ETA 9-3-2012: "Jacko" killed Michael Jackson
It has been the position of this website that Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's erstwhile doctor, was unjustly incarcerated for Jackson's "death". Why this stance? As pointed out in two previous posts, Jackson's doctor should've been considered blameless because (a) he was following the orders of a patient who'd had previous experience with Propofol, and (b) his doctor's position was interchangeable given that patient's previous experience (Jackson had used numerous doctors for Propofol dispensation in the past).
But common sense sometimes does not move juries and, to be sure, the charge Murray faced absolutely was in line with his actions, if only, of course, one ignores the fact that Propofol was not illegal to use outside of a hospital setting. What was illegal, however, was a patient dying from an action that was merely an ethical misstep.
Considering everything--the interchangeability of Dr. Murray, Jackson's familiarity with and prior use of Propofol, his drug abuse and alcoholism--it would be an extension of sentimentality, not rationality, to convict a doctor for giving a patient what the patient wants.
I call it sentimentality because we are beholden to a belief that doctors are always stiff-backed and level-headed people who are not actually human but borne of a world in-between mortal and divine; when this idea is violated, we react, maybe correctly, with anger and teeth-gnashing--we are offended. This is only compounded when we remember who the "victim" was: a shining star, a celebrity: Our Michael.
But we should not rule on sentimentality. The fact of the matter is that Michael Jackson was a drug addict who needed money, and was willing to do whatever he needed to do to secure the millions he would've been guaranteed had he did those This Is It shows.
Was he ready? No, and his Propofol dependency would never yield the fruit of preparedness. Was he able? No--he hadn't been able for years: too much drugs, booze, boys, crazy. But was he willing? Yes, a point that should not be understated.
The Los Angeles Times' Ryan Harriet wrote an intriguing piece about the extent to which Jackson was incapable of being the performer the world had come to admire, that he was drunk, sick, drug-addled, depressed but desperately needing money.
And not only that, AEG Live's Randy Philips knew all about it and secured a multimillion-dollar insurance policy guaranteeing a safety net in the likely event that Jackson would be "too sick" to do the concerts. In a word, AEG was set--this policy was predicated on the lie that Jackson was healthy. For those who certainly remember, Philips and This Is It dancers and musicians made frequent media appearances claiming that Jackson was in great shape and excited; Philips also went into "cover your ass" mode on the stand during Murray's trial, claiming no knowledge of Jackson's inabilities and all but reneging on previous assertions that Murray was a good and competent doctor. The LA Times article disproves these former statements.
It is worth remembering who is really responsible for Jackson's death. For those who are interested in maintaining Michael Jackson's image as an innocent victim of greedy people who, not unlike Joe Jackson in Michael's younger years, wanted him to sing and dance so they could line their pockets, they are not wholly incorrect.
The reality is that capitalism had a hand in destroying Michael Jackson.
But it is faulty to forget that Jackson was also a capitalist and, thus, culpable in his own demise. He was the showman who wanted to be the best and, for profit, allowed his fans to make him into things he never was and could never be. But capitalism isn't only to blame. At the end of the day, Jacko--the Jackson that ruined his fame with alcohol, drugs, and boys, and refused to get help--did Michael in. He was all that was left, as the article shows, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop whatever Jacko wanted to do.
Article in its entirety:
The scene in Michael Jackson's London hotel suite left Randy Phillips in a panic. Phillips was one of the world's most powerful music promoters and used to rock 'n' roll chaos, but the star's condition still floored him.
"MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent," Phillips said in an email to his boss at Anschutz Entertainment Group, the Los Angeles company staking a fortune on the singer. "I [am] trying to sober him up."
Across the Atlantic, where it was still early morning, AEG President Tim Leiweke read the message and fired back on his BlackBerry: "Are you kidding me?"
"I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking," Phillips told him. "He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self loathing and doubt now that it is show time."
