Jacko Return Confirmed

Michael Jackson is making his first live appearance in years, but will it still be a thriller?

The King of Pop is due to meet the press at a London concert arena this week to announce the mother of all comebacks — a string of concerts that organizers hope will net the financially troubled star millions.

But after years of erratic behavior, health fears, child-abuse allegations and money woes, is the once-golden Jackson brand tarnished beyond repair?

“Because of what’s happened to him and how he’s lived his life over the last 20 years, he’s made it very difficult for people to out themselves as Michael Jackson fans,” British music writer and broadcaster John Aizlewood said Wednesday. “These concerts are a huge opportunity for rehabilitation.”

Jackson, 50, flew into London by private jet Tuesday ahead of a “special announcement” Thursday afternoon at the city’s O2 Arena. It is widely expected he will announce a string of up to 30 dates at the domed arena beside the River Thames, which holds up to 20,000 people. It 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.

If organizers hope to see a return of the fan frenzy that once followed Jackson everywhere, they may be disappointed. Only a handful of people joined the packs of press photographers and camera crews Wednesday outside Jackson’s London hotel — and several of those said they were seeking autographs to sell on eBay.

But even if Jacksonmania is a diminished force, his comeback would be a huge event.

One of the best-selling artists of all time, Jackson has sold more than 750 million albums and won 13 Grammy awards. “Thriller,” released in 1982, is still the best-selling album of all time.

Jackson has not released a studio album or played a full concert since 2001. His last major tour was the HIStory World Tour in 1996-1997.

Since then, Jackson’s ever-changing appearance and erratic behavior have often overshadowed his music.

He was arrested in 2003 on child-molestation charges and acquitted in 2005 after a trial in California. Since then he has traveled the world, spending time in Ireland, France and the Gulf state of Bahrain.

His last live performance in Britain was at the 2006 World Music Awards. He was scheduled to perform “We Are the World” but only managed a few lines before leaving the stage.

He has struggled to pay his debts after his financial empire crumbled following his arrest. Last year he was forced to give up the deed to Neverland, his 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) ranch and miniature amusement park in California.

In November, Jackson reached an undisclosed settlement with a Bahraini prince who had brought a $7 million breach of contract suit against him.

In April, Jackson will auction more than 2,000 personal items from Neverland, including platinum and gold records, a customized Harley Davidson and a Rolls Royce limousine.

His health is rumored to be as precarious as his finances. He often looks gaunt in photographs, and rumors of his condition have ranged from lung disease to an infection acquired during nose surgery.

Bookmaker William Hill is already taking bets on whether Jackson will show up for his first gig. It is offering 5/1 odds that he won’t, and spokesman Graham Sharpe anticipates brisk business.

“Once people start buying tickets they may well want to have a bet that he won’t show up as a form of insurance,” Sharpe said.

Aizlewood said he would bet on the ever-erratic Jackson pulling it off.

“This is Michael Jackson playing his greatest hits — some of the greatest hits in the history of music — live,” Aizlewood said. “It is a great event. I think even Michael Jackson won’t blow it.”