For the first time in almost two years, Michael Jackson will wake up this morning without the shadow of possible imprisonment hanging over him. Acquitted on all charges of child molestation, he should be facing the future with a song in his heart and a new CD up his sleeve.
Yet while the verdict was a humiliation for the Santa Barbara County district attorney, Tom Sneddon, he may live to see Jackson's downfall after all. Although he did not sway the jurors, his prosecution cast such a damning light on Jackson's unsavory lifestyle that the former king of pop's career is in danger.
It is not news that Jackson is weird; his bizarre behavior has been long and widely reported. His experimentation with skin pigmentation to turn white; his frequent nose surgeries; his close friendships with young boys; his dangling his son out of a hotel window -- all have been featured in serious newspapers and magazines as well as those sold at supermarket checkout stands.
But in court there was evidence not only of Jackson's weirdness but of an unpalatable taste for the tawdry. The jury saw police videos of Jackson's bathtub, his outdoor Jacuzzi and a black briefcase stuffed with adult magazines that he kept in his bedroom. Jurors saw a desk in his office cluttered with bare-breasted dolls in sadomasochistic gear. There also was testimony that Jackson often was intoxicated in the presence of children.
Jackson also is facing financial ruin. If his career survives, he will have to severely curtail his spending while selling billions more records and selling out concerts well into old age to pay off the huge debts he has accumulated -- not even counting his legal fees, which are surely substantial.
The trial revealed that he has been financing his lavish lifestyle with borrowed money. Witnesses testified that in 2003 he was $270 million in debt, was spending twice or three times his yearly income of $10 million and was being dunned by creditors.
If Jackson defaults on his loans when they come due in December, he could be forced to sell his most valuable asset: his 50% ownership of the catalog of publishing rights to 251 songs by the Beatles, plus songs by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Little Richard and others. He may even have to sell his beloved Neverland ranch.
Yet his finances may actually be in better shape than his reputation. After this trial, not even an acquittal may be enough to save Jackson's career.