Michael Jackson returned to the stage Thursday after eight years marked by more scandal than music-making and told a crowd of screaming fans that he would play a series of London concerts before retiring from public performance.
Wearing his trademark sunglasses and a silver-embroidered black military-style jacket, he said the series of shows in July will be his “final curtain call.”
Jackson appeared at the 02 Arena — where the concerts will be staged — to announce the gigs.
“This is it. This is it,” Jackson said, as the fans screamed. “These will be my final shows, performances, in London. This is it. And when I say this is it, I mean this is it.
“This is really it. This is the final curtain call, OK? See you in July.”
The 10-concert stand will begin July 8. Tickets are expected to sell quickly for the shows, despite concerns the 50-year-old star may not be up for a return to the spotlight. Pre-sale for tickets to the concerts begins March 8 on the pop star's Web site.
Concert organizers hope the string of shows will net the financially troubled star millions. But after years of erratic behavior, health fears, child-abuse allegations and money woes, is the once-golden Jackson brand tarnished beyond repair?
The O2 Arena, which holds up to 20,000 people, has become a venue of choice for big-name acts and comeback performers. Britney Spears is due to play there for eight nights in June, Prince did a 21-day series of shows at the arena in 2007, and Led Zeppelin played a one-off reunion gig there the same year.
If organizers hope to see a return of the fan frenzy that once followed Jackson everywhere, they may be disappointed. Only a handful of people joined the packs of press photographers and camera crews Wednesday outside Jackson’s London hotel — and several of those said they were seeking autographs to sell on eBay.
But even if Jacksonmania is a diminished force, his comeback would be a huge event.
Jackson has not released a studio album or played a full concert since 2001. His last major tour was the HIStory World Tour in 1996-1997.
Since then, Jackson’s ever-changing appearance and erratic behavior have often overshadowed his music.
He was arrested in 2003 on child-molestation charges and acquitted in 2005 after a trial in California. Since then he has traveled the world, spending time in Ireland, France and the Gulf state of Bahrain.
His last live performance in Britain was at the 2006 World Music Awards. He was scheduled to perform “We Are the World” but only managed a few lines before leaving the stage.
He has struggled to pay his debts after his financial empire crumbled following his arrest. Last year he was forced to give up the deed to Neverland, his 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) ranch and miniature amusement park in California.
His health is rumored to be as precarious as his finances. He often looks gaunt in photographs, and rumors of his condition have ranged from lung disease to an infection acquired during nose surgery.
Bookmaker William Hill is already taking bets on whether Jackson will show up for his first gig. It is offering 5/1 odds that he won’t, and spokesman Graham Sharpe anticipates brisk business.
“Once people start buying tickets they may well want to have a bet that he won’t show up as a form of insurance,” Sharpe said.
Aizlewood said he would bet on the ever-erratic Jackson pulling it off.
“This is Michael Jackson playing his greatest hits — some of the greatest hits in the history of music — live,” Aizlewood said. “It is a great event. I think even Michael Jackson won’t blow it.”