Police focus turns to the doctor with money trouble
Less than 45 minutes after his physician injected him with a painkiller, the ailing star was dead. Guy Adams in Los Angeles reports the latest twists in a sensational story
Sunday 28 June 2009
First came shock, then intrigue. But as the investigation into Michael Jackson's death moves into its fourth day, with attention focused on his complex private medical arrangements, the singer's family and fans have started to betray the first, signs of a third emotion: anger.
The King of Pop suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after noon (local time) on Thursday, less than 45 minutes after his personal physician Dr Conrad Murray is reported to have administered an injection of Demerol, a synthetic painkiller similar to morphine, which the singer apparently called his "health tonic".
Jackson was 50 years old and weighed just nine stone, but is believed to have been blithely taking as many as eight prescription drugs a day. They included two other painkillers, Dilaudid and Vicodin, which are dangerous in large quantities and should never be mixed with other pharmaceuticals.
Dr Murray, who was presiding over this regime, described himself as a "cardiovascular specialist". He came from Las Vegas, was licensed in California, Nevada and Texas, and is reportedly hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt amid a string of legal disputes.
Police have stressed that the physician is not the subject of a criminal investigation. But they nonetheless want to interview him to establish exactly what happened in the frantic final minutes after Jackson collapsed. It emerged yesterday that Dr Murray had hired a Houston-based lawyer, Edward Chernoff, to sit in on the discussions.
He will be asked to talk through a transcript of the 911 call, which revealed that he was alone with Jackson at the time of his collapse and had attempted to administer CPR as the singer lay on a bed. Common first aid practice would normally see patients moved to a floor or hard surface before resuscitation is attempted.
"The doctor's been the only one here," an unidentified caller told the emergency operator. "He's pumping his chest but he's not responding to anything, sir."
Paramedics reportedly wanted to declare Jackson dead at the scene, but Dr Murray persuaded them to transport him to UCLA Medical Center. He did not sign a death certificate, and disappeared briefly on Friday when police first attempted to speak to him.
When the doctor is interviewed, he'll be expected to provide details of the full range of drugs that Jackson was taking each day, which reportedly included Xanax, a sedative, Prilosec, a heartburn pill, Soma, a muscle relaxant, and Paxil, which treats anxiety.
A BMW Dr Murray had used was seized by investigators from the driveway of the rented house in Holmby Hills where Jackson fell ill. A police spokesman told reporters: "It may contain medications or other evidence that may assist the coroner in determining cause of death."
Records have emerged that reveal Dr Murray, 51, suffered years of financial troubles. His Nevada medical practice, Global Cardiovascular Associates, was recently slapped with more than $400,000 (£240,000) in court judgments, and he faces two other pending lawsuits and several unpaid tax bills.
The medic has never been subjected to disciplinary action, according to available records. He did not return messages left at his offices, and reporters got no reply on the doorstep of his home.
Murray's patients had received a letter this month saying: "Because of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I have had to make a most difficult decision to cease practice of medicine immediately." That "opportunity" was his appointment as Jackson's personal doctor for the duration of his stint at the O2 in London.
Friends claim that Jackson had been surrounded by "enablers" who let him fuel his long-standing addiction to prescription painkillers. Tarak Ben Ammar, one of the singer's former managers, described him as a hypochondriac who for years had been taken advantage of by "charlatan doctors".
Dr Murray will now be expected to convince the police and public that he was not one of those "charlatans".
Jackson's family gathered at their home in Encino last night to make funeral arrangements and comfort his three children. They arranged for moving vans to start emptying belongings from the Holmby Hills property.
The family have requested a second independent post-mortem examination, a coroner's officer said. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a family friend who saw them on Friday, encouraged the move. He told ABC that there were many unanswered questions remaining about the death: "When did the doctor come? What did he do? Did he inject him? And if so, with what?"
A source close to the family told the Associated Press that relatives are "confused, upset and angry" by the failure of some individuals who were with the singer during his final days to volunteer information about his movements and activities.
