Jackson to make final return to Neverland
Singer divides legacy between mother, children and charities
Wednesday 01 July 2009
Michael Jackson is going home to Neverland, giving the world the chance to pay its last respects to the King of Pop at the country pile that represents a monument to both his public triumphs and private torments.
The singer's body will be driven to the ranch, in a rustic corner of the Santa Ynez valley, north-east of Santa Barbara, on Thursday morning. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to attend a viewing there on Friday, and a private funeral service for friends and family is being scheduled for Sunday.
A motorcade of 30 cars has been given police clearance to transport Jackson's coffin on the two-hour journey from Los Angeles to the 2,500-acre property, which is down a single-track road a few miles outside the sleepy wine country town of Los Olivos.
Lt. Butch Arnoldi, a local Sheriff's Department spokesman, told reporters that meetings took place throughout the morning to discuss the move. "Our guys are meeting with the California Highway Patrol to discuss security issues," he said.
The plan emerged following the discovery of what appears to be the singer's final will, written in 2002, which divides his estate, estimated at $1bn (£610m), between his mother Katherine, 79, three children, Michael Jr, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7, and various charities – and disinherits his controversial father, Joe.
It also raises the prospect of Neverland becoming a Californian version of Graceland, the former home near Memphis where Elvis Presley was buried.
Jackson bought the estate in the 1980s, and at the height of his fame installed a theme park and zoo, and employed more than 150 staff there. However, the venue became a symbol of his personal and financial decline. It was ransacked by police during his arrest on charges of child abuse and, last year, went into foreclosure as Jackson struggled to pay his debts.
In February, the contents were taken away for auction, on a fleet of lorries and vans. They were put on show to the public in Los Angeles, at a pre-sale event showcasing the eccentric assortment of outfits, waxworks, artwork and memorabilia. The auction was eventually cancelled, after Jackson agreed to perform a series of concerts in London to pay off his debts.
Jackson's family moved the body to Neverland after their lawyer, L Londell McMillan, was shown a copy of the 2002 will, which was drawn up by John Branca, who worked as the singer's attorney between 1980 and 2006 and was rehired weeks before his sudden death.
In a further development, which has implications for a custody hearing scheduled for Monday, the internet site TMZ reported that neither Jackson, nor his ex-wife Debbie Rowe, is the biological parent of any of the children.
They were instead conceived by in vitro fertilisation, using donated sperm and eggs, and born via surrogate mothers. For reasons that remain unclear, formal adoption papers were never processed.
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