Read an Excerpt
Michael Jackson King of Pop 1958 - 2009
By Emily Herbert
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2009 Emily Herbert
All rights reserved.
DEATH OF A SUPERSTAR
The scene was pandemonium. Paramedics from the Los Angeles Fire Department swarmed around the large, rented home in Holmby Hills, LA, desperate to revive the prone figure in their midst. They pumped his chest in an attempt to get a response, but all in vain. Meanwhile, the entourage surrounding him was hysterical, screaming, 'You've got to save him, you've got to!' Eventually, he was transported to an ambulance, where attempts to resuscitate him continued, and rushed to University of California at Los Angeles Hospital, a six-minute drive away, where doctors worked frantically to get a pulse. But it was no good. Michael Jackson died, aged 50, on 25 June 2009, after suffering a massive heart attack at his home. One of the greatest geniuses in pop-music history was gone.
As news of his death began to spread, stunned members of the public gathered outside. More than 10 members of Michael's entourage had followed the ambulance in two BMW 4x4s, including his brother, Randy, who had also been with him when he collapsed. His sister, La Toya, was seen running into the hospital in tears. Katherine, Michael's much beloved mother, made her way from the family compound in Encino, just north of LA, to see her son's body.
Los Angeles County coroner Fred Corall confirmed the devastating news. 'We were notified by the West Los Angeles Police detectives that Mr Jackson was transported by medics to the hospital,' he said. 'Upon admittance he was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at 2.26pm.'
Right from the start, there was speculation. Michael was less than three weeks away from beginning a massive 50-date concert schedule at London's O2 Arena, titled, 'This Is It'. While this was seen as a comeback and a potential solution to his much-publicised money concerns, there had also been severe doubt that he could cope. By that stage, he had not performed in a major concert for 12 years and with the best will in the world, and there was plenty of it, even his most loyal fans must have been wondering how he would be able to handle such demanding physical and emotional work. And yet the expectation was incredible: the 750,000 tickets for the shows sold out within hours of going on sale. His public wanted to see the return of the King of Pop, as much as the King himself did.
Was the pressure all too much? Was Michael pushing himself too hard, pressurising himself too much and becoming increasingly terrified that his performances could not live up to the glory days? Then there was his addiction to prescription drugs. It had been known for some time that Michael had been wedded to prescription drugs for decades, ever since he suffered horrific injuries filming a commercial for Pepsi, back in 1984. Almost immediately, reports began to surface that shortly before he collapsed, he had been injected with Demerol, a drug similar to morphine.
'Shortly after taking the Demerol, he started to experience slow, shallow breathing,' revealed a source, present at the time. 'His breathing gradually got slower and slower until it stopped; his staff started mouth-to-mouth and an ambulance was called, which got there in eight minutes.'
Across the world, shocked associates were responding to what they had heard. 'I must hear it from a doctor,' said Michael's friend Uri Geller to one reporter. 'I cannot believe everything I see and read and hear at the moment. I hope it's not true, I'm waiting like you are, like the whole planet is waiting, to hear it from the mouth of the doctor taking care of him. I'm absolutely devastated and shocked. He was a young man, terribly fit and basically in good shape.'
As the news sank in, impromptu shrines to Michael Jackson sprang up all over the world. Mourners laid tributes at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which was inundated with them) and city centres in Denmark, Sweden and Russia. Grieving fans lit candles in Prague's Old Town Square and placed flowers outside London's Lyric Theatre, where 'Thriller – Live' was playing. Above all, of course, the Jackson family compound in Hayvenhurst Avenue, Encino, LA, became the focal point for displays of grief: 'India will never forget you,' said one message. There were similar sentiments from Sri Lanka, Mexico, Grenada and Canada. Meanwhile, the news very nearly brought the Internet to a standstill: so many people googled Michael Jackson in the hours after his death that the search engine thought it was under attack and displayed an automated virus alert screen.
As preparations for a funeral and memorial service began, and hundreds of thousands of fans began to descend on Los Angeles, a myriad of details started to emerge about the final years of Michael's life. Although his own financial affairs were in a mess, it was thought that he had left 200 previously unpublished songs, worth a good £60 million, to his children: Prince Michael, 12, Paris Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II (also known as 'Blanket'), 7. Michael's own father Joe paid tribute to his son: 'Michael was the biggest superstar in the world and in history,' he said, and for once the superlatives were spot-on. 'He was loved by everybody, whether poor or wealthy or whatever may be.' The children, meanwhile, were in the care of Michael's mother Katherine, although their birth mother, Debbie Rowe, Michael's second wife, also expressed an interest in looking after them.
