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LOS ANGELES: While family members squabble in public over Michael Jackson’s money, John Branca, who holds the purse strings of the estate, is a calm center of the storm.
As co-executor of Jackson’s will, he chooses to ignore the erupting dramas and personal attacks and keeps his eye on the future, which he says belongs to Jackson’s mother and children and to the pop star’s musical legacy.
He and co-executor John McClain have been successfully pursuing projects to pay off a mountain of debt left by the superstar, to assure the financial future of his three children and to guarantee that Jackson’s music will live forever.
“When Michael Jackson died, he was near bankruptcy,” said Branca, suggesting the future for his three young children was uncertain. “Now we know the kids will be OK.”
Branca sat down recently with The Associated Press to discuss the current state of the Jackson estate and projects to preserve Jackson’s image as the King of Pop. But he resolutely refused to address the elephant in the room — recent attacks on him and McClain by some Jackson siblings who were left out of their brother’s will.
They sent a lengthy letter that became public accusing the executors of deceit and manipulation of their mother and claiming that Jackson’s will was a fraud. They have not taken any court action and legal experts say the time to challenge the will, which disinherited them, is long past.
Branca and McClain issued a statement calling the accusations “false and defamatory,” adding “we are especially disheartened that they come at a time when remarkable progress is being made to secure the financial future of his children ...”
Secure in his knowledge that all four of Jackson’s wills named him as executor, Branca continues to make deals for the Jackson estate that are generating millions in revenue. This week, they announced an agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing to administer Jackson’s Mijac Music catalog, which includes such hits as “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” The deal is expected to generate enough revenues to pay off a remaining $5 million loan by year’s end.
Since his death on June 25, 2009, Branca said Jackson’s personal debt of $200 million has been paid off and another $300 million tied to his ownership of Sony and ATV catalogs has been renegotiated.
“Michael had a will and a trust and that’s what we follow,” he said.
The estate pays Mrs. Jackson $70,000 a month for the children’s support, pays the rent on their mansion in Calabasas, and is picking up bills for other expenses including renovation of their Encino home.
Branca’s AP interview was his indirect response to accusations by Randy, Jermaine, Janet and Rebbie Jackson that the estate was being mishandled.
Jermaine later disavowed the incendiary letter and called for peace in the family. But Janet, Randy and Rebbie fired back with a letter of their own reiterating their complaints.
Brimming with excitement, Branca spoke of upcoming ventures he thinks would have delighted Jackson, especially a permanent Jackson-themed extravaganza on the Las Vegas Strip. It comes on the heels of the Cirque du Soleil Jackson tribute show, “Immortal: The World Tour.”
“The Lion King” theater at the Mandalay Bay Hotel is being rebuilt to house the still untitled show, also a Cirque du Soleil production, which is set to open May 23, 2013.
“It will be highly theatrical and completely different from the arena show, which was more of a concert,” Branca said. “We will have the opportunity to create something special and ground-breaking.”
Declining to reveal all of the technical wizardry planned, he said, “We’ve got all kinds of tricks up our sleeves.”
Every seat will have its own speakers, while the walls and ceiling will be used to create “a totally immersive experience for the audience,” he said.
Unlike the touring show, there will be no live band and all music will come from remixes of Jackson’s recordings.
Branca and co-executor McClain, a reclusive recording executive, say they understand Jackson;s’s desires to take care of his mother and children — Prince, Paris and Blanket — financially and keep his music alive.
“We feel Michael entrusted us with his legacy and with the future of his mother and children,” Branca said. “We’re honored and proud and passionate about celebrating Michael. It’s a labor of love for us. We love Michael.”
Branca met Jackson in 1980 when both were just starting out and their success story was legendary. But there were rocky periods. During more than two decades together they had two three-year periods of estrangement over business disagreements.
Branca was rehired by Jackson a month before he died, with instructions to draft an agenda for future business deals. Branca presented the plan a week before Jackson died and it has been the roadmap for the estate’s posthumous enterprises.
In addition to the new Las Vegas show, a new album and a concert DVD will be released soon celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s “BAD” album. And a two-hour documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee on the making of “BAD” will show at the Toronto and Venice film festivals next month.
The anniversary promotions include a deal with Pepsi to put silhouettes of Jackson on a billion cans of soda in 20 countries.