The story of Jackson's ill-fated comeback attempt has been told in news reports, a manslaughter trial and a feature-length documentary. But a cache of confidential AEG emails obtained by The Times offers a darker picture of the relationship between the down-on-his-luck idol and the buttoned-up corporation taking a bet on his erratic talents.
The 250 pages of messages illuminate the extent to which top executives were aware of doubts about Jackson's stability as they prepared for his 50-show concert run at their London arena.
The emails will probably play a central role in two lawsuits set for trial next year. The shows' insurers are asking a judge to nullify a $17.5-million policy that they say AEG got with false claims about Jackson's health and readiness to perform. Jackson's heirs are pressing a wrongful-death suit that accuses AEG of pressuring the pop star to carry on with a comeback despite indications he was too weak.
Lawyers for AEG, which has denied any wrongdoing, said most of the correspondence was produced as discovery in ongoing litigation. They said the messages reviewed by The Times were incomplete and leaked to portray the company in a negative light. The lawyers declined to provide additional emails that they said would give a fuller picture, citing a protective order imposed by a judge in the civil litigation.
"If you are in the creative arts business, you are going to be involved with individuals who have a great many problems," said AEG attorney Marvin Putnam. "Michael Jackson was an adult and … it is supercilious to say he was unable to take care of his own affairs."
Michael Jackson was a megastar but also had a trail of burned investors and canceled performances that loomed large when AEG began contemplating a deal with him in the fall of 2008.
Even before meeting with Jackson, executives at the highest levels of AEG, including billionaire founder Phil Anschutz, were seeking insurance to protect the company's bottom line if the shows didn't come off, according to the emails.
Anschutz invited Jackson to a meeting at a Las Vegas villa in September 2008. Paul Gongaware, an AEG Live executive who knew Jackson, emailed colleagues a strategy memo. Wear casual clothes, he told them, "as MJ is distrustful of people in suits" and expect to talk "fluff" with "Mikey."
The company was proposing a world tour that would net the cash-strapped star $132 million, according to the memo. "This is not a number that MJ will want to hear. He thinks he is so much bigger than that," Gongaware warned. Talk in terms of gross receipts, he suggested.
The singer and AEG signed a deal in January 2009. According to the contract, AEG agreed to bankroll a series of London concerts at its 02 Arena and Jackson promised "a first-class performance." If he reneged, AEG would take control of the debt-ridden singer's company and use the income from his music catalogs to recoup its money.
There were doubters inside and outside the company. Dan Beckerman, AEG's chief operating officer, sent Phillips, the chief executive of concert division AEG Live, a YouTube link to Jackson's shaky 2001 MTV appearance and asked, "Can he pull this off?"
"With time and rehearsal," Phillips wrote back.
Pressed by another promoter about Jackson's ability to deliver, Phillips shot back in an email, "He has to or financial disaster awaits."
The contract required a medical examination as part of AEG's effort to get cancellation insurance, and nine days after Jackson signed, a New York doctor went to the star's Holmby Hills mansion. Dr. David Slavit concluded that Jackson was in "excellent condition," an assessment that AEG would tout in the coming months as proof that their star was healthy.
It's unclear how thorough the exam was. Slavit, an ear, nose and throat doctor who listed his specialty as "care of the professional voice," wrote extensively about Jackson's vocal cords in his report, which AEG said was given to its insurance broker. But he was silent on Jackson's well-documented substance abuse problems.
The singer had dropped out of at least one tour for drug treatment, but Slavit wrote that past cancellations were "related to dehydration and exhaustion."
Asked on a questionnaire in the report whether he had "ever been treated for or had any indication of excessive use of alcohol or drugs," Jackson circled "no."
AEG planned to announce Jackson's comeback in March with a London news conference. But as the date drew near, Jackson dropped out of sight. Inside AEG, there was growing fear.
"We are holding all the risk," Gongaware wrote to Phillips. "We let Mikey know just what this will cost him in terms of him making money.... We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants."
"He is locked. He has no choice … he signed a contract," Gongaware wrote.
