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Who Is Philip Anschutz? (And Why Is He in Business with Michael Jackson)
Throughout his career, Michael Jackson surrounded himself with unusual characters, from Marlon Brando to Bubbles the chimp. As his life was subsumed in controversy and financial difficulties, Jackson took on surprising advisers, like members of the Nation of Islam, orthodox-rabbi-turned-reality-show-host (and advocate of something called The Kosher Sutra) Shmuley Boteach, and Saudi prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
Late in life, Jackson may have found his most mysterious—and lucrative—partner in Philip Anschutz, the Denver-based billionaire who has made money in everything from oil to telecom to movie-making and -distribution.
The two men couldn't be more different: One a child star who grew up to become possibly the world's most flamboyant and famous performer, but whose life imploded amid accusations of child molestation, tabloid embarrassments, and gross financial mismanagement. The other is barely known outside the business world, rarely quoted on the record, and a supporter of Conservative causes that include limiting the rights of gays and lesbians and promoting "traditional" family values in entertainment and media.
Yet they struck a deal potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for a series of concerts in London and a possible tour. And after Jackson’s demise, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (just one of his many companies) is still in the Michael Jackson business. No matter what tragedy befalls his core asset, it seems Anschutz has figured out how to continue monetizing Michael.
The concert deal would have had Anschutz's AEG Live promoting the 45 London Jackson events, to be held this summer at London's O2 arena, which happens to be owned by AEG Worldwide. AEG was so committed to keeping the event on track, it paid Dr. Conrad Murray to act as the singer's personal physician. Dr. Murray is currently at the center of a police investigation into Jackson's overdose from the anesthetic Propofol.
Now, AEG Live is partnering with Jackson's estate to release a movie culled from more than 100 hours of footage of Jackson preparing for the concerts. This Is It, which hits theaters October 30, was shot (per a Sony release) "in high definition with state-of-the-art digital sound" at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the site of Jackson's July memorial service, an event that helped rehabilitate the singer's reputation and led to an outpouring of good will for him and his family. AEG, not so incidentally, owns the Staples Center. Two AEG Live executives, Randy Phillips and Paul Gongaware, are listed as producers on the film as well.
Who is Anschutz? More than just a businessman, that's for sure. He's active in Christian fundamentalist and Conservative political causes, including funding a campaign to support Amendment 2, Colorado's 2006 ballot initiative to overturn gay rights, the Institute for American Values, the Center for Marriage and Families, and Morality in Media.
Invariably described as "secretive" or "reclusive" in the press, he is nonetheless involved in media. He just bought the Weekly Standard for a reported $1 million from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which funded the small—but for a time, highly influential—conservative magazine since 1995. Add this to his other conservative media holdings, which includes the Washington Examiner, a free tabloid, and the 101 locally targeted Examiner-branded sub-sites and it's no wonder Forbes described Anschutz as "The Stealth Media Mogul."
That's one of the nicer things that has been publicly said about the 69-year-old mogul. Fortune once called him America's "greediest executive," prompting a rare public statement from Anschutz, who hasn't spoken to a journalist on the record since 1974. The Anschutz Company released a statement that called Fortune's moniker "inaccurate and unfair."
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