London: Michael Jackson, whose net worth was estimated to be as high as 1 billion dollars by mid-Nineties, leafed through magazines and ordered every single product advertised in it, according to those who worked for him.
Nearing middle age, the pop legend seemed irresistibly drawn to projects that much of the public found laughable.
In 1996, he announced a “family values” global entertainment empire whose projects included plans to create a theme-park home for all British cows afflicted with mad cow disease, the Daily Mail reported.
Soon after, the singer showed up in Warsaw, where he announced a 500-million-dollar World Of Childhood amusement park, to be built with the co-operation of the Polish government.
In 1998, he reportedly became the first customer to place an order for 75,000 dollars per bottle “limited edition” perfume being licensed as “the ultimate symbol of indulgence.”
It would be sold in a flask made from platinum, gold and diamonds, packaged in a walnut box that could be opened only with a gold, diamond, and ruby key.
Jackson placed a deposit on two bottles: one for himself, one for his dear friend Elizabeth Taylor.
The following year, he paid 1.54 million dollars at auction for the Oscar that producer David O. Selznick received for ‘Gone With The Wind.’
Less than a year later, Beverly Hills jeweller David Orgell sued Jackson for non-payment on a 1.9 million-dollar Vacheron watch.
The singer tried to return the timepiece but Orgell said it was scratched. They settled in 2001.
The very next day, Jackson used the Vacheron as collateral on a loan from Bank of America.
By the turn of the millennium, he was spending about 8 million dollars a year just on travel and antiques.
At his Neverland ranch, it was costing the star 4 million dollars per annum to keep staff – from carpenters to snake handlers – on the payroll.
When he flew to London for a weekend of shopping, he would hire a private jet to carry an entourage and rent an entire floor of a five-star hotel to house them.
Jackson looked at money a little differently from most people. His friend and business partner Marc Schaffel recalled when Jackson had wanted to buy something costing 100,000 dollars, but his Las Vegas hotel could only lend him 50,000 dollars in cash: “He’s pouting and he says, ‘Oh, forget it.’ Then he says, “’Kids come here.’ All the kids come over and he hands them each a stack of 10,000 dollars and says, ‘Go out and entertain youself for an hour’.”
Money was constantly flowing to Jackson from sources spread all over the globe.
At this time, he didn’t keep a bank account for fear that a creditor might try to claim it, so all payments were in cash.
Around 2001, that money was usually delivered via Schaffel. He acted, literally, as Jackson’s bag man.
Schaffel’s lawyer Howard King explains: ‘Michael’s other advisers, associates, business partners, patrons – whatever they were – would get him money by actually transmitting the payment to Marc, who would deliver it to Michael in cash.’
Schaffel made the first such delivery to Jackson in a paper sack from a fast food restaurant, Arby’s.
Jackson thought it was hilarious and began referring to the money coming his way as “French fries”. Whenever he was in need of a cash injection, he would say: ‘Bring me some fries, will you? And supersize it’.”