Michael Jackson was a famously profligate spender, renowned in his latter years for endless shopping sprees that nearly broke the bank. As a result, at the time of his death in 2009, the self-proclaimed King of Pop was $500 million in the hole.
Before his shocking overdose at age 50, rumors repeatedly swirled that Jackson was on the verge of a forced sale off one of his prized, and most valuable, assets: his 50 percent stake in the Sony/ATV catalog. That deal finally closed this week and the sale price is proof that Jackson’s 1985 purchase of half of the music publishing company whose holdings include iconic songs by The Beatles and Bob Dylan was perhaps the shrewdest move of his 40-plus-year career.
A look back at the history of Jackson and the Sony/ATV catalog:
1957: The music publishing company is founded as a division of Associated Television, whose owner, Sir Lew Grade, was a renowned British media mogul in the ’50s and ’60s.
1982: Jackson learns about the importance (and lucrative nature) of song publishing from soon-to-be-former friend and musical companion Paul McCartney, during their London sessions for the song “Say, Say Say.”
1985: Informed by attorney John Branca (who would later be part of the brain trust handling his estate) that the 4,000-song ATV catalog was available, Jackson paid a then-unheard-of price of $47.5 million for the rights to the priceless Lennon-McCartney catalog, as well as songs by Bruce Springsteen, Cher, Elvis, Hank Williams, Little Richard and The Rolling Stones.
1988: CBS sells its recording division to the Sony Corp. for $2 billion in cash. The purchase of the world’s then-most powerful record company, home to Columbia, Epic and Portrait Records, included a deep roster of acts including MJ, Dylan, Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Barbra Streisand and Billy Joel. The company was renamed Sony Music Entertainment in 1991.
1995: Sony and Jackson form Sony/ATV Music Publishing after Jackson sells a 50 percent share of ATV to Sony for around $100 million.
2002: Sony/ATV buys country music publisher Acuff-Rose for $157 million, scooping up the rights to 55,000 country songs by the likes of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, Boudelaux Bryant, Marty Robbins and The Everly Brothers.
2006: Under a crushing debt load in excess of $270 million, Jackson agrees to give Sony an option to buy half of his stake in Sony/ATV for around $250 million.
2007: Sony/ATV acquires one of the crown jewels of publishing catalogs with its purchase of the songs of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. The deal brings into the fold such iconic songs as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “On Broadway” and “There Goes My Baby.”
2008: Sony/ATV purchases the international administration rights to Famous Music for $370 million from the Universal Music Group. Among the hits in the 125,000-song catalog are songs by Eminem, Shakira, Pink and Beck.
2009: Jackson dies on June 25, 2009 at age 50, leaving behind three young children and an estate in dire financial straits. His longtime attorney, John Branca, and music industry veteran John McClain take control of the estate and begin an ambitious plan to pull the star’s assets into the black.
2012: A group led by Sony/ATV and the Jackson estate (among others) close a $2.2 billion deal for the purchase of EMI Music Publishing. EMI’s assets count more than 1.3 million songs, including 251 Beatles compositions, as well as songs by The Police, Justin Bieber, One Direction and The Beach Boys.
2015: In October, Sony triggers the buy-sell process with the Jackson estate that allows it to buy out MJ’s stake in 750,000-song Sony/ATV catalog, which now includes hits by everyone from Marvin Gaye to Taylor Swift, A$AP Rocky, Fall Out Boy, Adele and Lady Gaga.
2016: March 15, Sony announces plans to complete its acquisition of the estate’s 50 percent of Sony/ATV for $750 million.. A definitive agreement is expected by March 31, with deal closure to come in late 2016 or early 2017, pending regulatory approval.