Ever more Wacko: The world of Michael Jackson
As stranger and stranger tales emerge about his life and death, David Randall sifts through the truths, theories and downright lies
Sunday 05 July 2009
The mystery of the later life and sudden death of Michael Jackson threatens to go on and on revolving indefinitely, like some fairground carousel driven by perpetual motion. In the past week, enough material has surfaced about his death to keep conspiracy theorists, lawyers, fans, crystal-users, moon-worshippers and ley-line-mappers going for generations. Virtually all of it is so far outside the pale of normality that today, if a website reported that Jackson talked sense, ate three meals a day and took pills only when he felt ill, it would be a sensation.
As it is, much of what has been claimed, reported, rumoured or even verified is as bizarre as one would expect. Making sense of it was not at first easy, but at last something that looks like authenticity is beginning to emerge from the dry ice of confusion that has always swirled about this talented but troubled man. Here is what it seems to be saying:
The state he was in
Was he, by the time of his death, a bald, emaciated figure reduced to shambling into rooms like a carpet-slippered nursing home resident, or was he a wiry, slender man, who danced with the fluidity and verve of a 20-year-old? Both versions have been presented, the former with most confidence by The Sun. The paper reported that the post-mortem conducted in Los Angeles found the 5ft 10in singer weighed just eight stone one ounce, had lost most of his hair, had only traces of pills but no food in his stomach, and was "a virtual skeleton". The LA coroner's office responded: "It is not accurate. Some of it is totally false."
AEG Live, the promoters of Jackson's planned series of concerts at London's O2 arena, then lodged two pieces of evidence that supported the "weird but fit" thesis rather than the living-dead one. First was that Jackson had, for insurance purposes, passed a stringent five-hour medical that involved nearly 50 separate tests. Second was the release on Thursday of a one-and-a-half minute clip of a song-and-dance routine that Jackson had performed two days before his death. Although some thought he seemed a little breathless, he looked sharp and back to some sort of stage-worthy peak. One witness to the rehearsals, the manager of a dance studio, rather overegged the case by claiming the singer showed the fitness level of a 20-year-old, but the impression left was that, while Jackson may have been pale, thin and, thanks to facial surgery, somewhat incomplete, he was not the zombie some had claimed he was.
His food intake, however, certainly does seem to have been worrisome. A vegan, he is widely reported to have weighed himself obsessively, and to have eaten only one meal a day, and that somewhat reluctantly. The Daily Mirror, a paper that otherwise championed the "healthy Jacko" case, reported that, in his last weeks, he ate only "meagre portions of his favourite dishes – vegetarian lasagne, steamed broccoli, nut loaf, or tofu with chilli sauce". And Edward Chernoff, the lawyer for the heart specialist who tried to resuscitate Jackson, said, in a rather two-edged statement: "He barely ate, he barely drank. But nothing which would lead the doctor to believe that he had any possible problems that would cause sudden death." Finally, rumours surfaced on the web late last week that just two days before he died, the singer underwent a minor operation to remove a potentially cancerous lesion on his nose.
If the week's most lurid reports are to be believed, Jackson had a taste for a goodly percentage of the whole pharmacopoeia. The Irish Sun claimed that 10 painkillers and anaesthetics were recovered from the singer's rented home. They included Demerol, a painkiller; Diprivan, a powerful sedative also known as propofol, commonly injected in the hand; Soma, a muscle relaxant; Zoloft, an antidepressant; plus Fentanyl and OxyContin, two pain relievers. Many of them were allegedly obtained using false names such as Jack London and Omar Adams, plus those of some of his inner circle and doctors. Some reports said he spent about £30,000 a month on such medicines. A toxicology report on the singer's body will reveal in two weeks exactly what substances Jackson ingested, but police on Friday confirmed that Diprivan had been found in the home.
Family friend and biographer Stacy Brown told Reuters: "The family have been concerned about his addiction to medicines for years. It's been no secret they've been trying to get him help for his addiction." Pain, real or imagined, and insomnia were the pretexts for taking such large amounts of medicines. Cherilyn Lee, a nurse who treated Jackson, said that four days before he died the singer pleaded with her to give him Diprivan. A member of his staff rang her to say that Jackson was complaining that one side of his body was hot, and the other very cold. She, in Florida, urged him to go to hospital. He didn't. She said: "He wasn't looking to get high or feel good... This was a person who was seeking help, desperately, to get some sleep, to get some rest."
Two of Jackson's former associates, Uri Geller and ex-bodyguard Matt Fiddes, told how they tried to keep the singer from abusing painkillers and other prescription drugs, and confiscated his needles. They said the star was sometimes so "out of it" that they could not rouse him to keep engagements. But unnamed members of his entourage and a constantly shifting number of doctors kept the supplies flowing. Los Angeles police, the Drug Enforcement Agency and California's Attorney General's office are now all investigating the role of prescription drugs in Jackson's death.
