More than a decade after his death, the value of Michael Jackson’s image and likeness has sunken to a measly $4.15 million. This estimation was set by US Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes, who ruled that the late King of Pop’s worth had drastically declined at the time of his death and has only slid further since then.
According to court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Holmes largely sided with Jackson’s estate in its battle against the IRS. Citing the megastar’s negative public perception even before his death, Holmes pointed out Jackson’s legacy has been further tarnished in recent years. He wrote,
“From the time he was a child Michael Jackson was famous; and there were times in his life, testified his executor, when he was the most famous person in the world. There were certainly years when he was the most well-known popular-music star, and even after his death there have been years when he was the world’s highest-earning entertainer. But there were also many years when he was more famous for his unusual behavior and not his unusual talent. And there were some years where his fame was turned infamous by serious accusations of the most noisome acts. We make no particular judgment about what Jackson did or is alleged to have done, but we must decide how what he did and is alleged to have done affected the value of what he left behind.”
Making further biting commentary, Holmes also concluded the public will inevitably move on from the memory of Jackson’s greatness as a musician. “Popular culture always moves on,” he added. “And just as the grave will swallow Jackson’s fame, time will erode the Estate’s income. It resurrected and then sold what became its most valuable asset to Sony before trial. The value of what it has left, no matter how well managed, will now dwindle as Jackson’s copyrights expire and his image and likeness shuffle first into irrelevance and then into the public domain.”
The plaintiffs and defendants in the case valued Jackson’s image and likeness on drastically opposite sides of the spectrum. The IRS claimed he was worth $434 million, based on “foreseeable opportunities” like themed attractions, branded merchandise, a Cirque du Soleil show, a film, and a Broadway musical.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s estate initially said it was only worth $2,000 due to struggles to rehabilitate the singer’s image amidst allegations of child molestation. These accusations were recently revived by the 2019 HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland. Expert consultations later raised the estate’s valuation to roughly $3 million.
John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of The Estate of Michael Jackson applauded the decision. “This thoughtful ruling by the US Tax Court is a huge, unambiguous victory for Michael Jackson’s children,” they wrote. “For nearly 12 years Michael’s Estate has maintained that the government’s valuation of Michael’s assets on the day he passed away was outrageous and unfair, one that would have saddled his heirs with an oppressive tax liability of more than $700 million.”
The statement continued, “While we disagree with some portions of the decision, we believe it clearly exposes how unreasonable the IRS valuation was and provides a path forward to finally resolve this case in a fair and just manner.”