The family also want to know exactly what role AEG Live, the concert promoter responsible for the O2 events, had been playing in his life. They are trying to establish whether the collection of advisers and representatives surrounding Jackson had been put in place by the company.
Randy Phillips, AEG Live's chief executive, has admitted that Dr Murray was being paid by his firm, but insists that he was hired at the request of Michael Jackson. "We would have preferred not having a physician on staff full-time because it would have been cheaper, but Michael was insistent," Mr Phillips said.
"Michael said he had a rapport with him. He just said, 'Look, this whole business revolves around me. I'm a machine and we have to keep the machine well oiled,' "
Mr Phillips, whose firm faces substantial losses from the cancelled "This is it!" concerts, said Dr Murray was "very professional" and "seemed to care about Michael very much". When the singer died on Thursday, "he [Dr Murray] was distraught. He could barely talk."
The Associated Press added that the Jackson family was "distrustful" of the singer's former business associates and is "determined to find out more". Its source claimed: "There are decisions going down without the family being in the loop. It's becoming an issue."
Jackson's siblings, including his sister Janet, who flew into Los Angeles on Friday, had not spoken to him in the weeks leading up to his death. However, contrary to some reports, they were not estranged.
The star had also recently seen his father, Joe, and spoke regularly to his mother, Katherine, who maintained a close relationship with the star's children, Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, seven, who is also known as Blanket. The two eldest are the offspring of Debbie Rowe, Jackson's second wife and former nurse. The youngest was born to a surrogate mother, who was picked from a catalogue.
A judge will be called on eventually to decide who gets custody of the children. It could prove a billion-dollar decision: the individual in question will also be in line for maintenance payments from Jackson's estate. There has been a surge in album sales since his death, with his greatest hits collection, Number One, set to top the UK charts.
Experts are divided as to whether Ms Rowe or Katherine Jackson would have the most compelling claim. Most agree that Prince Michael II's surrogate mother, who is believed to live in Europe, does not have a case. Ms Rowe surrendered custody as part of her divorce settlement in 1999, and has for the past three years been allowed just one parental visit every 46 days.
It was reported yesterday that she is ready to "fight tooth and nail" for the right to bring up her son and daughter. Her attorney, Iris Finsilver, released a statement describing her client as "inconsolable" and speaking of her former husband as "a beautiful and loving soul".
The coroner's officials released Jackson's body early on Saturday morning and it was taken to a Los Angeles funeral home. The family is debating whether to have a private funeral ceremony or a celebration open to the public. Autopsy results will not be fully revealed until toxicology tests are concluded, which could take between four and six weeks.
A source at the coroner's office told Fox News yesterday that Jackson had bruises on his chest consistent with someone trying to revive him, but there were no obvious signs of heart disease. This supports the theory that some sort of drug or combination of drugs could have caused the cardiac arrest.
The source was surprised by how healthy Jackson appeared to be. Investigators noted, however, that there was significant scarring on his face, this being the first time they had seen Jackson without make-up.
The unanswered questions
* Did the singer die as the result of an injection from his doctor?
* Why did the doctor leave the hospital and not initially speak to police? Where did he go?
* Who made the 911 call for an ambulance?
* Why did the caller not identify Jackson, instead describing him as a 50-year-old "gentleman"?
* How long had Jackson been unconscious before the emergency call was made?
* What attempts were made to resuscitate him before the 911 emergency call was made – and by whom?
* What drugs did Jackson take on the day he died and in the days before his death?
* What did he need the drugs for and who prescribed them?
* Did anybody raise concerns about the drugs?
* If he needed so much medication, why was it thought Jackson could do a 50-date season in London?
* What will happen to Jackson's body now? Where will he be buried and when? And with what kind of funeral service?
* What happens to his debts, estate, royalties and property?
* Who will care for his kids?
