Focus over Jackson death switches to doctors

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It seemed particularly cruel that Michael Jackson, a man who has relied on the support of an extensive medical team for many years, should meet his end from a suspected cardiac arrest despite being accompanied by a cardiologist.

But the fragility of his health has long been such that even the constant company of doctors could not offer a surefire guarantee of well-being. Indeed, in a strange parallel with Elvis' personal physician Dr George Nichopoulos - the infamous Dr Nick who was said to have enabled Presley's addiction to prescription drugs - questions were being asked yesterday about whether some of his medical team had always acted in their patient's best interests.

At the heart of the controversy was Dr Conrad Murray, the cardiologist who is said to have been at Jackson's side at the time of his death. According to a recording of a 911 call that emerged last night, Murray was desparately trying to resuscitate Jackson as paramedics rushed to the scene. But in the hours after the star's demise, police could not find Murray, who the family yesterday said had administered regular painkilling injections.

Before his eventual appearance, speculation about his whereabouts reached fever pitch. Police seized his car, saying it might contain crucial evidence. But they stressed he was not under criminal investigation.

Likely to share the spotlight with Murray in the coming days is Dr Tohme Tohme, who describes himself not only as Jackson’s personal doctor but also his sole and only official spokesman. Dr Tohme was the main gatekeeper to the singer's private life, to his professional plans and, at the same time, to his state of physical health.

When questions were raised in the media about the real condition of Mr Jackson, it was Dr Tohme who insisted he was fit, often in bullish terms.

Last December, Dr Tohme lashed out when a British reporter wrote that Mr Jackson faced a possible lung transplant. Calling it a "total fabrication", he added: "Mr. Jackson is in fine health and finalizing negotiations with a major entertainment company and television network for both a world tour and a series of specials and appearances."

But on Thursday night, the first recriminations about the way Mr Jackson was looked after in the last months of his life were already spilling out. Brian Oxman, a former lawyer to the star and a longtime family friend, told CNN that he believed the people around the star had been enablers in a cycle of prescription drug abuse.

"This was something which I feared and something which I warned about. This is a case of abuse of medication, unless there is another cause that I don't know about. Where there is smoke there is fire," he said. "His family has been trying for months and months and months to take care of Michael Jackson. The people surrounding him have been enabling him."

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