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Michael Jackson's popularity endures, even after new scandal

Michael Jackson waves to crowds gathered for his

Michael Jackson waves to crowds gathered for his in-store appearance for his album "Invincible" on Nov.7, 2001, in Manhattan's Times Square.  Photo Credit: AP / SUZANNE PLUNKETT

The documentary "Leaving Neverland" presented a disturbing depiction of Michael Jackson as a child molester, but the initial wave of negative publicity hasn't greatly diminished the King of Pop's image or the enduring popularity of his music.

Many believe Jackson's musical legacy is still going strong as Tuesday's 10th anniversary of his death approaches. Backlash to the documentary that aired in March on HBO and Britain's Channel 4 prompted radio stations in Canada to stop playing his music and the producers of "The Simpsons" to remove an episode that featured Jackson's voice.

But that's been the most visible extent of the backlash.

There's been no rescinding honors like has happened to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, or mass movements to stop playing Jackson's music, as R&B singer R. Kelly has faced.

Jackson's massively popular "Thriller" album and the theatrical version of its music video still reside in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry. His music is still featured in commercials and is a part of a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas.

Museums in Detroit and Tennessee keep images and artifacts of Jackson on display, and his memorabilia continues to sell.

"He still commands prices compared to most any other celebrity," said Darren Julien, president and CEO of the Culver City, California-based Julien's Auctions. He said his auction house has sold around $15 million of the superstar singer's property including his white glove that went for $480,000 in 2009 and a jacket, which was recently bought for $75,000.

Billboard senior editor Gail Mitchell isn't surprised by support for Jackson, whom she has met before. For a recent story, the veteran music journalist said she and a colleague interviewed about 30 music executives who believe the singer's legacy could withstand the "Leaving Neverland" controversy.

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"Some saw the film, others didn't want to," she said. "Many said that [Jackson] is not here to defend himself the way R. Kelly is here. ... The jury is always probably going to be out. But all of the execs said his legacy will be fine."

Mitchell recently attended Janet Jackson's residency performance in Las Vegas where the singer played several of her brother's songs that had "people dancing and buzzin' " as the "crowd went wild" during classic songs from The Jackson 5, which she called "one of the highlights of show."

Jackson died at the age of 50 from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009. In an instant, Jackson's popularity surged after years of being tarnished by sexual abuse allegations and a 2005 child molestation trial, which ended with his acquittal. After Jackson's death, the criminal case nearly became an afterthought until "Leaving Neverland" was released.

The documentary focused on two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who denied Jackson abused them while the singer was still alive. Both have said having their own children forced them to face the truth.

Jackson acknowledged befriending numerous children, including some he invited into his bed, but denied he molested any of them.

His estate has also vigorously denied Robson and Safechuck's allegations, calling the documentary a retread of proved falsehoods from men seeking money. A lawsuit was filed against HBO.


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