The ultimate pushy parent, Joe Jackson, 79, said at the weekend that "the truth" surrounding his son's death was still to be told. Joe's strict regime of rehearsals could include painful punishments if Michael messed up a song. He told Louis Theroux in a BBC documentary in 2003: "I never beat him. I whipped him with a switch and a belt. I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick."
The rock of the Jackson clan and Michael's closest family confidante, Katherine Jackson, 79, was the only relative in court when Michael was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005. Although she suffered the effects of polio contracted in childhood, she played an important role in bringing up six sons and three daughters – and was said to have spotted Michael's talent. Michael wrote a tribute to her when she released her memoir, My Family, and she staunchly defended her son against criticism during the 1990s.
Tears welling in his eyes, Jermaine Jackson faced the press on Thursday and confirmed that "my brother, the legendary King of Pop", had died. He has taken the lead in the family's response to Michael's death. Jermaine, 55, was close to Michael in recent years, the two having made their peace after a music dispute.
La Toya Jackson
One of the first to arrive at the UCLA hospital on Thursday, singer La Toya, 53, was heard wailing in disbelief. She was once estranged from the Jackson family, branded a liar after telling reporters in 1993 that she believed Michael could have abused children. She had already accused her father of abusing his daughters.
She has often declined interviews relating to Michael but Janet Jackson, 43, is thought to have been close to her most eccentric brother. She flew in to Los Angeles on Friday to be with relatives. Her manager said she was "devastated and grief-stricken". The brother and sister recorded the hit duet "Scream" in 1995 and appeared together in the song's £5m video. It was supposedly released as a response to negative press attention aimed at Michael. Janet has enjoyed her own multi-million-dollar career.
Dr Conrad Murray
Jackson's personal doctor. According to the 911 emergency call he was the only witness to the singer's collapse. He is said to have injected Jackson with a dose of the painkiller Demerol shortly before his cardiac arrest and to have tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Temporarily disappeared afterwards but will now be questioned by LA police, who said he was not under investigation.
Dr Tohme Tohme
Another personal doctor, who also claims to be Jackson's official spokesman and manager. Has fiercely defended Jackson when doubts were raised about his health and fitness. In December he said that Jackson was in fine health. Was with him at the secret meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room in January when the deal to perform at the O2 was finalised.
Managed the singer during his golden years from 1984 to 1989 but was forced out in a power struggle between lawyers and record executives. Remained loyal and spoke up for Jackson during his child abuse trial in 2005. The former kingpin at Epic Records is believed to have returned to act as Jackson's manager this year.
The former Incredible Hulk actor had been a friend of Jackson for 15 years, according to his wife, Carla, and had been overseeing his workout schedule to prepare the singer for his gruelling 50-date residency. The former Mr Universe was paying secret visits to the singer's mansion, but the regime is said to have been tailored to Jackson's delicate frame and reluctance to bulk up.
President and chief executive of AEG Live, the company that tried to tempt Jackson back to the stage for years, finally succeeding with the 02 deal. Phillips defended the extension of Jackson's run from an initial 10 dates to 50, saying Jackson had passed extensive health checks. "It's a risk we're willing to take to bring the King of Pop to his fans." Jackson, however, told fans that he was angered by the 50 dates, saying he went to bed having signed up to do 10, but woke to the news that he was doing 50.
Lisa Marie Presley
Jackson married Elvis's daughter in a coalition of two music dynasties in 1994. They first met when she attended one of his concerts as a seven-year-old, then met again when Ms Presley was 26. The marriage lasted just 19 months, and while Ms Presley, now 41, said in 2003 that she wasn't proud of it, last week she said that it wasn't a "sham" either.
Ms Rowe, 50, was a nurse when the couple met. She became pregnant with their first child, Prince Michael – said to have been conceived by artificial means – six months before they married in 1996. In 1998 came a daughter, Paris. Six months later, Ms Rowe filed for divorce, accepting a payoff of £4.2m to give up rights to the children, although she is seeking to have her rights restored.
