featuring "Coyote Ugly" star Piper Perabo, round out the collection.
All five are marvelous. I'm told Glamour is weighing whether or not to put them on its Web site or distribute them on DVD. Paltrow and Wigmore's film is going to Sundance. Styler's film, which the best of the lot, is not. But Styler and Sting are going to the film festival; a movie Trudie produced starring Robert Downey, Jr. called "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," is in competition there.
Before Sundance, however, Sting, Trudie and all six kids will celebrate Christmas at their "lake house" (I think it's a castle) in the English countryside. Then it's down to the Caribbean for 10 days of sailing on a yacht, all of them, including boyfriends and girlfriends. By the time Sundance rolls around in late January, Sting and Trudie should be ready for a few hot toddies, I think!
Today, Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" opens in three cities: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Usually limited runs are limited to just the first two cities (and sometimes Toronto), but "Brokeback" is a gay love story, so S.F. seems like a good idea. Success there will inflate the per-screen averages that are counted on Sunday. Today's shows at the Embarcadero theater in downtown San Francisco are already sold out, according to moviefone.com
Focus Features has a lot of trouble on its hands with "Brokeback." For one thing, they didn't invite the New York Times's Bold Face Names column, or this one' for that matter, to the premiere. We have no idea why.
Bold Face's Campbell Robertson, a witty fellow, responded by interviewing the gay cowboy from the Village People instead. Their amusing conversation can be found on the Times Web site.
Last night I ran into the same said cowboy, Randy Jones, at the launch of the eternally successful and beautiful Nikki Haskell's new fitness device, Star Cruncher. Haskell is the purveyor of the popular Star Caps, a garlic pill that has melted the weight off its many fans.
Star Cruncher is positively medieval, and certainly right out of Studio 54. It consists of a leather belt with cuffs attached to it on bungee cords that, if used properly, will help take off the inches, as they say. Star Cruncher is a resistance device.
Randy Jones, however couldn't resist it. (Neither could Nikki's pals Ivana Trump and Denise Rich.)
While we hung around Z Chemists on West 57th St., Jones expounded on his "Brokeback" wisdom.
"Did you know that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal called me a total of four times?" he asked. "They knew who to come to for advice."
"I told them when they're in bed, keep their hat and boots on. The boots are good," he said.
I will leave the rest to your imagination.
If you're reluctant to go see "Brokeback" right away, or you have to convince someone to go with you, Focus is offering a hefty preview, thanks to a 30-minute special on VH1. You will see the cowboys in many intimate moments. They pretty much give the whole thing away: lots of kissing and some nudity.
Maybe it's to desensitize the audience, because once "Brokeback" gets out of San Francisco, it may be harder to fill seats.
Monday is a big day in the life of former Kiss manager Jesse Hilsen. In the morning, a federal court judge may actually release him, despite the fact that Hilsen owes millions in back child support and alimony.
Federal prosecutors still haven't located Hilsen's hidden assets, but his ex-wife's attorney has served papers on Dr. Joan Packles Margolis and her husband, Dr. Richard U. Margolis, who allegedly know the real story.
Joan Margolis was married to Hilsen for a short time while he was still married to his first wife, Rita, the mother of his three kids.
A second hearing Monday afternoon, in family court, will take place if Hilsen is released at the first hearing by Judge Robert Sweet, who is being persuaded that Hilsen, 65, will make restitution to his ex-wife by going back to work as a psychiatrist, seeing patients after not doing so for about 15 years.
For 10 of those years, Hilsen was a fugitive, hiding from the FBI in South Africa. (But he'd make an excellent shrink now, don't you think?)
The family-court hearing, if Hilsen gets there, should be even more interesting than the first one.
Last month, a magistrate in family court wondered aloud during a hearing how things had gotten so far without anyone thinking to seize Hilsen's medical license.
If only the federal court would spend as much time wondering how to guarantee Hilsen won't leave the U.S. again the minute that he's freed. He's used several aliases over the years.
Oldies Back on WABC
When Infinity Broadcasting made the dunderheaded move of killing its famous New York oldies station, WCBS-FM, a vacuum was created. And we all know nature abhors a vacuum. (So do I, but that's a different story.)
Anyway, oldies are back in New York, right where they started on WABC-AM. Mark Simone, a popular silver-tongued deejay, is hosting a new weekly show on Saturdays from 6 to 10 p.m. He's reproducing everything from WABC's glory days (1962-82) including their trademark jingles. Already WABC's famous personality, Dan Ingram, has dropped in for a visit.
But it's 2005, which means that last week 30,000 people posted messages on the station's message board when Simone was on, all debating which songs were their favorites.
You can do the same, and hear WABC online, by going to http://www.musicradio77.com.
Tomorrow night, among the records Mark will play will be Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light," a personal favorite of yours truly.