By Alex Veiga -- AP Business Writers
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson the singer was also Michael Jackson the billion-dollar business.
Yet after selling more than 61 million albums in the U.S. and having a decade-long attraction open at Disney theme parks, the "King of Pop" died Thursday at age 50 reportedly awash in about $400 million in debt, on the cusp of a final comeback after well over a decade of scandal.
The moonwalking pop star drove the growth of music videos, vaulting cable channel MTV into the popular mainstream after its launch in 1981. His 1982 hit "Thriller," still the second best-selling U.S. album of all time, spawned a John Landis-directed music video that MTV played every hour on the hour.
"The ratings were three or four times what they were normally every time the video came on," said Judy McGrath, the chairman and CEO of Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks. "He was inextricably tied to the so-called MTV generation."
Five years later, "Bad" sold 22 million copies. In 1991, he signed a $65 million recording deal with Sony.
Jackson was so popular that The Walt Disney Co. hitched its wagon to his star in 1986, opening a 3-D movie at its parks called "Captain EO," executive produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The last attraction in Paris closed 12 years later.
One of Jackson's shrewdest deals at the height of his fame in 1985 was the $47.5 million acquisition of ATV Music, which owned the copyright to songs written by the Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The catalog provided Jackson a steady stream of income and the ability to afford a lavish lifestyle.
He bought the sprawling Neverland ranch in 1988 for $14.6 million, a fantasy-like 2,500-acre property nestled in the hills of Santa Barbara County's wine country.
But the bombshell hit in 1993 when he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy.
"That kind of represents the beginning of the walk down a tragic path, financially, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, legally," said Michael Levine, his publicist at the time.
He settled with the boy's family, but other accounts of his alleged pedophilia began to emerge.
When he ran into further financial problems, he agreed to a deal with Sony in 1995 to merge ATV with Sony's library of songs and sold Sony music publishing rights for $95 million. Then in 2001, he used his half of the ATV assets as collateral to secure $200 million in loans from Bank of America.
As his financial problems continued, Jackson began to borrow large sums of money, according to a 2002 lawsuit by Union Finance & Investment Corp. that sought $12 million in unpaid fees and expenses.
In 2003, Jackson was arrested on charges that he molested another 13-year-old boy. The 2005 trial, which ultimately ended in an acquittal, brought to light more details of Jackson's strained finances.