Surprise! The public auction of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch has been canceled. The news came Friday afternoon, just five days before the 2,900-acre spread was set to be sold in public to the highest bidder.
No word yet on what's happened, although the likelihood is that Jackson has reached a refinancing agreement with Fortress Investments, the loan holder. They currently hold a $23.5 million note on the property.
Jackson has been working with a number of friends including financier Ron Burkle, who's lent his support but not his money in trying to help Jackson out of this predicament.
Of course, whatever's happened, the only real solution is for Jackson to sell the property now, pay off all his loans and invest the money wisely. What are the chances of the last part happening? Not great, but you never know.
Earlier today we reported that Fortress Investments was expected to accept the highest bid over $20 million on May 14 at an auction on the steps of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It would have been interesting as the property, even in the current economy, could be worth four times that if it’s subdivided.
The loss of Neverland would close an inauspicious chapter for Jackson. The ranch was the scene of many charity fundraisers. But it was also a place for dark memories. The police raided the property a few times over the years looking for evidence that Jackson had molested children.
What they did find, and what was eventually presented in a court case, was all kinds of pornography and many examples of tackiness.
It was a family affair last night at Carnegie Hall for the annual Rainforest Foundation concert.
The audience that’s followed Sting and Trudie Styler’s commitment to saving indigenous peoples of the world for the past two decades also got to see how the performers’ families have grown up.
Not only did Sting, Billy Joel, and James Taylor perform, but so did their kids: 17-year-old Coco Sumner, 22-year-old Alexa Ray Joel and thirtysomethings Ben and Sally Taylor (whose mom is Carly Simon).
There was also a second-act centerpiece tribute to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, with eight of his classic songs like “Good Vibrations” and “Help Me Rhonda.” The songs are beautifully executed while Wilson — whose life history of mental problems has been well chronicled — occasionally joins in on vocals. The material is vibrant and strong, which is rather a nice tribute to him after 40-plus years.
Also on the bill was opera great Kathleen Battle, who literally brought the Carnegie Hall audience to its feet. Violinist Natalie Clein and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti were also very good. The show was so jam-packed that a planned set with Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian had to be scrapped at the last minute. He’ll be back next time, however.
There were several transcendent moments, including a surprise performance by Sting singing a song written by actor Dustin Hoffman, who accompanied him on piano. The two-time Oscar winner turns out to be an accomplished musician; he could build a whole cabaret act as a second career.
The night, produced by superstar producer Narada Michael Walden, had an eclectic but warm feel with so many family members coming and going. Sting and Billy Joel pulled off a well-executed “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a rare duet, and Sting showed off his R&B chops on “Some Kind of Wonderful,” the Soul Brothers Six hit from the '60s that was later recorded by Grand Funk Railroad and Buddy Guy.
On the solo front, Billy gave the audience his Drifters-inspired “An Innocent Man,” with soaring vocals and finger snaps, while Sting — who’s been on tour with the Police for a year — recovered his solo career with the charming, melodic “Englishman in New York.” He told me later he’d been so involved with Police business, “I almost forgot how to do it.”
But the kids stole the show — remember the adage never work with kids or pets? Well, that was proven out as Billy and Alexa performed on stage together for the first time ever, doing a vampy version of Billy’s Ray Charles-inspired “Baby Grand.” Alexa, who’s been touring the Northeast for the last couple of years, has really matured as a performer. She’s ready for the big career that was already apparent a couple of years ago.
Ben and Sally Taylor are already accomplished musicians, with indie albums out and a song each on Carly Simon’s new album, “This Kind of Love.” Sally, though, was especially a trouper since the new mom came on crutches — she broke her leg a month ago while skiing in Colorado. Still, looking lovely in a black full-length gown, she showed off her singing genes with an original song that could easily stand with those of her parents.
But still, the show stealer of the night was Coco Sumner, Trudie and Sting’s 17-year-old daughter. With a husky voice that reminds of her father but is original, Coco confidently sang one of her own tunes and accompanied herself on guitar.
The long-legged brunette — whose older brother Joe already fronts his own rock group, Fiction Plane — wowed the crowd including a cheering section of siblings including sisters Kate and Mickey, and film-student brother Jake.
Backstage all the parents were beaming over their kids, including Alexa Ray’s mom, Christie Brinkley, who was in the audience along with Billy’s current wife, Katie Lee Joel. Just to make things fair, since Billy got to sing with Alexa, Christie was awarded “custody” for the swanky post-concert dinner at the Plaza Hotel. That’s what you call a modern stepfamily!
Even though a nasty piece earlier this week in the New York Post tried to rain on the foundation’s parade, the evening probably raised another couple of million dollars that will be doled out over next couple of years in Third World countries. Some of the auction items at the Plaza dinner that fetched big bucks included staying for a week at Sting and Styler’s Tuscan villa, and getting up close and personal with Bruce Springsteen at his upcoming Meadowlands concert.
For Styler, especially, the continued success of the foundation is some kind of wonderful accomplishment. She spent several days last week in Ecuador — her fifth trip in a year — working with the U.N. on an irrigation project to bring that parched country clean drinking water. I think the rest of us were at the movies or something. It’s to be applauded. Loudly.
Warner M. Group stock went nuts Thursday after the company admitted to a $37 million loss in the last quarter. After a quick drop from $9.05 to $6.39, it eventually rebounded to $8.89. How it got even that high is a mystery. There’s no there there, as they say. …
Social Life is the latest Hamptons mag vying for a spot in the hearts and minds of the beach set.
Publisher Justin Mitchell is trying to stay one step ahead of his competitors, they say, by investing in upscale events. This year, Social Life is producing four events which are taking place at a $6 million, 9-acre estate in Southampton to coincide with their summer issue releases.
The exclusive and private guest list will include celebrities, socialites, jet-setters and tastemakers. There’s no recession in what Billy Norwich used to call the Cash-Hamptons!