If named sources, speaking on the record, are relied upon, some consensus about the events leading to Jackson's death is emerging. At 12.30am on Thursday, the singer finished a three-hour rehearsal, went home, and asked for a tranquilliser injection to help him to sleep. Then, just before noon, Dr Conrad Murray, the cardiologists hired by AEG Live, found Jackson unconscious in bed. He was not breathing, but had a faint pulse. Dr Murray began CPR, holding one arm behind the singer's back to support his frail frame. There was no landline or mobile in the room, so Dr Murray sought assistance, found Jackson's chef, who got one of Jackson's security guards, who came with Dr Murray to the star's room and was then told by the doctor to call 911. More than 20 minutes had now passed. Paramedics arrived within three minutes and spent a further 42 minutes working on Jackson before he was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where, some time later, he was pronounced dead.
Anonymous sources have claimed Jackson collapsed only after Dr Murray gave him an injection of Demerol, but the doctor denies ever having given the singer the drug. Dr Murray's car was towed away by police on Thursday, and he was interviewed for three hours last weekend. Attention is also now shifting to why police did not seal off the house and treat it as a potential crime scene, and also to removal vans that were seen there on Friday, and what was taken.
Although there is a possibility of prosecutions arising out of the supply, or procurement, of drugs for Jackson, his father Joe's contention that there may have been "foul play" seems mightily far-fetched. After all, what we have here is a man addicted to very strong prescription medicines, who didn't eat, drink or sleep properly, who had suffered countless surgical procedures, was recovering from skin cancer, and who had been undergoing more rigorous physical and mental stress than he had for years. The wonder might be that he made it to 50.
Jackson's will stipulated that care of the children – Prince Michael I (12), Paris (11) and Prince Michael II (seven) – should be with his mother, Katherine, granted interim custody by a judge last week. She is 79. The back-up named was Diana Ross, who is 65. No mention was made of the woman who bore two of them, Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe. It is believed that they were the product of IVF treatment. Rowe now says she might claim custody, even though her contact with them has been slight in recent years – the result of the 1999 divorce settlement and another in 2006, after she petitioned for custody following Jackson's arrest on child molestation charges. The third child, known as Blanket, who as a baby was dangled by Jackson over the balcony of a German hotel, was born to a surrogate, whose identity remains a secret. The potential of all this to keep coachloads of lawyers busy for years to come is immeasurable.
Various reports came in of the eccentricities that the children experienced, apart from the masks they often wore in public: how their toys were allegedly replaced each night, lest nocturnal germs contaminate them, and how they were discouraged from looking in mirrors. But by all accounts they are polite, well behaved, and had a good and close relationship with their father, who is widely said to have never raised his voice, and ensured they are deeply grounded in good books.
His five-page will, deposited in a Los Angeles court on Wednesday, leaves everything to the Michael Jackson Family Trust, the specific beneficiaries being his children, his mother and charities. When it was drawn up, in July 2002, it valued his estate at $500m (£306m), but high-octane spending and falling income have reduced that by about $180m. The main assets are his part-ownership of a catalogue of music rights, which include Beatles and Bob Dylan songs, plus his own performances. The value of both are liable to grow, but there are his debts and myriad claims against him, which will take years to resolve and probably provide employment for lawyers and accountants as yet unborn.
Jackson in love
In the absence of kiss-and-tell revelations, figuring out the sexuality of a celebrity is a task so speculative you might as well toss a coin. Jackson always denied he was gay, and no serious indication of adult gay relationships has ever surfaced. Yet neither was he ever convincing when cast (by himself or others) in the role of red-blooded conqueror of women. His first wife, Lisa Marie Presley, according to testimony from his long-term friend and biographer, J Randy Taraborrelli, said that Jackson was "hot stuff in bed". Second wife, Debbie Rowe, if she found otherwise, has not said. She, it will be recalled, was the dermatology nurse whose relationship with Jackson grew when she treated him after he had bleached his scrotum, an unusual trigger for romance if ever there was one. No other love interests have ever been mentioned, until late last week, when an ex-bodyguard said there was a non-celebrity girlfriend. Her existence remains to be confirmed.
A feature surgically altered to the point of destruction, this was the most conspicuous element of Jackson's self-harm. Mr Taraborrelli claimed last week that the repeated operations inflicted on it were part of Jackson's determination to look as different from his bullying father as possible. To some of us, the profile of the final product, tipped up in perfect imitation of Peter Pan, was all of a piece with the singer's obsession with the J M Barrie character and Neverland.
Jackson and boys
The noisiest silence this past week has been the seeming lack of any statement from Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo, the pair of youngsters who were, according to whom you believe, Jackson's friends or his abuse victims. Either way, they were key figures in his life. The mystery of his enthusiasm for the company of young boys is one the singer will take to the grave. Jackson had (or affected to have) a childlike nature (someone joked at the time of his wedding to Lisa Marie Presley that the present list was registered with ToysRUs). He appointed an eight-year-old boy as best man at his wedding to Debbie Rowe, and always expressed horror that people could not appreciate the innocence of his sleepovers with other people's children. But his behaviour considerably exceeded the pleasure that a well-adjusted adult would find in the company of children, and, despite the not guilty verdict in his trial for child abuse, justifiable suspicion lingers. On the most benign reading, his emotional, and possibly sexual, development was no more advanced than Lewis Carroll's.
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