A New Stage for Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson has come to the end of the road.

When the 30-year-old superstar leaves the stage after his performance tonight at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, he’ll not only end a marathon, 16-month “Bad” world tour but also bid farewell to touring--so he says.

Having set records for the largest grossing tour in history ($125 million) and the largest paid attendance (4.4 million), Jackson plans to focus on recordings and films.

“I’m not saying he’s not going to perform live again, but I don’t think we’ll ever go out on tour like this,” Jackson’s manager, Frank Dileo, said during an interview in Beverly Hills this week.


Jackson and Dileo now intend to take a couple of months off to rest and make plans.

They tentatively plan to release a double album of Jackson’s greatest hits, complete with three new songs, this fall. Jackson’s next studio album isn’t expected before 1991.

“He may do a show here or there, but I don’t see him ever going out on the road again with 12 semis and 137 people. It’s a very hard tour. It’s 2 hours and 8 minutes and he’s working constantly. It’s exhausting.”

Why is Jackson, one of the most celebrated stage performers of the modern pop era, retiring from concerts?

“He’s accomplished everything he has to accomplish as far as touring,” said Dileo. “He’s got the biggest gross and has played to the the most people. What are we going to do next time? Play for two years? That would kill me .”

Another factor: Jackson is known to prefer film and recordings because performances in those media--unlike concerts--are preserved for posterity.

The interview-shy Jackson has said for years that he wants to break into films, but Dileo said it’s more of a priority now than ever before.

“Before, he was concentrating on doing a solo career and eventually a solo tour,” Dileo said. “He’s accomplished that now, so it’s time to pursue this in earnest.”

The two hope to develop a film musical for Jackson to star in. Jackson’s only theatrical role to date was in the 1978 film version of “The Wiz.”

“We have stacks and stacks of scripts and proposals,” said Dileo. “We’ll sort through them and see what’s right for Michael.”

Finding the right property for a specialized talent like Jackson has proved to be a challenge.

Even multimedia producer David Geffen was unable to find the right project when he was retained by the singer around the time of the Jacksons’ 1984 “Victory” tour.

“I couldn’t come up with anything,” Geffen acknowledged in a separate interview Thursday. “It’s my failure, not his. I just wasn’t interested in doing a bad movie.

“I think it will take a special project. You can’t cast him in just anything. I don’t think you’d cast him as a dramatic actor, or that you could have believably cast him in ‘Coming to America.’ It would have to be something created for him.”

But Geffen added: “I don’t think they could cast Fred Astaire in just any picture either. I think they had to develop special pictures for him too.”

Geffen suggested that the main challenge in translating Jackson’s super-stardom to the big screen is Jackson’s man-child persona, not the fact that he is black. “It has nothing to do with black/white issues in his case,” Geffen said. “People don’t relate to him in terms of color. He’s just a unique human being: He’s not like any other 30-year-old you know.”

“Don’t bet against him,” Geffen cautioned. “He’s very single-minded and he’s a very hard worker. He’ll get it done.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, is among the top producers who is reportedly trying to develop a film project for Jackson.

Meanwhile, Dileo said he and Jackson are prepared to wait until a suitable film comes along.

“There are a lot of artists who have chosen to do scripts that they shouldn’t have done,” Dileo said. “It’s like a good poker game. You can afford to wait it out ‘til it’s right.”

Relaxing over a pot of coffee in a hotel suite, the soft-spoken Dileo said that the “Bad” tour, which encompassed 123 shows in 15 countries, is still something of a blur to him.

“We know we’ve set a lot of records and that we’ve been to a lot of great places, but we’ve been on such a fast track that we haven’t been able to sit down and reflect back on it,” he said.

The tour may well be the most expensive ever mounted, in large part because of Jackson’s insistence on playing only three shows a week and resting the other four days. Dileo kept all the musicians and crew members on salary for the entire week, resulting in a weekly “nut” of between $500,000 and $650,000.

The tour drew especially well in Japan, England and Germany, but early ticket sales were slow in Australia, where radio stations and fans were said to be put off Jackson by media reports of his “eccentricities.”

Dileo responded by flying top Australian DJs to Japan, where they could see Jackson’s show first-hand.

“Why not?,” said Dileo. “I told them, ‘I think we’re getting a bum rap. Come over and see for yourself.’ They met Michael afterwards and then went back to Australia and everything was fine. That turned the tide.”

The “Bad” album has sold more than 6 million copies in this country, and is the only album in pop history to generate five No. 1 singles.

And the project isn’t over yet: Dileo said that he may well authorize the release of an eighth single from the album, “Leave Me Alone,” next week.

The album has reportedly sold 20 million copies worldwide, about half as many as Jackson’s previous album, “Thriller,” and about one-fifth as many as Jackson’s reported goal for the album.

“We’re happy with the results of ‘Bad,’ ” Dileo said. “And next time out we’ll try to do as good or even better.

“Americans like to build ‘em up and tear ‘em down. They’re like that not only with artists, but with Presidents too. I’m sure that affected us. But we did the best we could. We made the best album and the best videos we could. We don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”