The nanny to Jackson's three children, who are said to call her "Mom", Ms Rwaramba, 42, has worked in the Jackson household for 20 years, starting as an office assistant. Rumours in 2006 said Jackson intended to marry her, or had secretly married her. Either way, she has a central role in the family.
Prince Michael I Jackson
The eldest child by Jackson's second wife, Debbie Rowe, 12-year-old Prince Michael I and his younger sister Paris are now expected to be at the centre of a custody battle. They were brought up by their father and paternal grandmother Katherine after their mother gave away her parental rights, and the Jacksons want the children to stay with their 79-year-old grandmother. But Ms Rowe is reported to have said she will fight "tooth and nail" to get her children back under her care.
Paris Michael Katherine Jackson
Jackson's relationship with Debbie Rowe ended soon after she gave birth to their second child, Paris. Until this year, the 11-year-old had rarely been seen in public without a covering on her face. Currently, Paris and her siblings are said to be "doing fine", staying with the Jackson clan at their compound in Encina, Los Angeles.
Prince Michael II Jackson (Blanket)
The youngest of the family, Prince Michael II, otherwise known as "Blanket", was infamously dangled over a balcony with a blanket over his head as a baby. Now seven, he is the son of an anonymous surrogate mother, who is believed to have given up all parental rights. It emerged this week that he is the godson of one of the singer's financial advisers, Alvin Malnik, who claims he signed a document saying that if Jackson died he would care for Blanket as his own child.
Having shared with him the experience of being a global star from a very young age, Elizabeth Taylor was one of Jackson's closest friends. The actress, 77, says the star's death has left her heartbroken. Close for more than 20 years, the pair made a habit of going to their local cinema in Los Angeles. Taylor's wedding to building worker Larry Fortensky in 1991 took place at Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch. In 1997, Michael Jackson performed a tribute to his friend on her 65th birthday, singing "Elizabeth, I Love You".
Her friendship with Jackson goes back many years. She performed at his comeback concert at New York's Madison Square Garden in 2001, where she sang "You Are Not Alone". Michael Jackson introduced her to the show's producer, David Gest. A year later he was best man at her wedding to Mr Gest, managing to upstage the bride by turning up 15 minutes late. In a tribute to her friend on Friday, Minnelli, 63, said: "He was a kind, genuine, and wonderful man. I loved him very much and I will miss him every remaining day of my life."
One of Michael Jackson's few childhood friends, the former child actor is godfather to Jackson's children. Now 50 and living in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, he was 10 and filming his title role in Oliver! when he first met Jackson. In the wake of rumours surrounding the star's private life, he remained a loyal supporter, saying: "I've known Michael for 30 years and he'd never do anything to hurt a child. I'd be more than happy for any of my four children to share a bedroom with him."
The former friends
The spoon-bending, mind-reading illusionist has been on the world's airwaves this weekend talking about his "friend" Michael Jackson, who was best man at Geller's 2001 wedding. It was Geller who persuaded the singer to reveal all in what turned out to be a – for him – disastrous fly-on-the-wall documentary with Martin Bashir in 2003, which led to the child abuse trial. It is believed they have not spoken since.
Still officially listed as Jackson's lawyer in some celebrity contacts books, Mr Oxman has been touring the US TV studios as the family attorney, warning anyone who will listen that in the event of a tragedy he would speak out. He in fact parted company with the King of Pop in 2005 after being sacked during the child molestation trial.
Now 19, Mr Arvizo was at the centre of the child abuse trial in 2005 that haunted the star for the rest of his life. A cancer survivor, he hit the headlines after popping up in Martin Bashir's 2003 documentary in which Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys at his Neverland ranch. Arvizo accused Jackson of molesting him.
The 29-year-old claimed back in 1993, aged 13, that Jackson had molested him. His father filed a civil lawsuit against Jackson, who denied the allegations before eventually settling out of court for up to £30m, according to reports. Chandler has never spoken about what happened.
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