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Michael Jackson could have earned $1.1 billion or more if he had performed a worldwide concert tour and created a Las Vegas show before his death, an accounting expert familiar with the singer's earning potential told jurors Monday.
Arthur Erk, a certified public accountant who conducts royalty audits for musicians, told jurors that Jackson might have earned $1.5 billion for the shows if he had charged higher ticket prices during later shows on the "This Is It" tour.
Erk said he was using conservative estimates to figure Jackson's earning potential if he had lived for several more years, completed a worldwide tour and created a Las Vegas show based on his music. The estimates took into account endorsements and royalties that Jackson could have earned and are heavily dependent on the idea that Jackson would have performed a 37-month, 260-concert world tour.
AEG Live defense attorney Sabrina Strong questioned Erk's assumption during cross-examination because Jackson had never completed a tour that long and hadn't performed a tour in more than a decade. Strong also questioned Erk about three instances where Jackson got into legal disputes over canceled performances, but the accountant said those didn't factor into his analysis.
"He needed to work," Erk said.
His testimony was meant to show jurors the superstar's earning potential in the case brought by Jackson's mother against concert promoter AEG Live LLC.
Katherine Jackson claims AEG Live is liable for her son's death because it failed to properly investigate the doctor convicted of giving the singer an anesthetic overdose.
AEG denies it hired the doctor or bears any responsibility for Jackson's June 2009 death at age 50.
Jurors heard directly from Katherine Jackson on Monday when Strong played a portion of her deposition testimony to rebut the idea her son would have embarked on a lengthy tour.
On the video, she said she was surprised when her son announced the "This Is It" shows in London. "He would always make a joke about he don't want to be doing the Moonwalk on stage when ... he's over 50," she said. "He wanted to be doing something else."
Erk's figures also account for an estimated $134 million the singer would have likely spent before retiring from show business at age 65, Erk said. He said he did not consider the fact that Jackson was an estimated $400 million in debt when he died as a factor in his future earning potential.
Strong also questioned why Erk didn't take into account Jackson's lavish spending, which the lawyer said another witness testified in deposition consisted of $435,000 spent over two months on hotel and airfare in the early 2000s.
Jackson had signed on for only 50 shows in London, although contracts for the shows indicated a longer tour was a possibility.
Jurors will have to determine the amount of any damages in the case if they find AEG Live is liable for Jackson's death.
Erk said Jackson contemplated doing a Las Vegas show based on his music and archival footage that would have generated new royalties for the singer. He estimated the show would last 10 years.
Jackson also contemplated a film career, according to testimony from his nephew Taj Jackson and the singer's longtime creative collaborator, Kenny Ortega. Erk will not offer any estimates on how much Jackson may have earned if he had a successful film career.
Erk is testifying as an expert witness. The accountant also performed royalty audits on companies that released Jackson's music during the height of his popularity in the 1980s, he said.