LOS ANGELES // The publicity-saturated chaos that attended much of Michael Jackson's life shows every sign of continuing long after his death, as family members gear up for a fight over his finances and his children, and state and federal law enforcement agencies take a growing interest in the origin of the powerful prescription drugs that appear to have killed him.
The pop star, who collapsed and died 10 days ago, will be given a lavish send-off on Tuesday when tens of thousands of well-wishers are expected to cram in and around the Staples Center sports arena in downtown Los Angeles for a public memorial. He is expected to be buried earlier the same morning in a private ceremony, most likely at LA's famous Forest Lawn cemetery, which has been likened to a theme park because of its improbably flashy decor and section names like Babyland, Slumberland and Graceland.
Behind the scenes, however, several battles are being waged over Jackson's legacy. His ex-wife Deborah Rowe, who bore the first two of his three children, has threatened to challenge the terms of his will - which excludes her entirely - and press for custody. "I want my children," she said in a television interview aired shortly after publication of the will, which explicitly omits her and grants custody instead to Jackson's 79-year-old mother, Katherine.
Ms Rowe has acknowledged being used strictly as a surrogate to provide Jackson with children and won US$8.5 million (Dh31m) in her 1999 divorce settlement as a form of payment for her services. She has barely seen her two children, Prince Michael and Paris Michael Katherine, but three years ago she successfully reasserted her custody rights, at least in theory, having relinquished them at the time of the divorce.
It is not clear, however, whether Ms Rowe really wants the children - her lawyer hastily commented on her interview and insisted nothing had been decided - or whether she is using the threat of a custody fight to extract more money from the Jackson estate. A court hearing pitting Ms Rowe's claims against Katherine Jackson's is scheduled for July 13. Jackson's mother is also a pivotal figure in the settlement of the debt-ridden estate. Several media reports say she is in line to inherit 40 per cent of Jackson's assets, with another 40 per cent going to his children and another 20 per cent to charity.
She will not, however, have any control on management of the estate - that job has been assigned to an estate lawyer and one of Jackson's music industry confidants. It will be up to them to work out how to hold on to Jackson's most valuable assets - prime among them being a half-share in the Beatles song catalogue - and service a debt estimated at more than $400m. The wall-to-wall publicity over Jackson's death may be good for business - record sales are already well up and tribute albums and videos, including footage of his final concert rehearsals, are likely to follow. But questions remain over who owes what to whom, especially since AEG Live, the promoter of Jackson's upcoming London tour, has sunk more than $20m into the enterprise already.
AEG Live's chief executive, Randy Phillips, has said a ruling on the cause of death will be crucial to determining what follows. It appears AEG Live was insured against the eventuality of an overdose, but only up to $17.5m. Full results of the two autopsies performed on Jackson - one official, one commissioned by the family - may take weeks. The police have ruled out foul play for now, but they are widely reported to have found a staggering variety of powerful painkillers and other drugs at the rented mansion above Sunset Boulevard where Jackson lived out his final months. Those drugs include Diprivan, which is used for surgical anaesthesia and never prescribed for home use.
Both the California Attorney General's office and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating both the drugs and the doctors who obtained them, either for Jackson or for someone accepting them on his behalf. Legal experts say that if a doctor either prescribed or administered Diprivan to Jackson, that might be grounds for a criminal prosecution on manslaughter charges. Perhaps the most intriguing theory of Jackson's death to date comes from the investigative journalist and author Gerald Posner, who says he has spoken to a close confidant of Jackson's and believes the star wanted to stage an overdose so he could duck some or all of his concert commitments without incurring cancellation penalties.
That, according to Posner's report on the website The Daily Beast, was why Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray, was asked to sleep at the mansion the night before he died - the idea being to have him rescue Jackson before it was too late. If so, the plan went horribly awry. By the time Dr Murray checked in on Jackson, his breathing was already faint and all attempts to resuscitate him failed.
* The National