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Pepsi Drops Sponsorship of Jackson : Business: Soft drink firm cites cancellation of world tour. Singer’s whereabouts are not known, but speculation centers on a drug rehabilitation clinic in London.

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Pepsico Inc. announced Sunday that it is dropping, at least temporarily, singer Michael Jackson as a promotional symbol, and the elusive superstar’s whereabouts remained undisclosed.

Amid media speculation that the 35-year-old performer may have checked into the exclusive Charter Clinic in London, Jackson’s publicist Lee Solters insisted that he did not know where the singer was.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s attorneys prepared for a much-anticipated news conference scheduled for today in Los Angeles.

Pepsico Inc. said it ended its on-and-off nine-year relationship with Jackson because he abandoned his world concert tour. The singer announced Friday that he ended the “Dangerous” tour to seek treatment for an addiction to painkillers that he contended was worsened by the stress of an allegation that he molested a 13-year-old boy.

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Gary Hemphill, a spokesman for the company’s soft drink division, minimized the significance of Pepsi ending its relationship with the entertainer. “All we’re saying is that if the tour is over, as we understand from media reports, then that would end our sponsorship agreement because that would mean there’s nothing to sponsor,” he said.

Hemphill said Jackson has not appeared in Pepsi commercials in the United States since 1988. He said Pepsico is “certainly concerned and saddened” about Jackson’s difficulties, but added that no decision has been made on whether Pepsico will enter any new deals with the singer.

When Pepsico announced the sponsorship of Jackson’s latest tour in 1992, it called the deal the biggest sponsorship ever between a company and an entertainer. The company released no figures, but industry analysts put the value of the deal at $7 million to $10 million.

Pepsi’s sponsorship of Jackson dates to 1984, when it backed the “Victory Tour,” which reunited the singer with his brothers from the former Jackson Five. Pepsi also sponsored Jackson’s “Bad” tour in 1988.

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The performer remained out of sight Sunday amid media speculation that he may have checked into London’s Charter Clinic.

Jackson’s attorneys, Howard Weitzman and Bertram Fields, have scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference today at a Century City hotel. Reporters are sure to pepper them with questions about the tour, about Jackson’s mysterious whereabouts and about a criminal investigation into the molestation allegation. Jackson has denied the allegation, saying it was part of a $20-million extortion attempt by the boy’s father.

Weitzman and Fields could not be reached for comment Sunday. Solters said only that the attorneys “will be answering questions relevant to the situation” at the news conference.

Photographers and camera crews staked out the drug rehabilitation clinic in London’s upmarket Chelsea district, but the center refused to say if the star was there.

Previous news reports portrayed Jackson as leaving Mexico City for London and, possibly, Switzerland, where his friend Elizabeth Taylor owns a chalet. The British news agency Press Assn. reported that the actress was aboard a Boeing 727 that touched down at Luton Airport, north of London, before traveling to Geneva. A spokesman for the private charter company Jet Aviation said Jackson was not aboard the plane when it landed at Geneva early Saturday.

The London Sunday Mirror quoted Los Angeles attorney Richard Hirsch, who represents the boy’s father, as saying Jackson has run out of excuses for staying out of America. “If he fled to avoid these charges, it is a very sad situation for everyone concerned,” Hirsch was quoted as saying.

The lawyer could not be reached for comment Sunday.

In a tape-recorded message released Friday, Jackson said he began taking the pain medication after “major reconstructive surgery on my scalp” several months ago for burns suffered during filming of a Pepsi-Cola commercial in 1984. He said he increased his drug intake when the molestation allegations surfaced.

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Larry Feldman, the attorney for the 13-year-old boy suing Jackson, said the singer’s disappearance is irrelevant to the case.

“Frankly it doesn’t matter whether he ever shows up,” Feldman said. “I have enough evidence without him.”

But Feldman criticized the singer’s attorneys, calling the press conference planned for today a stunt to gain sympathy for the singer.

“They have done everything in their power not to handle this case in court,” Feldman said. “Now they’re trying to influence a jury by making these pathetic pleas.

“But if Michael Jackson claims he’s hurt by these allegations--and he’s used to the press--you can imagine what it’s like for this little kid,” Feldman said. “He can’t even turn on the television without seeing press reports that want to hold him responsible for Michael Jackson’s alleged drug addiction.”


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