Mausoleum for Hollywood royalty awaits its latest guest
When Michael Jackson is buried today, he will join the stars in a resting place fit for the King of Pop
Thursday 03 September 2009
They've certainly taken their time, but Michael Jackson's family will finally complete the process of laying him to rest tonight, when they bury his gold-plated coffin in an elaborate private cemetery next to a galaxy of old Hollywood stars.
Two months after his death, which has now been declared a homicide, the singer is scheduled to be interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale's Great Mausoleum, a neo-classical building built to mimic the Campo Santo in Genoa.
Only a few close friends and immediate family members have been invited to the ceremony, which – barring an unwelcome intervention from a vast wildfire which is burning in the nearby hills – will take place at sunset.
Like the "public" memorial service held a week after Jackson died, LA police are doing their best to prevent fans from actually attending. Streets around Forest Lawn will be closed to both pedestrians and traffic.
The 290-acre cemetery is already occupied by Humphrey Bogart, Nat King Cole, Walt Disney, and a host of other luminaries from Hollywood's golden era. It is also renowned for its extravagant art collection. Forest Lawn boasts replicas of Michelangelo's greatest sculptures together with an enormous, life-sized stained glass recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper.
The decision to bury Jackson amid this reproduction grandeur represents a missed commercial opportunity by his estate. In the days after his death attempts were made to bury him at his old home, Neverland, which could have then been turned into a lucrative version of Elvis Presley's Graceland.
On the plus side, it may give him at least some chance of actually resting in peace. Unlike most Hollywood cemeteries, Forest Lawn takes a dim view of sightseers, and does not publish maps showing visitors how to find the graves of dead celebrities.
The Grand Mausoleum, where Jackson will be laid to rest, also contains Jean Harlow, W C Fields, Chico Marx, and Red Skelton. Scott Michaels, the owner of Dearly Departed Tours, which escorts tourists to LA death sites, called it the "Holy Grail" for grave-hunters.
"They protect celebrities like the Dead Sea Scrolls there," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It's the most difficult to navigate. The rooms are like mazes, almost like an Escher drawing. There are cameras throughout, and if you're just wandering about, they'll find you and kick you out."
That peace, gained only after two months in a refrigerator at Forest Lawn, will not be matched in the legal system. Wrangling over the circumstances of Jackson's fatal cardiac arrest looks set to continue.
The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled last week that the death was a "homicide" – a catch-all legal term meaning that one or more other people were involved, and a variety of criminal charges may, or may not, be filed against them.
Among those the police are now investigating is Dr Conrad Murray, a $150,000-a-month personal doctor who has admitted giving Jackson powerful doses of at least six powerful prescription drugs in the hours prior to his death.
Dr Murray variously gave his patient Valium, a highly-addictive muscle relaxant called Lorazepam, a sedative called Midazolam, the anaesthetic Lidocaine and Propofol, the hospital-grade drug Jackson called his "magic milk".
The LA coroner believes the Propofol caused his fatal heart attack. According to police notes in unsealed legal documents – originally submitted to a judge to secure a search warrant – detectives are concerned by "inconsistencies" in Dr Murray's evidence.
Despite telling police that he was constantly monitoring Jackson after administering the medication, mobile phone records reveal that Dr Murray was actually on the phone, speaking to three separate callers between 11.18am and 12.05pm.
An ambulance was not called to the property until later. It arrived at 12.22pm. Dr Murray – who suffered from financial problems – accompanied Jackson to the UCLA Medical Centre but later fled, after refusing to sign his death certificate.
"There would appear to be strong evidence of malpractice," Royal Oakes, a legal analyst for several US TV networks, told The Independent. "Other doctors say Dr Murray messed up medically and his timeline is wrong.
"The potential charges are manslaughter, or second degree murder. The former means you kill someone through incompetence. The latter means you are indifferent: you know something is a risk, but you just don't care.
"Given the money he was making from treating Jackson, however, the one person who wanted to keep him on the face of the planet was Dr Conrad Murray. So I'd say a manslaughter charge is the most likely outcome. It carries a two to four year sentence. For second degree murder, he'd be looking at 15-to-life."
Unlike almost every other player in the events surrounding Jackson's death, the Grenada-born Dr Murray has yet to give a media interview. However in a YouTube video posted recently, he thanked supporters and said: "I have done all I could do. I told the truth, and I have faith the truth will prevail."
Charges need not be filed for months, or even years. If and when they are, another potential defendant is Dr Arnold Klein, a Beverly-Hills-based dermatologist who has been identified as a likely source of the prescription for the Propofol. Dr Klein is suspected of procuring the drugs using aliases to cover his tracks, actions that would almost certainly lead to a misconduct trial. If prosecutors believe he knowingly fuelled an addiction, he might even face a manslaughter or second degree murder charge.
Either would be a sensation. Dr Klein is, like most people associated with Jackson's case, a larger-than-life figure, who wears cravats and jewellery. He has recently given a series of colourful TV interviews – inelegantly suggesting, on several occasions, that he may be the biological father of the singer's children. Their fate, like those of the King of Pop's physicians, former home, estate, and even the line-up at a planned tribute concert in Austria, remain unclear. Michael Jackson may be being buried today, but the tangled questions surrounding his legacy are still a long way from being laid to rest.
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