By Dylan Howard - Senior Executive Editor, Star magazine
Michael Jackson secretly left behind an almost billion-dollar secret art fortune that is now at the center of an international tug of war, Star has exclusively learned.
The never-before-seen collection would have insured the King of Pop's surviving children were looked after for life. But in a startling twist, the secret vault has been sold out from underneath them, at a 'bargain basement' price, relatively speaking.
Lawyers running the late Thriller singer's estate are moving to block the $87.7 million sale to an undisclosed international businessman, in a desperate attempt to return the incredible treasure to Prince, 13, Paris, 12, and Blanket, 8, and their guardian, Jackson's mother Katherine.
In an astonishing appraisal of the 182-pieces, obtained exclusively by Star, the “rare intact major collection” was valued at a whopping $902.52 million, with “an invaluable pedigree for future sales in the international art market.”
“Michael’s mystique in life combined with this exposure of his wonderful fine art creations following his tragic death will escalate the value of these works and the popularity of his artistic vision worldwide,” appraiser Eric Finzi, a certified member of the International Society of Appraisers, wrote in a document obtained by the magazine.
“I do not think we have begun to see the true value of this fine art yet.”
The loot is so valuable that it’s worth almost more than Jackson’s other assets combined, including copyrights to his pop hits and the Beatles' catalog, which he purchased in 1998 for $47.5 million.
Jackson, who was once famously called “a millionaire who lived like a billionaire,” built the extensive collection of sculptures and sketches that he drew while being taught by an Australian artist, Brett-Livingston Strong, who was a close friend.
In a letter sent to the artist, Dr. Tohme Tohme, Jackson’s last business manager and spokesperson, paved the way for the sale, transferring over the collection of artwork -- free of charge -- "to keep, sell, copy, exhibit and to use in whatever way you wish."
"Michael wants you to know he is truly grateful for the loyalty you have shown him over the years, and he views this as a small token of appreciation for your continued friendship and artistic partnership," Dr. Tohme wrote in the hand-signed letter, dated November 17, 2008, obtained by Star.
But now legal experts are now examining the validity of the document concerned that it could be a fake.
They also have questions over Jackson’s knowledge of the purported agreement.
"Michael's signature nor his initials are inked on the document that purports to gifts hundreds of millions of dollars to Strong, at a time when Michael was swamped in debt," a source close to the Jacksons told Star.
The insider added: "Michael's mother and his children were the dearest thing to him in his life, so it beggars belief that he would not want them to benefit from this collection, financially."
Complicating matters, the source close to the Jacksons said Dr. Tohme has refused to swear an affidavit confirming the letter was true.
He was asked to do so by Howard Mann, the controversial Toronto gambling entrepreneur who is Katherine Jackson's business partner, Star has learned.
While Mann refused to comment when contacted about the deal, it's emerged he was bidding for the collection against Guy Laliberté, the former street performer who founded Cirque du Soleil and went on to become a billionaire. Neither man was successful.
The collection is as bizarre as the rest of the singer's turbulent life and includes intricate designs for chairs, gates, sculptures and elaborate doors he dreamed of installing at Neverland, Jackson’s former home (and amusement park and zoo), located 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
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Each item tells a story about Jackson and throw light on mysteries which have puzzled fans for decades.
* Sketches of Jackson’s own feet doing his signature move from 'Billie Jean', the Moonwalk, now one of the best-known dance techniques in the world. Those original drawings have been valued at $600,000 each.
* His fascination with the number 7. In a series of artworks, Jackson sketched the numeral -- which coincided with the star's three biggest albums -- "Thriller," "Bad" and "Dangerous" -- each producing 7 top 40 hits. Jackson was also the 7th of 9 children.
* Recreations of the Statue of David and Dying Slave, the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo.
* His first work of art, "We the People," on Presidential archival paper. It’s said to be worth $3 million, according to the appraisal.
* An interesting political relic: The U.S. Presidency Seal signed by President Ronald Reagan. Jackson had visited the White House on May 16, 1984.
* After that visit, Jackson sketched ‘The White House Doors’ -- a drawing appraisers have estimated is worth at $3 million.
* Sketches of Martin Luther King, President Abraham Lincoln and President George Washington, worth in all, more than $8.1 million, it’s suggested.
* A self portrait emblazoned on a plaque to be the feature of an entrance to a theater at Neverland. There’s also an image of what Jackson titled the ‘Peter Pan Magic Gate.’
* Hand-signed sepia prints of ‘The Book,’ reputed to be the only portrait he ever posed for. The portrait depitcs Jackson dressed in red velvet holding a journal of thoughts and sketches.
* Sketches of the plane with which the Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved controlled flight. Jackson was said to have been fascinated with how the Wrights were able to fly. In a 2007 visit to the the Smithsonian's National Air and Space and American Indian museums, he lingered over the actual 1903 Wright Flyer.
The collection also includes a rocking chair made by one of President John F. Kennedy’s White House staffers for the president’s use in the oval office during his term in office.
The art was created at a top secret and inconspicuous airport hanger at Santa Monica Airport in California, Star has learned.
“The successful bidder put down a payment of $37.7 million to secure the art and agreed to pay a further $50 million upon receipt of a release from the estate,” an insider close to the deal told Star.
As Star reports, the Jacksons and the estate are now working on a challenge against the document. See the disputed document -- along with sketches of the amazing art collection -- in the latest edition of Star, which is on newsstands now.
Plus -- read what Jackson matriarch Katherine tells Star, in an exclusive interview, about the secret treasure trove!