Reclusive pop star Michael Jackson took the witness stand Wednesday in a $21 million lawsuit by his longtime promoter that accuses the singer of backing out of two millennium concerts.
Jackson spoke softly while testifying, saying yes or no or asking for questions to be repeated. He paused frequently when asked about his business relationship with the plaintiff, concert promoter Marcel Avram.
The German-based promoter alleges he was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses after Jackson dropped out of the performances, which were to take place Dec. 31, 1999, on both sides of the international date line in Honolulu and Sydney, Australia.
Jackson wore a red shirt, sported shoulder-length hair and wore a surgical mask when entering and leaving the courtroom. The singer routinely wears a mask to protect his throat from pollution and germs, said Lee Solters, his former publicist.
About 100 cheering fans greeted the performer outside Santa Barbara County Superior Court. Some held signs reading “Free Michael.”
About 30 people watched inside the courtroom after winning a lottery for seats. As Jackson left for lunch, he waved to fans and flashed the V-for-victory sign before being driven off in a black stretch sport utility vehicle escorted by five police officers on motorcycles.
Jackson owns the Neverland Ranch in nearby Los Olivos.
Avram’s suit claims Jackson agreed to perform at two concerts for charity and the two millennium concerts, but only did the charity shows. The suit contends Jackson was paid a $1 million advance and had debts totaling $1.2 million covered.
Jackson’s attorney, Zia Modabber, said in his opening remarks Tuesday that it was Avram who postponed the concerts when he met with Jackson’s representatives in October 1999. Modabber said Avram, who had agreed to pay Jackson $15 million, realized the shows would not be as profitable as he had hoped.
“He could not live up to the huge promises he made to Mr. Jackson,” Modabber said.
Avram attorney Louis Miller said in his opening statement that the promoter had no motive to cancel the concerts. He had agreed to cover expenses for the benefit shows with the understanding that he would recoup his costs from the New Year’s Eve concerts, Miller said.