Michael Jackson left a philanthropic legacy almost as large as his cultural one.
In all the financial and personal turmoil that characterized his latter years, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a pioneer not only in popular music but also in charitable fundraising within the entertainment industry.
Jackson, like his close friend Elizabeth Taylor, was one of the first entertainers to enlist in the fight against AIDS/HIV, and he went on to contribute and raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help sick children, set up scholarship funds, and to find new ways for entertainers to raise money and awareness for causes.
He also helped set the standard of generosity for other entertainers, particularly pop stars. His song “We Are the World,” which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie in 1985 to help combat famine in Africa, was instrumental in changing the way rock stars generate funds for the causes to which they’re devoted.
As a brilliant showman, Jackson understood that the way to raise public awareness was to employ the joy of entertainment as the ultimate appeal to people’s consciences.
Noted veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman: “He let his actions speak for him, and those actions were big, grand gestures.”
Before the financial woes that haunted him in recent years, Jackson was one of the industry’s most formidable philanthropists. For example:
* He donated proceeds from the 1988 song “Man in the Mirror” to Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a camp for children who suffer from cancer.
* He equipped a 19-bed-unit at Mount Sinai New York Medical Center for cancer research and donated part of the earnings from his Victory Tour to the United Negro College Fund.
* He donated all the money he received from his Pepsi endorsements -- $1.5 million -- to the Michael Jackson Burn Center for Children at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City. Jackson had been treated there when he was burned during the production of a Pepsi commercial.
* Before a concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988, Michael met with Prince Charles and Princess Diana, handing over checks totaling more than $400,000 for the Prince’s Trust and a children’s hospital.
* He founded the Heal the World Foundation to fight illness and poverty among children around the world.
* He boldly joined Ryan White -- a boy who was infected with HIV by contaminated blood transfusions, in his fight against the discrimination of those with AIDS -- at a time of great fear and dread over the AIDS epidemic. In 1993, Jackson was one of the stars to perform at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. Before he sang “Gone Too Soon,” he talked about the plight of those with AIDS and mentioned Ryan, who died of the disease in 1990.
Seven years later, the Guinness Book of World Records cited Jackson for holding the world record for the “Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star.” It’s unclear how much Jackson had donated over the years, but some estimates put the number at more than $500 million.
“A lot of the issues he shed a light on were issue that no one felt comfortable talking about at the time, like AIDS,” Bragman said. “He was not the guy who would jump on the bandwagon. He was the guy leading the band.”
In an interview in Moscow on Tuesday, President Obama told a reporter that “it’s important for us to affirm what was best of [Jackson].”
Jackson’s estate is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars more over the years to come. If the will currently being treated by the courts as valid is sustained, it appears that at least 20% of the income on the trust that Jackson directed his executors establish will go to charity.