Family, friends and fans wait for answers

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The Independent Culture

The King of Pop is gone, but his mystery endures.

As the world absorbs the loss of Michael Jackson, the closing chapters of his sensational yet tragic story are now being written by police and medical experts in Los Angeles, as they struggle to establish exactly what caused his sudden death.

Rumours and counter-rumours gripped America's first city of show business yesterday, as dramatic details began to emerge about the series of events that saw Jackson rushed to UCLA Medical Centre shortly after midday on Thursday, after apparently suffering a massive cardiac arrest. Taped records of the frenzied 911 call, which lasted roughly two minutes, were released yesterday morning. "I need an ambulance as soon as possible... We have a gentleman here that needs help, and he's not breathing," said the caller.

"He's not breathing, and we are trying to pump him, but he's not... He's 50 years old and he's lying on the bed... We have a personal doctor here with him, but he's not responding to anything... he's not responding to CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] or anything."

An ambulance arrived within six minutes. Paramedics initially said Jackson should be pronounced dead, but were persuaded to mount a last-ditch effort to resuscitate him en route to the hospital, about two miles away.

They failed in efforts to make Jackson regain consciousness, though, and his death was confirmed at about 2.20pm. Later, his body was airlifted to the LA County Coroner's office in downtown Los Angeles, where officials formally commenced an autopsy shortly after 9.30am yesterday.

Questions were being raised last night about the wisdom of allowing Jackson, whose troubled adult life had resulted in a string of health problems that had seen him confined to a wheelchair in recent years, to attempt a sudden return to the stage with a demanding series of comeback gigs in London, which had been due to start later this month. Four weeks ago, the singer voiced concerns about the sheer number of planned concerts, speaking to fans who had gathered outside his rehearsal studio in Burbank, California. The concerts had been arranged to pay off a proportion of his personal debts, which by some estimates totalled $500m (£300m).

"I don't know how I'm going to do 50 shows," he said to the fans. "I'm not a big eater – I need to put some weight on. I'm really angry with them booking me to do 50 shows. I only wanted to do 10 and take the tour around the world to other cities, not 50 in one place.

"I went to bed knowing I sold 10 dates and woke up to the news I was booked to do 50."

Police officers spent yesterday guarding the French chateau-style property in Holmby Hills where Jackson fell ill. The home is being treated as a crime scene, amid widespread rumours that prescription drugs played a role in his demise. Several rooms have been sealed off for forensic investigation. Two vehicles were towed away by detectives. One of the cars was a BMW which belonged to Dr Conrad Murray, a cardiologist from Houston who acted as Jackson's personal physician. Police began questioning the doctor last night after initial difficulty in locating him. The Jackson family revealed yesterday that Dr Murray had been administering daily injections of Demerol, a pain-killing drug similar to morphine, to help ease problems in the singer's lower back which had flared up during recent rehearsals.

One family member told TMZ, the show business website which broke news of Jackson's fatal illness, that Dr Murray injected him at 11.30am on Thursday. The singer began suffering from breathing problems shortly afterwards. The 911 call revealed that the only witness to Jackson's cardiac arrest had been Dr Murray.

At the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, Dr Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran now has responsibility for attempting to establish what caused Jackson to slip into cardiac arrest. The full results of his autopsy will not be known for several days, as doctors will need time to analyse toxicology tests which can reveal what substances, if any, were in the singer's system at the time of his heart attack. Some close friends and family were at the coroner's office last night.

Others, including his sister Janet, were at the family home in the San Fernando Valley, attempting to comfort the singer's three children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, and Prince Michael Jackson II, who is known as "Blanket."

The death of a once-dazzling performer, who is credited with bridging the gap between black soul and white pop, and who sold 750 million records and won 13 Grammy awards, prompted widespread public mourning. Many obituaries described him as the most influential artist of the modern era. The only member of Jackson's family to have yet spoken publicly about Michael's death is his brother Jermaine, a fellow member of The Jackson 5, the pop group that propelled him to childhood stardom in the late 1960s. At a brief press conference, he recalled how a team of five paramedics had made a heroic effort to save the singer's life.

"Upon arriving at the hospital, a team of doctors, including emergency physicians and a cardiologist, worked to resuscitate him for a period of more than one hour but were unsuccessful," he told reporters. "May Allah be with you, Michael, always."

Frank DiLeo, Jackson's manager and friend of 30 years, also said he was with Jackson in the hospital. A photograph of the singer's unconscious body being loaded into an ambulance, thought to be the last picture of Jackson, was carried on the website of the TV show Entertainment Tonight. "I got to kiss him and tell him goodbye," DiLeo said, with his voice breaking. "I lost a very dear friend... the greatest talent I ever met or worked with."