Publicly, AEG projected confidence. "The man is very sane, the man is very focused, the man is very healthy," Leiweke assured a music industry symposium the day before the news conference.
Jackson made it to London, but according to emails Phillips sent to Leiweke, the star was intoxicated and refused to leave his suite. In the end, the emails show, Phillips and Jackson's manager had to dress him.
"He is scared to death," Phillips wrote to Leiweke.
In an interview, AEG's attorney Putnam suggested Phillips had exaggerated in his emails and said Jackson's behavior appeared to be a case of "nerves."
Jackson arrived 90 minutes late for the news conference and his brief comments struck some of the 350 reporters gathered as disjointed and strange. Still, fan enthusiasm was undeniable: Demand for an initial 10 shows crashed Ticketmaster's servers.
Two months later, Jackson and AEG got insurance from Lloyd's of London, according to the policy that is contained in court records. For rehearsals in L.A., it only covered accidents. The policy would expand to include illness and death coverage when Jackson got to London and was evaluated by Lloyd's doctors there.
AEG officials first met Dr. Conrad Murray during May rehearsals. In the trial last year that ended with Murray's manslaughter conviction, witnesses testified that Jackson insisted that AEG hire the doctor as his personal physician for the London shows at $150,000 a month.
Murray, who was deep in debt and in danger of losing his home, was giving Jackson nightly doses of propofol, a powerful surgical anesthetic, for his chronic insomnia, according to the doctor's statement to police.
In an interview, AEG's lawyers noted that none of the emails referred to propofol and said no one at the company knew about Murray's use of it. Jackson died before signing Murray's contract, and the doctor was never paid by AEG.
Those rehearsing with Jackson began sounding alarms in mid-June, according to the emails, a month before his scheduled debut in London. They complained he missed rehearsals, was slow picking up routines and would have to lip-sync some of his signature numbers.
"MJ is not in shape enough yet to sing this stuff live and dance at the same time," the show's musical director informed supervisors in an email. Jackson missed another week of rehearsals, and when he finally showed up June 19, he was too weak to perform.
Emails reviewed by The Times show far greater alarm about Jackson's mental state than has emerged previously.
"He was a basket case," a production manager wrote. "Doubt is pervasive."
"We have a real problem here," Phillips wrote to Leiweke.
The show's director, Kenny Ortega, told Phillips their star was not ready for the comeback and called for a psychiatric intervention: "There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior. I think the very best thing we can do is get a top Psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP.
"It is like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state," wrote Ortega, who had known Jackson for 20 years. "I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."
Phillips resisted the request for immediate psychiatric intervention. "It is critical that neither you, me or anyone around this show become amateur psychiatrists or physicians," Phillips wrote.
He added that Murray, "who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more," was confident the singer was ready.
"This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig so he [is] totally unbiased and ethical," Phillips wrote.
At a meeting that day, Jackson vowed to improve, and Murray said he would help. By all accounts, the next two days of rehearsals — the last of Jackson's life — were superb.
In the recent interview, AEG's lawyer said the company responded responsibly to concerns raised by Ortega and others by monitoring rehearsals and consulting Jackson and his physician.
"Michael and the doctor stressed that he was OK. They had it under control," Putnam said.
Numerous emails show that at the same time, Lloyd's of London was pressing AEG to schedule a complete medical examination for Jackson. The insurance company had to be convinced the singer was healthy before they would expand the policy to include illness and death, crucial coverage given reports from rehearsals.
That four-hour exam by Lloyd's in London would include three doctors, heart monitoring and blood work. AEG's insurance broker tried to persuade Lloyd's to drop the physical, according to the email discussions by AEG officials. AEG suggested Murray could provide an oral recitation of Jackson's recent medical history instead. Lloyd's refused.
Since agreeing to the policy in May, Lloyd's had sought additional information from AEG — medical records, details about Jackson's daily fitness program and responses to media reports about his health.
"Always with no response," a Lloyd's underwriter wrote.
