The legal battles following Michael Jackson’s death have taken a fresh twist after leaked documents revealed that the promoters of the star’s ill-fated comeback concerts described him as an “emotionally paralysed mess” who was too drunk to leave his hotel suite.
Jackson's fragile mental and physical state are revealed in a series of frantic messages, exchanged between senior executives at Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the company behind the debt-ridden singer's comeback with a 50-night residency at the O2 Arena in London.
The 250 pages of emails, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, were disclosed ahead of a bid by Lloyd's of London, insurers of the concerts, to nullify a $17.5 million (£11m) cancellation policy, claimed by AEG after Jackson's death in June 2009. Lloyd's argues that AEG made false claims about Jackson's health and readiness to perform.
The emails are also of interest to Jackson's family, which is pursuing a wrongful-death suit, accusing AEG of pressuring the singer to make a high-profile comeback despite indications that he was too weak.
The documents include Kenny Ortega, the show's director and a close associate of Jackson for 20 years, telling Randy Phillips, AEG Live CEO, that the star was in no state to perform. He wrote: "There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behaviour. I think the best thing we can do is get a top psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP."
He added: "MJ is not in shape enough yet to sing this stuff live and dance at the same time." A production manager wrote: "He's a basket case. Doubt is pervasive."
Phillips told Ortega: "It is critical that neither you, me or anyone around this show become amateur psychiatrists or physicians."
However Phillips, one of the music industry's most powerful promoters, who offered Jackson a £100 million deal for the shows, had seen the first-hand the depths to which the performer had sunk.
"MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent," Phillips wrote in an email to his boss, Tim Leiweke, AEG President, when Jackson kept the world's media waiting for 90 minutes before a London press conference to announce the shows. "I (am) trying to sober him up."
Leiweke replied on his BlackBerry: "Are you kidding me?" Phillips told him: "I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking. He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time." Phillips and Jackson's manager eventually dressed the singer, who made a brief appearance in front of fans.
Jackson's death, from an overdose of the powerful anaesthetic propofol, did not prevent AEG more than recouping its investment. A documentary film "This Is It", featuring rehearsal footage, grossed more than $260 million worldwide.
"Michael's death is a terrible tragedy, but life must go on. AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd," Phillips wrote to a concert business colleague in August, adding, "I still wish he was here!"
The leaked documents show that Jackson never apparently underwent a comprehensive medical ordered by Lloyds. Lloyd's had sought medical records, details about Jackson's daily fitness programme and responses to media reports about his health. "Always with no response," a Lloyd's underwriter wrote.
AEG suggested Dr Conrad Murray, the physician who was found guilty of the star's involuntary manslaughter after administering the propofol, provide one but Lloyd's refused.
Phillips said he was "gaining immense respect for" Murray, who was himself in debt and demanded $150,000 a month to care for Jackson in London.
Doubts were raised within AEG about Jackson's ability to deliver. In an email to another promoter, Phillips said: "He has to or financial disaster awaits." Jackson faced debts of $300 million and if he pulled out of the deal, AEG would take control of his company and its valuable catalogue of songs.
AEG denied any wrongdoing. The company, which operates the O2 Arena in London, said the leaked messages were incomplete and had been released to portray the company in a negative light. AEG's lawyer Marvin Putnam said: "Michael was an adult and it is supercilious to say he was unable to take care of his own affairs."
Jackson's estate received a huge boost in the wake of his death, with music and film sales generating £173 million in the 12 months after he died.
Bad news: extracts from the emails
Paul Gongaware, AEG Live executive, to Randy Phillips, AEG Live CEO: "We are holding all the risk. We let Mikey know just what this will cost him in terms of him making money.
"We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants.
"He is locked. He has no choice... he signed a contract."
Dan Beckerman, AEG's chief operating officer: "Can he pull this off?"
Phillips: "With time and rehearsal."
Phillips: "He has to or financial disaster awaits."
Phillips: "MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent. I (am) trying to sober him up. He is scared to death."
Tim Leiweke, AEG President: "Are you kidding me?"
Phillips: "I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking. He is an emotionally paralysed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time."
Kenny Ortega, musical director: "There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behaviour. It is like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state. I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."
Production manager: "He was a basket case. Doubt is pervasive."
Phillips to Leiweke: "We have a real problem here."
Phillips to Ortega: "It is critical that neither you, me or anyone around this show become amateur psychiatrists or physicians."
Phillips on Dr Conrad Murray: "This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig so he (is) totally unbiased and ethical."
Phillips after Jackson's death: "AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film. I still wish he was here!"
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