So you’re Michael Jackson and you’ve been acquitted of molesting a 13-year-old boy. But even as you celebrate your freedom, so many weird details about your private life are so well known by now that you have to be asking yourself: Will I ever moonwalk back to the top?
After all, you’re $270 million in debt and will continue to be on the hook to the tune of $5 million a year to maintain your fabulous Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, according to testimony at your trial.
But history tells us you can make it back, Michael. You can make it back.
Infamy: It’s a good thing
There’s something about wayward celebrities that makes us want to forgive and forget, even — perhaps especially — when they screw up bad.
And we’re talking major scandal. None of that small-bore pot arrest stuff or dallying with the weird cult religion of the month.
No, we mean folks like Martha Stewart.
When Stewart was sentenced to prison last summer for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators about a stock sale, stock in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. was trading around $10 a share; it eventually fell to $8.30. By the time she was released from prison in March, the stock was over $36 a share.
There are more than 51 million shares of the company, and Stewart owns most of them. Even at this week’s valuation, which has settled down to around $26 a share, the convicted felon is probably a comfortable billionaire again, at least on paper.
She has two new TV shows coming out.
Her magazine just won the magazine equivalent of the Oscar.
Yes, being bad was very good to Martha Stewart.
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He thumbed his Roman nose at the law
We mean folks like Roman Polanski.
In 1978, Polanski pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl; he then skipped bail and fled to France to avoid prison. The scandal didn’t slow down the master of the macabre, who was nominated for an Academy Award just a year later for his direction of “Tess.”
In recent years, Polanski has been able to pick and choose his movies, while remaining careful to stay out of countries that could extradite him to the United States, where he faces a potential 50-year prison sentence for rape.
Even the Americans seem to have forgiven the fugitive pedophile; he won the Oscar two years ago for “The Pianist,” which made more than $33 million at the U.S. box office alone. His next project, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist,” is due in September.
(Speaking of Dickens: He was something of a rogue, too. He was rumored to have carried on an affair with his wife’s sister. And he was confirmed to have been having an affair with actress Ellen Ternan in 1865, when they were rescued from the burning remains of the famous Staplehurst train wreck. Dickens was 45 when the affair started in 1857; Ternan was 17.)
The Wonder Boy
We mean folks like Robert Downey Jr. This article has continued onto a second page because Downey’s arrest and conviction record could take it up all by itself.
In 1996, Downey was arrested for drunken driving and possessing Mexican black tar heroin, crack and powder cocaine, and a .357 Magnum. A few weeks later, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court on those charges, Downey was arrested after breaking into a home in Malibu, Calif., and falling asleep in an 11-year-old boy’s bedroom, an incident he laughed off as “the Goldilocks caper.”
Downey was sentenced to three years’ probation for the weapons and drugs charges; barely a month later, in December 1997, he was sentenced to six months in jail for violating his parole.
But wait; there’s more.
Downey kept relapsing and entering rehab. In 1999, he failed to take court-ordered drug tests and was sent to the slammer for violating the terms of his 1997 conviction. He served a year in state prison — and then got himself arrested twice more for being under the influence of a controlled substance in the first eight months after he was sprung.
Plenty of work supported Downey’s habit
Along the way, casting directors kept giving him roles; only once did producers throw up their hands and fire him, when he was dismissed from the cast of “Ally McBeal” in 2000. He told a British newspaper in April:
“I gave them a good run before I started getting high again, but it was pathetic. When I rolled back in for episode 11, it wasn’t a pretty picture. I was whacked to the gills. They asked me to take a urine test, but I found some fake urine. Who did they think they were messing with? I am the Green Beret of liars.”
While Downey appears to have legitimately cleaned up his act in the last three years or so, he claims that he has trouble getting work because insurance companies charge producers an arm and a leg to protect themselves against the chance he’ll disappear in the middle of shooting.
Still, Downey has managed to persuade directors to cast him in 13 movies since his first arrest, including the big-budget films “U.S. Marshals,” “Bowfinger,” “Gothika” and “The Shaggy Dog,” and he’s believed to be Sylvester Stallone’s first choice for the lead in “Poe,” his new biopic of Edgar Allan Poe. He’s even put out an album, “The Futurist.”
Big injustice for the Little Tramp
The irony is that Downey’s greatest triumph was his role in “Chaplin” in 1992, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. He played Charlie Chaplin, who, it can be argued, was the most important figure in the first half-century of the movies. Chaplin was also someone who couldn’t fully recover from a scandal, even though it was a bum rap.
Chaplin, whose Little Tramp character epitomized the Golden Age of the silent film era, lived the last quarter-century of his life in exile in Switzerland because the U.S. government deemed him a threat to national security. The FBI’s 1,900-page file, compiled over 50 years, essentially convicted Chaplin of having leftist political beliefs. (It also identified him as Jewish. He wasn’t.)
As early as 1933, the government was seeking to place a lien against Chaplin’s assets — it did that to suspected communists in those days — and by 1952, when he traveled to London for the premiere of his last masterwork, “Limelight,” he was denied re-entry to the country. Never mind that a contemporary summary in his FBI file read: “It has been determined that there are no witnesses available who could offer testimony that Chaplin has been a member of the communist party in the past, is now a member, or has contributed funds to the communist party.”
Chaplin returned to the United States only once thereafter, in 1972, when he was given an honorary Academy Award. (After he died in 1978, his corpse was stolen and wasn’t recovered for three months.)
The prospects for Jacko
And therein lies the hope for Michael Jackson. In midcentury, the career of one of our greatest artists could be destroyed. In today’s much more forgiving age, convicted frauds, rapists, cokeheads and other miscellaneous miscreants can do just fine, no matter, it seems, how outré their offenses:
- Convicted Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy is one of America’s highest-rated radio talk show hosts.
- Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., was re-elected to Congress six more times after he was censured in 1983 for having sex with an underage male congressional page.
- Banks and bondholders lost hundreds of millions of dollars when Donald Trump went bust in 1990, to the tune of more than $4 billion. Today, he’s once again a billionaire developer and star of “The Apprentice,” for which the American public also refuses to punish him.
- Mia Farrow walked out on Woody Allen and accused him of pedophilia when she discovered that he was having an affair with her own adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, who was 35 years his junior. Since then, he has gone on to make “Husbands and Wives,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Everyone Says I Love You,” “Deconstructing Harry,” “Celebrity,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Small Time Crooks,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Anything Else,” “Melinda and Melinda” and “Match Point.”
- You can even be president of the United States, airing your dirty laundry for the whole world, and make it back. Just ask Bill Clinton. And, of course, there’s Richard Nixon, the congressman-turned-unindicted-co-conspirator who resigned the presidency in disgrace. By the time he died in 1994, he was hailed as one of the nation’s sagest sages and was almost able to claw his way to statesman status.
It helps, of course, that even in financial straits, Jackson has assets to fall back on. Neverland has been valued at as much as $50 million, should he decide to sell it, and then there’s his half-interest in the Sony/ATV Music catalogue, which holds the rights to hundreds of songs by the Beatles and dozens of other stars. His attorney says Jackson’s half of those rights could be worth a half-billion dollars alone.
And if worse comes to worst, Jackson could even go back on stage. “Celebrity Justice” reports that he is negotiating with Steve Wynn to headline a show in Las Vegas.
The King of Pop. In Sin City. Imagine the sales.
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