In the days that followed, emergency chiefs released a transcript of the call staff made to try and revive Michael. Apart from anything else, such was the level of his fame and the shock surrounding his death that everyone involved wanted to make it clear from the start that there had been no foul play, that they had worked as hard as they could to revive him. The transcript read as follows:
A (ambulance man): 'What is the nature of your emergency?'
B (member of Jackson's staff): 'I need an ambulance as soon as possible, sir.'
A: 'OK, sir, what's your address?'
B: 'It's 100 North Carolwood Drive, Los Angeles, California, 90007.'
A: 'OK, sir, and what's the phone number you are calling from?'
B: 'xxxxxx [number has been erased from transcript].'
A: 'OK, can you tell me what happened?'
B: 'Well, sir, we have a gentleman here and he needs help, and he's not breathing and we're trying to pump him, but he's not responding.'
A: 'OK, OK, how old is he?'
B: 'He's 50 years old, sir.'
A: 'OK, OK. He's not conscious? He's not breathing?'
B: 'Yes, he's not breathing, sir.'
A: 'He's not conscious, either?'
B: 'No, he's not conscious, sir.'
A: 'All right, is he on the floor?' Where is he at right now?'
B: 'He's on the bed, sir.'
A: 'OK, let's get him down onto the floor. I'm gonna help you with CPR right now.'
B: 'We need him – we need? ...'
A: 'We're already on our way there. We're already on our way there. I'm doing all I can to help you over the phone. We're on our way. Did anybody see him?'
B: 'Sir, we have a personal doctor here with him, sir.'
A: 'Oh, you have a doctor there?'
B: 'Yeah, but he's not responding to anything – no, no medicine – he's not responding to anything – to CPR or anything.'
A: 'Oh. OK. Well, we're on our way there. If your guy's doing CPR and you're being instructed by a doctor there on the scene, then he has a higher authority than me. Did anybody witness what happened?'
B: 'Er, no, it's just the doctor, sir. The doctor's been the only one here.'
A: 'OK, so did the doctor see what happened?'
B: 'Doctor, did you see what happened?' (Mumbled voice of panicked doctor can be heard saying, 'Tell them, they need to come!')
B: 'Sir, um, you just, you need to come, please.'
A: 'We're on our way. I'm just passing these questions on to our paramedics, but they are on their way there, sir.'
B: 'Thank you. He's pumping ... he's pumping his chest, but he's not responding, sir. Come, please.'
A: 'OK. OK, we're on our way. We're less than a mile away and we'll be there shortly.'
B: 'Thank you, sir, thank you.'
A: 'OK, sir. Call us back if you need anything else.'
There was some disquiet that Michael had been on a bed: when CPR is administered, the patient should be on the floor. And the Jackson family was keen to establish exactly what happened. They had known that Michael had been taking Demerol for years, but believed he might have stepped up his intake in recent months to help him cope with the pressure of the O2 concerts.
'This is a case of abuse of medications,' said the Jacksons' former family lawyer Brian Oxman, who had been at the hospital with them when Michael died. 'This is not something which had been unexpected. Because of the medication that Michael was taking, his family had been trying for months and months and months to take care of Michael Jackson. I don't want to jump to conclusions, and I don't want to point fingers, we don't know what Michael Jackson perished from, but what I do fear is that it was the medications. I spoke to family members: I said if this situation arises where Michael perishes because of these medications I will not hold my tongue, I will speak out and I will speak out loud about the overmedication of Michael Jackson. Michael was rehearsing and working extremely hard. I think he was in discomfort because he was working so very hard.'
The broadcaster Paul Gambaccini agreed. 'It [the concerts] seemed to be too much of a demand on the unhealthy body of a 50-year-old,' he said. 'I wonder if perhaps the stress of preparing for those dates was a factor in his collapse. It was wishful thinking that at this stage of his life he could be Michael Jackson again.'
But Michael had never stopped being Michael Jackson, no matter what problems he'd had in later years, as witnessed by the massive outpouring of grief all around him. Tributes continued to flood in from the great and good, as well as his millions of fans. The police, meanwhile, said they wanted to talk to Michael's personal doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray, who was thought to have administered the painkiller.
Those close to the star, however, revealed that for years they had feared something like this would happen. His first wife, Lisa Marie Presley, spoke out about the fact that Michael himself had feared this might be the manner of his passing, and to go on record about their relationship. 'Years ago, Michael and I were having a deep conversation about life in general,' she wrote on the Internet. 'I can't recall the exact subject matter, but he may have been questioning me about the circumstances of my father's death. At some point he paused, he stared at me very intensely and he stated with an almost calm certainty, "I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did."
'I tried to deter him from the idea, at which point he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded, almost matter of fact, as if to let me know he knew what he knew, and that was that. Fourteen years later, I am sitting here watching on the news an ambulance leaving the driveway of his home, the big gates, the crowds outside the gates, the coverage, the crowds outside the hospital; the cause of death and what may have led up to it and the memory of this conversation hit me, as did the unstoppable tears. A predicted ending by him, by loved ones and by me, but what I didn't predict was how much it was going to hurt when it happened.
