Michael Jackson was one of the most famous people on Earth and also one of the most famously broke. Many who crossed paths with the performer in the final years of his life -- business advisors, lawyers, a Tennessee art dealer and even a Bahraini sheik -- accused him of skipping out on bills. Jackson came within days of losing Neverland Ranch to a foreclosure auction last year, and he died owing more than $400 million to various financial institutions.
But the reality, those familiar with his finances say, can be summed up by the title of a Beatles' song he counted among his possessions: Baby, You're A Rich Man."
Jackson's assets outweigh his debt by at least $200 million, according to people knowledgeable about his business holdings. Determining a precise figure is difficult, they said, given the complexities of his finances.
Those calculations do not include his posthumous earning power, which seems immense based on the enormous public appetite for his music and memorabilia in recent days. Moreover, his death removed the biggest drain on Jackson's finances: his legendary spending.
Who will control his estate's great existing wealth and the massive fortune that licensing his name, recordings and likeness may bring is at the heart of a hearing today in a downtown L.A. courtroom. Lawyers for Jackson's mother, Katherine, 79, filed papers last week asking that she oversee the estate, but 48 hours later, two longtime Jackson associates filed a will the performer signed in 2002 naming them as executors.
At the hearing, which is expected to attract media from around the world, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff is to take up the issue of who should have authority to handle Jackson's affairs.