Lloyd's also insisted on five years of medical records. The insurance company wrote that it wanted a thorough account for all doctor's appointments, hospital visits and cosmetic procedures since 2003.
Within AEG, it was determined that Murray was the best hope to get the records, and in the final week of Jackson's life, officials sent at least 10 emails reminding him to gather them.
Murray responded to the last of the requests June 25 in Jackson's darkened bedroom suite, according to emails presented at the doctor's criminal trial. He wrote that he had talked to Jackson and "Authorization was denied,"
Less than an hour later, Jackson stopped breathing, according to a timeline Murray gave police.
A week later, AEG filed a claim for the entire $17.5-million insurance policy and said publicly that it was out more than $35 million.
But within a very short period, it became clear that Jackson's demise, however terrible for those who loved him, was a commercial boon for his heirs and for AEG.
The celebratory documentary "This Is It," which AEG co-produced alone grossed more than $260 million worldwide.
"Michael's death is a terrible tragedy, but life must go on. AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd," Phillips wrote to a concert business colleague in August, adding, "I still wish he was here!"
It should be noted to American readers that the Conrad Murray documentary that played out here in the United States on MSNBC--Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship--was quite different than the original Zodiak Films version, viewable below, which was released in the UK. One obvious difference is that our US version did not have the 12-minute interview with Conrad Murray that opened the film.
There were several bits of tape that had been left on the cutting room floor for each piece.
For example, the UK version did not include a conversation between Dr. Murray's defense lawyers Ed Chernoff and Michael Flanagan and Flanagan's wife about the secret chamber Jackson kept for himself that was extremely dirty and had dozens of pictures of children and babies on the dresser. It had been Flanagan's position that had the public knew of the bathroom, the tide would turn in his client's favor. This was in the UK version, however, deleted was Flanagan's quip that "everything about him [Jackson] is sick."
Deleted from the American version but in the UK version of the documentary was the fact that Judge Pastor disallowed any footage from the TII rehearsals that showed Michael Jackson in less than stellar health; the Prosecutors played in trial only footage that was recorded in the last two days of Jackson's death, when he seemed healthier.
But one particular bit of interview with Dr. Murray that was deleted from the American version stood out: his recollection of a conversation he had had with AEG Live's Randy Philips. The chat the two man had was, for some reason, deemed unimportant to NBC and was cut. We can only speculate as to why.
My opinion is that both versions were 'good' for Dr. Murray.
The conversation between Philips and Dr. Murray was denied, although tepidly, by Philips when he was being questioned by Prosecutors; Dr. Murray's statements in the film, however, we so detailed as to be believable. A transcript:
MURRAY: That's when I got the shock. Randy Philips asked if I'd just step outside the living room when the meeting had ended... This is him--he was just grinding his teeth [makes face]. "He does not have a fucking cent. A fucking cent! What's this bullshit all about? Listen... this guy is next to skid row; he's going to be homeless! The fucking popsicles--his children, look, those kids... What's this all about? Nine security guards? Why does he need that? [raises voice] I'm paying for that shit! I'm paying for the fucking toilet paper he wipes his ass with! He doesn't have a fucking cent! And if he doesn't get this show done, he's over! This is it! This is the last chance he has to earn any kind of money; he's ruined. Financially... he has nothing... ZERO."
What should be gleaned from this conversation is twofold:
Michael Jackson was very desperate to have to perform, not only because he was broke but also because without any performances to cap off his life--his drug abuse most certainly had the ability to shorten his existence--he could have died with the last 'highlight' being his revealing child molestation trial in 2005.
Given that, the pressure to get Jackson to sleep was incredible. Dr. Murray was dealing with that pressure applied upon him by a manipulative addict.
As stated before, the dynamics of the situation are complex, not at all as cut-and-dry as Conrad Murray needing to be 'Conrad Murderer' (or 'Murderray', as some fanatic scribbled on their courthouse placard).
Both versions of this documentary seem to support the idea that the 'Guilty' verdict was not at all the best choice.
