Neverland Memorial site eyed

Ranch a ‘shell’ sans Jackson
LOS OLIVOS, California, July 3 (Agencies): The gates to Michael Jackson’s fabled Neverland Ranch swung open Thursday to reveal a shell of the fantasyland the boy-man had created in his heyday. Gone was the zoo with its elephants, tigers and giraffe. The exotic snakes had long since slithered away, and the amusement park rides had been dismantled. The five-bedroom house, with its gigantic kitchen and media room where Jackson liked to screen his beloved Disney films, were nearly empty. His bigscreen TV was gone, only a mounting bracket remained. There were some traces of the playland that the place had been in its glory days, when Jackson opened it to neighborhood children by the thousands and presided over the ensuing parties as the lord of the manor. In its empty game room, for example, the door knobs shaped like miniature basketballs, baseballs and soccer balls remained. In a closet in the pool house, sandwiched between the pool and the tennis court, was a bucket of tennis balls. And on a hill overlooking the house stood the fabled train station Jackson — a near replica of the one at Disneyland with its huge floral clock. It was still a stunning site from Jackson’s front yard, although the railroad tracks behind were overgrown with weeds. In the station lobby was a snack bar, and above that, accessible by only the smallest of spiral staircases, was a crow’s nest of sorts with a fireplace. There, presumably, Jackson must have stood and watched his trains fill up with children taking trips around his 2,500-acre (1,000hectare) estate. The ranch was also the site where authorities alleged Jackson had molested a boy. He was acquitted in 2005 and eventually left Neverland. Visitors wandered through the firstfloor, back bedroom where authorities said the incident occurred. Jackson once acknowledged in a television interview that he sometimes let children sleep with him in his bed in what he called innocent sleepovers. Colony Capital LLC, the Los Angeles firm that established a joint venture with Jackson to rescue Neverland from foreclosure last year, opened the home to scores of journalists Thursday after a nonstop barrage of requests for access after Jackson died. Colony has declined to say what it plans to do with the house, and none of the handful of officials present would speak on the record. No members of the Jackson family were seen on the premises. Visitors were allowed to roam freely for the most part, as more than a dozen gardeners and maintenance workers went about their duties. The two-story house has a number of labrythine-like hallways and stairways. A large copper bathtub sits in the middle of a hallway. Across from the front door of the main home was the guest house where Jackson’s friend Elizabeth Taylor stayed when she married Larry Fortensky in 1991, at a Neverland wedding briefly interrupted by a skydiving gate-crasher. Off-limits Thursday was the estate’s now-empty amusement park, where Jackson and others once rode bumper cars, a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. “My kids used to go out there and they had a good old time,” Los Olivos resident Frank Palmer said earlier this week. “He was just a big kid himself, was what they told me. Michael loved it when they’d crash the go-carts.” Among other things, Jackson left behind dozens of metal sculptures of children in various states of play. They were scattered across the estate, some showing children in modern dress, others looking more like kids who stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel. One was a kid climbing on monkey bars, another boy helped a girl reach a tree branch. A slightly larger sculpture had the name Michael Jackson written beneath it. From a distance, it looked nothing like him.

The back of the main house at Michael Jackson’s former home, Neverland Ranch is seen in Los Olivos, California, July 2. This corner of the house is where Jackson had his bedroom and bath. (Inset): The main room is seen at Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, California, July 2. The door at the right leads to the kitchen. (AP)

Rehearsal footage may become motion picture

Video shows vigorous Jackson
Karson Avila, 11, of Solvang, California, stands near the gates of the late Michael Jackson’s former residence, Neverland Ranch, in Los Olivos, California, July 2. (AP)



NEW ORLEANS: The celebration of black music and culture at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans will provide comfort to artists and fans alike after a tough week following Michael Jackson’s death. Singer Lionel Richie, a longtime friend of the pop superstar and the festival’s headliner, says performing at Essence will give him and others a chance to regroup. “We’ll celebrate his life and come together as a family down there,” Richie said. “It’s New Orleans. The spirit of what the music business is all about is there. It really is to me one of those places that’s like visiting my foundation.” The festival, which began in 1995 to celebrate the birthday of Essence Magazine, begins Friday and runs through Sunday. It will include a tribute to Jackson, as well as performances by Beyonce, John Legend, NeYo, Anita Baker and others. Richie, 60, collaborated with Jackson in 1985 and wrote what became one of the fastest-selling singles ever – “We Are the World” – a song produced to raise money for victims of the Ethiopian famine. “I wanted him to be able to enjoy his life and his success, and he was never really able to do that,” Richie said. “He just couldn’t get there. For me, that was the tough part.” Richie said his performance Sunday will consist of favorites like “Zoom” and “Brick House,” but he’ll also sprinkle in a selection or two from “Just Go,” his new CD. “I know this audience,” he said. “This is my audience. ... They want to hear as much old as I can play.” Essence also will include a host of New Orleans acts, such as Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and the brass band Big Sam’s Funky Nation. New Orleans jazz singer Thais Clark is making her Essence debut Friday with two performances – one a salute to New Orleans blues singer Marva Wright, who is recovering from a stroke last month, and another with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “I love Essence,” Clark said. “It brings a certain energy to the city, the people and enthusiasm. I’m so excited to be a part of it this year.” Besides music, Essence has plenty to celebrate with the election of the country’s first black president and the festival’s 15th anniversary, said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc. As in years past, seminars addressing challenges in the black community, such as underachieving schools and single-parent households, will be held during the day at the Morial Convention Center, and concerts are slated for evenings at the Louisiana Superdome. On Friday, actor and comedian Steve

