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Michael Jackson announces comeback

 Michael Jackson smiles during a news conference at the O2 Arena in London March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth - Reuters
Michael Jackson smiles during a news conference at the O2 Arena in London March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
— image credit: Reuters

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - 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 a pair of dark glasses.

"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.

FALLEN IDOL

Jackson, still viewed as "The King of Pop" by his fans, has lived the life of a virtual recluse since his acquittal of child abuse charges at a 2005 trial.

His last album of new material was "Invincible," released in 2001, and his position as one of pop music's biggest acts has been increasingly overshadowed by bizarre behavior, a changing appearance and questions about his health.

But fans in London were not concerned.

"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."

There has been skepticism that Jackson is capable of playing a string of gigs, and this would be his first concert series in 12 years. British bookmaker William Hill has already offered odds that Jackson would not turn up for the performances.

He is one of the biggest pop stars of all time, with an estimated 750 million records sold. "Thriller," released in 1982, is the best selling album ever.

If he can pull it off, the string of concerts at a single venue would be both lucrative and less demanding than a full-fledged tour.

But if the comeback fails to materialize, or is regarded as a flop, Jackson would find it harder than ever to resurrect a career that has lain lifeless for so long.

Jackson performed in London at the World Music Awards in 2006, but that much-hyped return was described by critics as a shambles after he sang, in a broken voice, just a few lines of his charity single "We Are The World."

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 began his musical career with his siblings in the Motown group the Jackson 5 and went on release a string of hit solo albums.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

(To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)

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