Here is the original British version of the Conrad Murray documentary, The Man Who Killed Michael Jackson, released by Zodiak Films.
The controversial documentary, Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship, as well as a sit-down between NBC's Savannah Guthrie and Dr. Conrad Murray, have stirred Jackson fans into a frenzy, despite the fact they have already 'won', so to speak, since Dr. Murray was convicted. The fear is that Jackson's doctor will reveal the truth about their idol's obvious addictions.
It should be noted that Jackson fans have let there imaginations gone wild, and are now really saying Dr. Conrad Murray 'murdered a father of three'.
Just today I received an email from a fan declaring such history revisionism!
Here's videos of his interview with Savannah Guthrie from NBC's Today Show:
Perhaps had Dr. Murray taken the stand and told, in his own words, of how Jackson was a desperate addict, pleading for his 'milk', the trial may have ended a bit differently. One juror admitted that there had been at least some doubt about Dr. Murray being 'solely responsible'.
Without a hint of unexpectedness, Dr. Conrad Murray was found GUILTY of 'killing' the King of Pop, a man who spent the last decade of his life struggling to re-emerge from the rightful shame brought upon him by the alleged abuses of young boys, boys he'd referred to as his 'special friends'.
I watched the verdict live; Dr. Murray, upon receipt of it, showed not a bit of surprise as well. Surely, the dispassion etched across his face came from the two years between the death of Michael Jackson and the verdict, where the media spent the entire time batting around the overly simplified slogan, "Propofol should not be administered outside of a hospital setting," the subliminal and intellectually reduced catch-all that ignores the fine brush strokes of this odd circumstance.
More so than not, Dr. Conrad Murray was well aware of the 'celebrity factor' that holds so much weight in the United States. The rule is applied de facto to their woes and anything tangential to them, whispered into the ears of media pundits, judges, lawyers, and jurors as a reminder of such divine privilege.
We should not forget the history of celebrities, of their privilege and favor bestowed. We had OJ Simpson, who now languishes in a Northern Nevada prison, dismissed--and dismissed is the right word--of any punishment for killing two human beings in such a brutal, bloody way, one of whom he'd abused for years, in large part because he was one of the Beautiful People.
As we speak, Lindsay Lohan is as free as a proverbial bird, having served only a few hours of a thirty day jail sentence, despite her own sordid history of DUIs and drug abuse. And, like Lindsay, it was not too long ago that Paris Hilton got to walk in and out of a Las Vegas jail after being busted with cocaine, a felony that would have brought a four year sentence in Nevada.
There are innumerable examples.
Let us not forget the alleged crimes of this blog's subject du jour. Michael Jackson, who had had a long history of allegedly sexually abusing young boys and then paying them money or giving them expensive gifts to soothe the seriousness of those crimes, was found 'Not Guilty' of molesting one boy brave enough to speak out in court.
Why? Celebrity, of course!
Jackson's celebrity enabled him to hire the most skilled obfuscators who mowed down the mother of this allegedly molested boy, making her mental handicaps and illnesses the reason why a sane and rational person should disregard the defendant's prior suspicious behavior with minors and find him not guilty of abusing a boy who simply adds to the clog of his seeming pedophiliac tendencies.
Several jurors believed there was a reasonable suspicion that Jackson was a child molester; one can only speculate why they believed it to be likely that, well, perhaps Jackson had not done what he seemed to always do in the Gavin Arvizo case.
Yes, maybe--just maybe--Jackson simply bucked those desires and the Arvizos fingered the perfect guy for the job.
Celebrity is a very special thing; people are willing to sell their souls for it, even request to be pumped with propofol just to have enough strength to be able to fight to get some of it back once it has been lost for good.
And that was what happened here. Jackson was washed up, a has-been who rightly enjoyed the limelight in the 1980s but spent his final years roaming dejected and lost and reviled, searching for a place among people who were fresh and more desirable. The shell formed around him by years of drug abuse had to be cracked into and broken through; the only way for him to do that was to dance and sing.
