In the middle of the night, two nights ago, Michael Jackson’s valet got a call from his boss’ financial partners in New York. They’d heard rumors, started on Web sites, that Jackson had died overnight in Bahrain.
The financiers were just putting the finishing touches on a deal that Jackson was offered and should have signed last year — to sell half his remaining interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, pay his debts and restore some order to his financial house.
The new rumor was so upsetting that I am told a Sony Music financial officer spoke to the valet — probably a security guard who travels with Jackson named Kerry — and asked him if it was true. The guard then went into Jackson’s room and woke him up — it was the middle of the night in Bahrain — to make sure he was still alive.
Luckily for all of them, Jackson was fine.
But the deal, which was only concluded last night around 6 p.m. EDT despite Jackson’s team leaking it to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, was not yet done.
Interestingly, it is almost the same deal that Jackson completely rejected a year ago. It turned out he was more comfortable making it with Arab advisers than with trusted old American friends who’d counseled and protected him through numerous self-created scandals.
“Michael Jackson doesn’t really pay attention to who he gets in bed with, does he?” said a Jackson insider with a laugh.
No kidding. The deal he’s agreed to make — and is still unsigned — was completed by two Arab lawyers in Bahrain and a mother-son team in Los Angeles. The mother is the daughter of Johnnie Cochran’s late mentor. The son is a lawyer who benefits from the mother’s status.
The mother, Gaynell Lenoir, is typical of the kind of people who’ve come and gone in Jackson’s business life over the years.
Lenoir, who is not an attorney, is the daughter of Gerald Lenoir, the late former partner and mentor of Cochran. Her son, Frank Correa, was described yesterday in the Wall Street Journal as an attorney. But there’s no listing for him on the Web site Findlaw.com, and a Sony insider who worked on the Jackson deal says he did not think Correa was a lawyer of any kind.
They also claim to have a firm called Omni Global, although there’s no record of any business like that in California.
Nevertheless, the pair, who inveigled themselves into Jackson’s business affairs last year, will pick up a fee of around $2 million just for acting as go-betweens in the process.
The Lenoir-Correas didn't have to do much except encourage Jackson to accept a deal similar to the one he was offered a year ago. That group included John Branca, the lawyer who structured the Beatles deal in the first place in 1985; Charles Koppelman and Al Malnik, who saved Jackson from the chopping block several times in 2003-2004; and the bankers at Bank of America, who tried to help him even as Jackson lied to them and cut deals behind their backs.
In this episode, I am told that Branca, who had a 5 percent stake in Jackson's music publishing holdings, extended the deal negotiations for two weeks until he was satisfied that he was protected. He got that protection in the form of a $15 million mortgage on Neverland, Jackson's nearly completely closed ranch.
But late yesterday, as the deal concluded, Branca's 20-year association with Jackson ended as he was bought out entirely. No numbers are available, but it's likely he walked away with anywhere between $10 and $20 million.
But it was Jackson who wasted a year of his life and ours, destroyed many relationships and caused more than 70 families associated with his Neverland ranch to undergo necessary hardships.
Instead, he trusted at various times his children's nanny; his out-of-work brothers, one of whom outed him in an unpublished book proposal; and of course the Nation of Islam. He also wasted about $20 million in interest and legal fees, sources said.
The new deal Jackson has struck doesn't entirely solve his problems. Fortress essentially loaned him $300 million so he could pay them back $275 million in loans. That leaves him with $25 million, which he will squander on worthless souvenirs, shopping for trinkets, traveling first class and plastic surgery. A debt clock will run on interest owed, too, which I bet no one has explained to him.
On the upside, Fortress can no longer foreclose on Jackson. Sony — in a wise move that left Fortress powerless — arranged for a panic button, so to speak. The minute Jackson looks like he's in financial trouble again, Sony can assert its right to finalize its purchase of half of Jackson’s share of their partnership.
If Jackson's half is really worth $500 million, then he would be due $250 million — less expenses, advances and other monies due to Sony. After taxes he would walk away with perhaps $100 million.
And there are still pending lawsuits. Those don't go away. Not only that: Jackson’s ability to judge the characters of potential business associates is so nonexistent that he apparently is doing business with one of his former cronies, the German manager who once owned sex clubs in Hamburg.
Is the saga over? Not likely. But the sympathy for Jackson is exhausted, I think. Today he begins with a clean slate. What he does with it is up to him.
The Anthony Pellicano case is back on the front page of The New York Times today. David Halbfinger, who's done excellent work, cites that both Paramount chief Brad Grey and former agent Michael Ovitz were more tied to Pellicano than anyone knew.
On the subject of Grey, Halbfinger is most interested in his lawsuit with former client Garry Shandling. He makes a passing reference to the lawsuit with "Scary Movie" producer Vincent Bo Zenga.
Readers of this column, however, can refer back to articles that appeared here on March 17 and March 24 outlining Grey's lawsuit with Zenga, and how it lines up with the government's indictment of Pellicano. Grey was deposed in that lawsuit in February 2001. Simultaneously, according to the indictment, Pellicano illegally wiretapped and investigated Zenga, his family and attorney.
Grey is so far not charged with any crimes. He has denied any wrongdoing. But he may be so encumbered with legal issues soon that it will be hard to do business at Paramount until he's resolved all issues.
This, my sources speculate, may have been the driving reason for the studio's acquisition of Dreamworks. As Paramount gets ready to release "Mission: Impossible III," a lot of tricky changes may be looming in the near future.
"Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship," is selling like hotcakes. So it may be interesting to know that the charming illustrated tale of a hip hippo and his 130-year-old giant tortoise friend is credited in part to Isabella Hatkoff, the 7-year-old daughter of Tribeca Films president Jane Rosenthal and her husband Craig.
Amazon is listing it at No. 95 on overall hardcovers — quite an achievement, considering Jay McInerney's latest is hovering around No. 1,500. Dad Craig has written two books with the couple's elder daughter, Juliana, as well. Nicely done! ...
"Scary Movie 4" opens today, and it shouldn't be confused with its three predecessors. A David Zucker production, you could really call this "Naked-er Gun," considering all the hilarious movie parodies, send-ups of celebrities and the return of Leslie Nielsen. Be sure to catch Craig Bierko's hysterical take on Tom Cruise's Oprah appearance, which turns out to be a slugfest. I also like the tagline for this film: "Fourth in a trilogy." We could use a good laugh this weekend…
And here’s a little irony: Nielsen got a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 from the Marco Island Film Festival. Tom Cruise’s mom used to be involved in that festival. Something tells me Nielsen might not be so welcome there now…