LOS ANGELES, July 3, (Agencies): A video released Thursday showed Michael Jackson vigorously practicing a song-anddance routine days before his death, supporting accounts he had been in good health. In footage obtained by AFP, the pop legend performed at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 23, two days before he died, as he prepared for a 50-date set in London starting in July. Jackson, while thin, is seen dancing with energy in a tightly choreographed sequence with a group of performers. Jackson sings on a headset and at one point pushes back his jacket to reveal his red shirt underneath. In the footage, Jackson switches sharply in styles in a medley of some of his hits. The video starts with Jackson dancing wildly in front of a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist before a pause for dramatic effect. Jackson then shifts to a snippet of “Billie Jean,” one of his greatest hits, before singing, “They Don’t Care About Us,” one of his most controversial tracks in which he brought in a hip-hop influence. The set ends with a sample of a car horn. The stage then fades to black as an outside voice instructs, “Hold for applause.” Associates of Jackson have described the 50-year-old pop star as being in good form, including at another rehearsal just hours before his death. Jackson collapsed and died on June 25 at his rented Los Angeles mansion. Speculation has focused on whether Jackson was taking painkillers or other medication. Jackson’s voice coach Dorian Holley said Jackson was in an upbeat mood in the days before his death, joking around with his wardrobe and makeup staff. “My friends call and ask, ‘Was Michael sick? Was he weak? Was he ill?’ It’s the absolute opposite of that,” Holley told

CNN. “He was very energetic, he was happy. He was even more playful than he normally was at rehearsal,” he said. Holley said Jackson, 50, did not show his age. “I’m sure that he was in pain after some rehearsals. But I got to tell you something — the guys and girls dancing with him were all in their 20s,” he said. “When Michael was on stage with them, there was only one person that you could watch and that was Michael Jackson,” he said. A similar account came from Kevin Mazur, who was attending the rehearsal sessions as a photographer. “He was like an expectant father pacing up and down the stage,” Mazur told Britain’s Sun tabloid. “He was just so focused. Between songs, he burst into laughter and joked around with his dancers and the director. I have never seen him so happy,” Mazur said. Jackson had planned a series of concerts at London’s O2 Arena starting on July 13, part of a comeback for the King of Pop whose personal and financial life had sharply deteriorated in the past decade. Concert promoters AEG Live, who released the video, are offering full ticket refunds for the concerts. British media reports said about £50 million (59 million euros, $83 million) has been spent on 750,000 tickets. The 30-second snippet of Michael Jackson rehearsing two days before his death was released Thursday, part of more than 100 hours of footage that could be turned into live albums, a movie and a pay-per-view special, the promoter said. The treasure trove of material, along with possible insurance proceeds and ticket sales to memorabilia collectors, could help benefit the late singer’s estate, which is burdened by an estimated $400 million in debt.

“He was our partner in life and now he’s our partner in death,” Randy Phillips, president and CEO of concert promoter AEG Live, said in an interview at Staples Center. Jackson had been rehearsing for a giant series of comeback shows in London. “If we all do our jobs right, we could probably raise hundreds of millions of dollars just on the stuff we have worldwide and then the estate could eradicate its debt.” AEG Live also stands to profit from the material. Jackson’s album sales have exploded since his death, with three of his albums in the top three spots and 2.3 million tracks downloaded in the United States, Nielsen SoundScan said. Worldwide digital downloads for the week hit 3.3 million. The clip released Thursday shows Jackson dancing and singing to “They Don’t Really Care About Us” on June 23 during a rehearsal at Staples Center. He died two days later at age 50. Phillips said he released the clip because he was tired of seeing the singer negatively portrayed in the media since his death. “I said let’s grab one piece where we can show people where he was headed,” he said. “He was developing getting his moves together.” The rehearsal footage, shot in high definition, includes Jackson performing his hits “Thriller” and “Beat It.” Other footage shows production meetings and auditions. “We have enough audio to make two live albums, and he’s never done a live album,” Phillips said. “This is really the last great work of a 21st century genius.” The production budget for the 50 London shows, which were set to begin July 13, swelled to more than $25 million, he said. Part of those costs included 3D technology used to produce what Phillips called “mini-movies” involving “Thriller” and

