Michael Jackson announced his long-awaited comeback on Thursday, telling hundreds of screaming fans he would perform in London this summer and calling it his "final curtain call" in the city.
Wearing a military-style black jacket decorated with silver sequins and punching the air, the 50-year-old revealed his plans on a makeshift stage at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena where he will play 10 dates starting on July 8.
"Thank you all...this is it," said Jackson from behind trademark sunglasses.
"These will be my final shows ... performances in London. When I say this is it, I mean this is it. I'll be performing the songs my fans want to hear. This is it, this is really it, this is the final curtain call."
Music promoter AEG Live, which has signed a deal with Jackson, said that the 10-show Las Vegas-style "residency" could be extended if there was sufficient demand for tickets.
AEG Live president and CEO Randy Phillips did not rule out further cooperation with one of the world's biggest music stars, telling Reuters that his company had a three-and-a-half-year plan to work with Jackson.
"He could gross well over $400 million over the three and a half years," he said.
The agreement could involve developing a big-screen version of Jackson's hit song and video "Thriller."
Asked about concerns over Jackson's health in recent years, Phillips said Jackson had passed a four-and-a-half hour physical examination with independent doctors.
Although Jackson said the shows would be his last in London, his statement left the door open for further concerts elsewhere. Promoter AEG Live told the BBC the shows might be part of a bigger, final world tour.
An hour and a half late, Jackson appeared at the O2 — where the series of 10 concerts are due to be staged this summer — to announce the gigs.
More than 300 journalists had been marshaled to capture the event, even though news of the concerts had leaked out to the media days before. A telegenic army of screaming fans was there to greet their star — although many in the crowd said they were there to catch a live show due to play shortly after the announcement.
The hours spent waiting frayed some tempers and a few fans shouted obscenities at journalists being escorted in ahead of them for the announcement. But most were just happy to catch a glimpse of Jackson.
"Of course it's worth it," said Shuhena Begum, who traveled from the central English city of Birmingham to see Jackson. "My whole family is mad about Michael -- he's the greatest," the 21-year-old added.
She said much of the negative press about Jackson in recent years was unjustified.
"People are out there trying to look like Barbie dolls and yet no one says anything about them, but whenever it's Michael it's different."
"I've always been a fan ever since I was really little — his music and the way he moves," said 21-year-old student Shellie Watson. When asked if Jackson — who was almost Watson's age when he released "Thriller" in 1982 — still had star power, she said "100 percent."
"Thriller" is still the best-selling album of all time, but Jackson — who has sold more than 750 million albums and won 13 Grammys — has not performed a major concert since 2001.
Fellow performer Prince gave his profile a major boost with a successful 21-night stay at the O2 in 2007 which amassed a reported $22 million, and Britney Spears is due top appear there in June.
Jackson's recent work has been uneven: His last live performance in Britain was at the 2006 World Music Awards, but he only managed a few lines of "We Are the World" before leaving the stage.
A video of Jackson trying to record a new single, shown at a British court last year when Jackson was being sued for breach of contract, showed him struggling to keep up his powerful vocals.
On Wednesday, Jackson launched a lawsuit against an auction house to stop the scheduled sale of more than 2,000 personal items from Neverland, including platinum and gold records, a customized Harley Davidson and a Rolls Royce limousine.
The O2 has become a venue of choice for big-name acts and comeback performers. Britney Spears is due to play there for eight nights in June, Prince did a 21-day series of shows at the arena in 2007, and Led Zeppelin played a one-off reunion gig there the same year.
(China.org.cn/Agencies March 6, 2009)