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Colony founder ‘deeply saddened’ by Jackson death

Tom Barrack pays tribute to Michael Jackson, a ‘gentle, talented and compassionate man’. Last year, Colony Capital saved Jackson’s Neverland ranch from the brink of foreclosure by acquiring $25m in debt from Fortress.

Colony Capital founder Tom Barrack has paid tribute to Michael Jackson saying the singer was a “gentle, talented and compassionate man” who left a legacy as the most “profound and influential entertainer of our time”.

Last May, Barrack’s private equity real estate firm helped save Jackson’s Neverland ranch from foreclosure after it acquired $25 million of debt from Fortress Investment Group.

A spokeswoman for Colony today declined to comment on the investment, saying it was “premature” to discuss the issue. However, Barrack issued a statement paying his respects to the singer and his family.

He said he was “deeply saddened” by the sudden death yesterday of the 50-year-old adding: “Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to know and work with this gentle, talented and compassionate man. We were privileged to help support his return to public life for his family, friends and fans, who meant so much to him.

“His legacy as the most profound and influential entertainer of our time will live on through his children, his iconic and timeless artistic work, and in the hearts and minds of his tens of millions of fans throughout the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

The 2,800-acre Neverland ranch in Santa Barbara County, California had been set for foreclosure last May after Jackson defaulted on loan payments worth an estimated $24.5 million.

At the time, people familiar with the matter said Colony initiated the deal to buy the loan from an affiliate of Fortress. Jackson said in a statement last May that he had been in discussions with Barrack “with regard to the ranch and other matters that would allow me to focus on the future”.

The pop singer died Thursday afternoon in full cardiac arrest at a Los Angeles hospital after he collapsed at his nearby rented home. An autopsy has been scheduled today but authorities have cautioned it could take weeks to determine a cause of death.

Jackson opened Neverland in 1988 as his own private amusement park and home, complete with a zoo, theme park, Ferris wheel and bumper cars. The ranch is no longer operational and the animals have been moved out.

In 2005, Fortress was instrumental in helping the embattled singer avoid bankruptcy, when it purchased $270 million in debt held by Bank of America. Fortress refinanced the loan, backed by Jackson’s 50 percent stake in Sony/ATV Music, the owner of the highly valuable publishing rights to songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and others. In 2006, Jackson sold an option for part of his ownership in the music to Sony.

People familar with the matter said Fortress exited all its investments related to Jackson more than one year ago. A spokeswoman for Fortress declined to comment.