“Earth Song.” “That’s what’s so compelling,” he said. “Just `Thriller’ is nine minutes of 3D visual insanity.” Another possibility is a tribute show at The O2 arena in London that would be broadcast worldwide and then sold as a DVD, the promoter said. Phillips said AEG Live is waiting for Jackson’s estate to be settled to see who the company will be dealing with. The estate “would get the lion’s share” of any profits from the release of the rehearsal footage, he said. Insurance will help cover any losses on the London shows if the coroner’s autopsy shows that Jackson died accidentally — including of a drug overdose — but not if he died of natural causes, Phillips said. AEG Live took out $17.5 million in insurance coverage through Lloyd’s of London. That would fall short of the $25 million to $30 million Phillips said AEG Live spent on Jackson’s advance, producing the shows at The O2 arena, covering some of Jackson’s debts, and paying his staff and rent on the Holmby Hills mansion where he died. The concert promoter for Michael Jackson’s canceled London shows said Thursday that audio and video tapes made before the King of Pop’s death could generate hundreds of millions of dollars and erase debts on the singer’s estate. Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, said his company has recorded enough of Jackson’s songs to release two albums and video to make a movie, DVD, or both from Jackson’s recent rehearsals for concerts planned for London’s 02 arena. A lot is at stake for AEG and Jackson’s family, because Phillips said the King of Pop’s death would likely leave his estate liable for more than $25 million AEG spent on production costs and the singer’s expenses ahead of the London shows.

Harvey will talk about marriage and actor turned activist Bill Cosby will discuss educa-

tion a day later. Other speakers include Marvelyn Brown, a 24-year-old who was

diagnosed with HIV at 19, former magazine editor Monique Greenwood and Soledad

‘I grew up on his music’

Also: PARIS: The Los Angeles mansion where
Michael Jackson lived before his death will become a public memorial site, French fashion mogul Christian Audigier announced, saying he would purchase the building. The vast house in the Holmby Hills neighborhood currently belongs to Audigier’s associate and the boss of his fashion company Hubert Guez. A statement given to AFP by Audigier’s press spokesman said the property had been rented by the pop icon for several months and the lease would run out in six months’ time, after which Audigier would buy it “with the aim of keeping intact the precious moments he shared with Michael Jackson.” Spokesman Laurent Guyot said: “Christian Audigier, a friend of Michael Jackson, will buy this property to make it a place dedicated to the memory of the star to which the public and fans will have access.”

Obama Jackson fan
WASHINGTON, July 3, (AP): The King of Pop had a fan in the White House. President Barack Obama described himself as a longtime follower of Michael Jackson, the legendary performer who died June 25 at age 50. “I grew up on his music — still have all his stuff on my iPod,” Obama said in an AP interview Thursday, adding that Jackson “will go down in history as one of our greatest entertainers.” At the time of his death, the pop icon was preparing a series of comeback concerts to overcome years of sexual scandal and financial calamity — a troubled history the president acknowledged without naming specifics. “I think that his brilliance as a performer also was paired with a tragic and, in many ways, sad personal life,” Obama said. He expressed pleasure that the public is celebrating Jackson for his talents, instead of dwelling on his personal tragedies.

O’Brien, the CNN anchor who reported on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This year is shaping up to be a record crowd, despite the slumping economy and loss of two major sponsors, Ebanks said. Essence is on track to break last year’s record attendance of 270,000, she said. Hotel occupancy is expected to be 80 to 90 percent, and could increase “if we have a lot of last minute decision-makers,” said Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. (AP) ❑ ❑ ❑

Jackie (left), and Tito Jackson (right), brothers of pop icon Michael Jackson, leave the Jackson family home in Encino, California, July 2. As funeral plans took shape one week after Michael Jackson’s death, legal battlelines were drawn over the King of Pop’s legacy and the fate of his offspring, with ex-wife Debbie Rowe declaring she planned to seek custody of the star’s eldest two children. (AFP)

LOS ANGELES: Steve Brennan, a 20-year veteran reporter and editor at The Hollywood Reporter, died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 57. Brennan was well-known in the entertainment industry as a tenacious and fair-minded reporter who tirelessly covered the entertainment industry, with a particular focus on the domestic TV syndication and the international beats for the paper. “Steve often dazzled with his colorful style, but his insights were even brighter, and uncannily spot-on,” Hollywood Reporter editor in chief Elizabeth Guider said. “ He was one of a rapidly disappearing breed of old-school newsmen who had an unshakable work ethic, a global rolodex and a wonderfully wry but affectionate view of the business of entertainment and the people engaged in it.” (AFP)