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Jacko: Custody Question

Jacko: Custody Question | Zevon: He Slept When He Was Dead | 'Mission 3': Over

Jacko: Custody Question

Michael Jackson’s problems are far from over, despite the very breezy version of his life that appeared in the New York Times business section yesterday. Jackson’s legal difficulties are actually headed for a dramatic climax in just seven days.

Right now, lawyers for Jackson’s ex-wife are negotiating with the fallen pop star’s reps over depositions in Debbie Rowe’s ongoing visitation/custody case.

As things stand today, Jackson is supposed to be in New York in one week to answer a wide range of questions about his parenthood.

You may recall that his two eldest children, Prince and Paris, were born to Rowe during their brief marriage. The children have been told by Jackson that they don’t have a mother, yet Rowe — as I revealed here last year — is their only biological parent.

Upon their divorce, Jackson paid Rowe what is estimated to be about $9 million over several years. But he stopped short of the remaining $2 million owed because he said Rowe had violated their confidentiality agreement.

In fact, she gave “Entertainment Tonight” an interview about her horses and ranch, and said nothing about Jackson or the kids. But at the time Jackson was cash-crunched and looking for a way out of his agreement with the feisty blonde.

But Jackson owes Rowe more than she could ever give him. Not only did she “give” him two children, she came to his defense twice during his child molestation scandal.

The first time was in February 2003, right after Martin Bashir’s special with Jackson painted him in a bad light. Rowe immediately appeared on TV at Jackson’s request and described him as a wonderful, loving parent who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

The second time was in May 2005, when Rowe took the stand at Jackson’s trial and offered similar praise as a defense witness. Her testimony was so persuasive that the jury managed to forget about countless questions raised in their minds by witnesses for both sides.

Rowe’s reward for helping Jackson was one visit with the children in late summer 2005, during which she was not allowed to tell them she was their mother. Since then, she hasn’t seen or heard from them.

But recently, Rowe regained her parental rights in Los Angeles family court after thinking she’d signed them away. Jackson’s response was to force the private judge, a retiree whom both sides had hired, to recuse himself from the case, thus creating new delays in determining if Rowe would ever see the rest of her settlement or ever have a relationship with her kids.

A few months ago, Rowe changed lawyers after an arduous and successful run with Iris Finsilver of Palm Springs. She is now represented by “fresh blood,” Eric George of Beverly Hills, whose determined to get Rowe her rightful due.

Some people in the court of public opinion may argue that Rowe “sold” her kids or signed away her rights to them, but legally, neither is true. It will be interesting to see if Jackson shows up in New York next week, and if he brings the children.

Either way, hearings are scheduled in Los Angeles on May 18 and 24 in Rowe v. Jackson separate from the depositions.

Also on the table for next week may be depositions in the ongoing case brought by Prescient Capital, aka Darien Dash (cousin of Damon Dash) for $48 million in fees — a significant chapter omitted in yesterday’s Times.

Then there are further depositions that have been allowed by the California judge in Marc Schaffel’s $4 million case. That trial is supposed to begin on June 2.

Meanwhile, there’s no sign of Jackson’s charity record, the one he was doing for New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 31, 2005. Since then, countless recording artists have donated time, money, supplies, energy, etc. to help the shamefully forgotten people of the Gulf Coast.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw even rented 18 wheelers full of food and brought them to Biloxi. Now Paul Simon — who brought doctors and medicine to the region — sings about it beautifully on his new album. But not a peep from Jacko.

Indeed, the Web site for Jackson’s putative record label, Two Seas, seems to have vanished from the web. Its URL now directs to a German fan club.

I do not know what happened to the kid who sent out a statement to a bunch of journalists on April 23 claiming that Jackson was working with 50 Cent and planning a new album as well.

You’ll notice this column was the only one that didn’t report that “news” because when we asked Two Seas intern “Teddy Blass” for a number, it turned out to be a fax number at Sony’s Los Angeles offices.

Zevon: He Slept When He Was Dead

I’ve spent the weekend reading Mitchell Fink’s marvelous new book called “The Last Days of Dead Celebrities,” published by Miramax Books. This is a must-read: I am not kidding.

Fink — the former Daily News and People gossip columnist and CNN contributor — has done a remarkable job of interviewing all the people who knew and loved 15 famous people who have passed away, starting in 1980.

He begins with John Lennon and ends with John Ritter. None of it is sensational or tabloidy. All of it is so well-written, researched, thoughtfully told and as they say “fully authorized.”

The Lennon story attracted me first, and though we know the story so well, Fink really draws the only truly three-dimensional picture of Yoko Ono I have ever seen. For once, she really seems sympathetic. Ono would be smart to let Fink write a book just about her.

Some of the stories are funny. The chapter about Milton Berle is dead-on (pun intended) and a little too scatological for this column. But I really laughed as Uncle Miltie kept up his hijinks until his dying day. He was a proud man ... maybe a little too proud.

Another terrific chapter is devoted to John Denver, about whom I knew very little. Fink got everyone together who knew Denver in his last couple of years. He tries to dispel the idea that the singer’s death in a small private plane was a suicide. But the feeling lingers that somehow Denver made a wrong turn in his life from which he thought he couldn’t recover.

My favorite chapter, however, is about outlaw Hollywood singer-songwriter Warren Zevon. Like writer Art Buchwald — who is still alive as of this writing — Zevon got a death sentence from his doctors and then outlived it. Again, Fink speaks to everyone as he recreates Zevon’s final projects — a final album and VH-1special.

You also get to see the real Warren Zevon, which is why the song “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” is so evocative. He lived it, the whole thing. If he’d been really smart, Zevon might have covered “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” As it is, true fans will have to console themselves with his version of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.”

'Mission 3': Over

"Mission: Impossible 3" braved its second weekend, but didn’t do much better. The total box office is now $80 million after eight days. This means that Paramount has pocketed $40 million (the other half has gone to theater owners).

M: I3's total expenditure is somewhere between $200 and $210 million, including promotion. As you can see, we are far away from there. Tom Cruise got his $20 million payday off the top, so that means Paramount really has $20 million from ticket sales.

This disaster cannot be laid at the feet of studio executives. In the case of Cruise, they have had little control over their star — make that none. The ads, the trailers, the posters, whatever — all of it was very good. The publicity department basically steered him around landmines to the best of their abilities.

One day, not right now, but one day, M: I3 will turn a little profit between DVD sales and TV. Foreign box office will help, although by the time you finish doing the currency exchange, the number is more for bragging.

It does turn out that Cruise still has a big following in South Korea, if that helps — they had the biggest numbers abroad last week. If anyone at Paramount has a sense of humor, they should send Tom a fully loaded Kia as a gift instead of the usual Mercedes.