Family reunions are often strange affairs. But the public reunion of the performing Jackson clan on Saturday night was, even by Las Vegas standards, one of the strangest spectacles in theatrical history.
Part soap opera, part tragedy and part weird comedy, the Jackson family epic took another turn in a reunion (minus one outcast daughter) before 15,000 people at an arena in the huge MGM Grand Hotel. The show is to be televised on NBC tonight. But most of the real-life drama actually took place offstage.
Certainly the most pointed comment of the reunion came, unexpectedly, from Katherine Jackson, the matriarch. Several hours before the stage reunion, at a news conference, she was asked if her family was living the American dream.
"It's been an American nightmare in the last six months," she said.
No one would dispute her. The family reunion was initially scheduled for Dec. 11 in Atlantic City, N.J. But it was canceled after a teen-age boy sued Michael Jackson, accusing the performer of sexual abuse. The suit was settled for at least $10 million last month, but criminal investigations are continuing.
With the settlement, the Jackson family and NBC hastily rescheduled the reunion three weeks ago.
Called "The Jackson Family Honors," the reunion had slow ticket sales, disputes over the show's finances and, most bizarre, threats by Jack Gordon, the husband and manager of La Toya, the family outcast, that she would sneak in disguised as an Arab and disrupt the event.
The reunion was supposedly intended to unite the family for the first time in 20 years and to present their first set of awards to Elizabeth Taylor for her work in behalf of AIDS patients and to Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. It was also to raise money for charities and, of course, for the Jacksons.
There were no Hollywood power brokers there, no movie stars and few, if any, representatives of Sony Music Entertainment, which has a contract with Michael Jackson worth $50 million to $65 million, and the Creative Artists Agency, which represents him.
Prices for tickets were dropped earlier in the week because of lagging sales; some employees of the MGM Grand were given free tickets to help fill the arena.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday that although the musical benefit, as it was styled, could bring in up to $6 million in television broadcast fees and ticket revenues, only $500,000 was pledged to charities not controlled by the Jacksons.
Moreover, the Internal Revenue Service has no record of the family's nonprofit group, Jackson Jubilee Inc., the paper said.
Robert Petralia, a lawyer who is the chairman of Jackson Jubilee, said that an application for nonprofit status had been filed with the IRS.