Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” famously depicts grisly ghouls from various tombs closing in to seal the doom of the song’s protagonists. Similarly, the real-life King of Pop has risen from the grave, this time to clock a record $825 million payday.
The figure places Jackson atop this year’s Highest-Paid Dead Celebrities list—and also gives him the largest single-year payday by any entertainer, living or dead, ever recorded by FORBES. Most of that cash came from this year’s sale of Jackson’s half of the Sony/ATV music publishing catalogue, home to valuable copyrights of the Beatles, Taylor Swift, Eminem and others. The sale was announced in March and closed late last month.
“This transaction further allows us to continue our efforts of maximizing the value of Michael’s Estate for the benefit of his children,” said estate co-executors John Branca and John McClain in a statement. Added Sony Entertainment chief Michael Lynton: “This acquisition will enable Sony to more quickly adapt to changes in the music publishing business.”
Those in charge of Jackson’s estate and Sony weren’t the only ones who felt the move was a landmark agreement.
“It was certainly a deal that will go down in history,” says Jeff Jampol, who manages the estates of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and others. “I think to take a big payday like that … and divest their holdings, and be able to spread it out across other investments, is smart.”
The acquisition wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Jackson’s own underrated business savvy. He purchased the original ATV catalogue for $47.5 million in 1985, a move questioned at the time by some of Jackson’s most trusted advisers—including music executives Walter Yetnikoff and David Geffen—and initially lambasted by many observers.
But ATV’s value burgeoned rapidly, strengthened by the enduring value of the catalogue’s Beatles copyrights, and a decade later Sony paid Jackson $115 million to become partners on Sony/ATV. In the years that followed, the publisher turned into a multibillion-dollar behemoth, accumulating north of 2 million copyrights in total.
“Turns out that it was a very lucrative investment,” Yetnikoff told me in an interview for my book, Michael Jackson, Inc. “So I would have to say that his business acumen is better than mine.”
Even after the Sony/ATV sale, Jackson will continue to be a publishing mogul from beyond the mortal realm: his estate retains control of Mijac Music, the entity that contains his own copyrights. That catalogue also includes some of his favorite songs by other artists, acquired over the years separately from Sony/ATV.
“He had a kid’s heart, but a mind of a genius,” Motown founder Berry Gordy once explained to me. “He wanted to do everything, and he was capable. You can only do so much in a lifetime.”
Fortunately for the King of Pop, he’s found a way to keep setting new records, even in the afterlife.
Platz 1 - Michael Jackson mit 825 Milionen Dollar
Platz 2 - Charles Schulz - 48 Milionen Dollar
Platz 3 - Arnold Palmer - 40 milionen Dollar
Platz 4 - Elvis Presley - 27 milonen Dollar
Platz 5 - Prince - 25 Milionen Dollar