The caveat, of course, was that he couldn't do that anymore...not without the help of his 'milk'.
Desperate and knowing much would be lost, Jackson badgered his gay lover and friend Jason Pfeiffer, asking him if he knew of an anesthesiologist. Seeing that the verdict today was what it was and the doctor who fell for the sins of this addict was a cardiologist, Pfeiffer had been of little help. He then set his eyes on a nurse, begging her for this elusive and magical white fluid; she declined as nurses expectedly would, knowing they lack even a doctor's expertise.
And then there was Dr. Conrad Murray, a soft-spoken man who was very fond of the forlorn and addicted singer; he bit, kowtowing to the demands of the wealthy, bizarre, and manipulative Jackson, joining him in a portentous Dance of Death.
Celebrity. It erases judgment, a fact of this case that seemed to fall upon deaf ears. It turns a statistically obvious casualty of such self-decided fire-play into a victim someone else 'heartlessly' and 'callously' created.
Judge Michael Pastor used the death of this dubious 'victim' to validate his (no doubt, pre-formed) decision to keep Dr. Murray in jail, citing that he was a rabid danger to society--a crock of bull and overkill; Dr. Murray will be awaiting a sentence as predictable as the verdict if this judge has his way.
It should be no surprise that I disagree with the verdict in this case and feel it to be reflective of what is so damned wrong with the country I live in. We can argue that Dr. Murray should have been more careful; that he should have said, "No"; that he should have tried to do more to protect himself from the inevitable: a dead celebrity junkie. We can even argue that, in some way, maybe Dr. Murray should be held somewhat liable, if only by virtue of his profession and if only in civil court.
The last bit of that is even hard for me to stomach. If the celebrity-obsessed media and the undoubtedly celebrity-dazzled prosecutors want to shrink the case into, "No one should dispense propofol outside of a hospital setting," opposingly, I'll shrink the case down into something just as simple but more holistic:
"He wanted it; he asked for it; he got what was inevitable."
There are no tears shed for Michael Jackson here and there really should be no tears shed for him at all by anyone. What happened was entirely of his own doing, and he did have a history of using propofol. And, let us not soon forget something that is so fundamental to why sorrow should take a holiday in his case: for all of the heeing and hawing about Dr. Murray being ill-equipped to dispense this anesthetic in the way he did, the evidence shows that Jackson did not care who gave it to him, as long as he got it.
Just like any drug addict before him and the drug addicts after him.
But, in this case, his desperation matters little because he is a celebrity. More figuratively than literally, he is a Beautiful Person.
My sympathy does lie with Dr. Conrad Murray, though. He is the one true victim in this case and he should not be in jail. He should not be the casualty in the cleaning up and whitewashing of Jackson's self-tarnished and self-destroyed legacy; but that is how it is, isn't it? It makes mastication of Jackson--warts (and they are big warts) and all--more easy.
After all, who would really want to dance to the tunes of an obvious drug addict and probable child molester who tried to market himself--fantastically!--as a Peter Pan innocent? Ah, yes, nothing like a bit of tragedy to get those booties groovin' to bland and overrated 1980s bubblegum!
The paradox of 'Celebrity Justice' is that it isn't. This, of course, is a given. The only time that sort of justice has teeth or takes on the iron fist that we mere mortals encounter is if the celebrity is the victim.
Because, you know, just like we humans are said to have been punished for the self-elected brutality endured by Jesus Christ, we peasants cannot do anything to as much as disturb a hair on the heads of God's other Chosen. Ironically, we won't be damned by God, but by the brainwashed human worshippers of our song-writing, movie-making, moonwalking demigods.
Yes, I am sure those worshippers, with their misspelled signs, cheesy puns, and voices hoarse from yelping with psychotic reverie at this verdict--this travesty of real justice, are pretty pleased right now. They have at least some tangible validation, thanks to Judge Pastor and the Jackson fan-packed jury, that their shrines are not totally creepy.
Thank you again, America.