By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
To many, he was the King of Pop. To critics of his lifestyle and quirks, he was Wacko Jacko. But to those in the nation's capital and worldwide focused on the plight of the hungry in Africa, Michael Jackson was the ambassador of hope. And the proof—legal documents handing to USA for Africa the profits from the 1985 hit "We Are the World" that he and Lionel Richie wrote—is going up for auction. "He was a bigger philanthropist than most people gave him credit for," USA for Africa Executive Director Marcia Thomas says of Jackson, whose death in June shocked the world. "He didn't do it for the credit. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do."
" 'We Are the World' marked what at that time was a high point in rich-world concern about poor people in the developing world," adds Nancy Birdsall, president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development. "That sort of awareness helps to open the way not only for more effective foreign assistance but for other changes in policy, such as trade and migration, that can have a big impact on poor people's lives," she adds.
The song has made "tens of millions," says USA for Africa, and now two legal documents transferring his rights and profits to the group, signed by Jackson, are expected to bring in a combined $50,000 at the Alexander Autographs auction at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.
The in-person and online auction, benefiting VH1's Save the Music Foundation, includes a huge number of rock-and-roll and Hollywood artifacts and is organized by an auction house noted for its historical and political offerings. "History isn't made just by statesmen and politicians," says Alexander boss Bill Panagopulos. "Actually, rock and entertainment far outsells historical material if you count total dollar sales and number of pieces sold, although I believe that the most expensive single item ever sold is in the historical realm. Most valuable autograph is Shakespeare's, if you could get one. Most consistently expensive: Lincoln," he adds.
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.