'I am going to say now what I have never said before because I want the truth out there for once. Our relationship was not "a sham" as is being reported in the press. It was an unusual relationship, yes, where two unusual people who did not live or know a "normal life" found a connection, perhaps with some suspect timing on his part. Nonetheless, I do believe he loved me as much as he could love anyone and I loved him very much. I wanted to "save him".'
Alas, even Lisa Marie, who had grown up knowing first hand what the consequences of fame like Michael's could bring, failed to do that.
Another person who was determined to set the record straight and focus attention on the real Michael, not the myths and downright lies that swirled around him, was his fellow child star, Mark Lester. Mark had appeared in the title role of Oliver! in the 1968 film, so he knew exactly what it was like having to deal with global fame at a very young age. Unlike Michael, however, he had managed to escape the pressures of it by leaving show business and working as an osteopath. Married for the second time, and with four children of his own, he was also godfather to Michael's three.
'My feelings are for those poor children – I love those kids dearly,' he said. 'They are an extended part of my family.
'They adored Michael and he adored them. He was a really good father; he was a relaxed, natural dad. Michael had a very strict moral code – they were not allowed to run riot, but they are extremely bright and intelligent kids. My happiest memories of Michael are when we relaxed as families together watching DVDs or playing music – just being together. We did that many times.
'I was watching TV in a trance, thinking I'd wake up and find out it was not really happening. I was just numb and shocked. I spoke to Michael only last week and he seemed on pretty good form – so confident and positive. He was really excited about doing those O2 concerts in London; it was going to be the platform for him to get back in there. Michael had it tough – he had some really tough things to go through, but his character was strong and he got through those things. But I saw the real Michael, a dedicated father and a really nice man. He was just a very normal guy – quiet, shy, polite and dignified. To think we will never see that beautiful man again is awful. I'm going to miss him lots.'
Indeed, the two families were so close that they had spent the previous Christmas together in the Middle East. Mark's oldest daughter Lucy had very happy memories of that time and paid testimony to the star's generosity. 'In Dubai, Michael gave me a lap-top computer, a camera and Chanel make-up and perfume, plus Trivial Pursuits and stuff – and he gave Barbie dolls and action figures to my brothers and sisters,' she said. 'His Christmas tree was twice as high as the ceiling in our house and in his kids' rooms were piles and piles of presents. They had 10 of everything. It was just incredible – there was even a Toys R Us van parked outside his mansion.
'Then, when we saw him in London recently, he gave us loads more presents, saying they were late Christmas gifts. I've always had a lot of fun whenever I've met him. The first time was in Las Vegas at an MTV awards – my knees were buckling, I was so nervous. But he was just the kindest person – people don't know what he is like. He loved his family so much – and just enjoyed normal things like going to the cinema and listening to music.'
More details were beginning to emerge about the chaotic scenes at the hospital. 'I went to the UCLA and got there just before Randy did,' Jackson family spokesman and attorney Brian Oxman reported. 'And when he came in, a few minutes later, we just saw each other in the emergency room and he started crying. I had my arms around him. We couldn't speak. Jermaine then came in and tears were streaming down his face, and I said "Jermaine" – and he couldn't talk. He just cried and hugged me. Then he went into the other room, and I knew what had happened.' The police, meanwhile, were keen to make it clear that they were not conducting a criminal investigation, as far as Dr. Murray was concerned: their concern was to piece together a proper timeline.
Michael's manager Frank Dileo was also present and it fell to him to break the news to the children. 'His three children were there,' he told Meredith Vieira on the Today show, the day after Michael's death. 'They were in a separate room while the doctors worked on Michael. I'm very sad for his children, his mother, his father, his brothers and sisters. It was a very rough day yesterday for everybody. We had to tell the children. I didn't go in alone; I went in with a doctor and a social worker. The nanny was in there and Dr. Murray, Michael's personal physician. It was, as you would think ... I can't even begin to tell you the emotion that flowed out of those children. Michael was a very dedicated parent, a single parent, who took that responsibility very seriously. His whole life surrounded around those children [sic] and they around him.'
But he had been in a bad way, no one could deny that. The extent of Michael's dependence on drugs was revealed by Grace Rwaramba, who had been the children's nanny for years, before finally leaving Michael's employ the previous December. Like so many others, she had tried to save him, but to no avail. 'I had to pump his stomach many times,' she revealed. 'He always mixed so much of it. There was one period that it was so bad that I didn't let the children see him ... He always ate too little and mixed too much.'
Grace became so concerned that she tried to enlist the help of his mother Katherine and his sister Janet to get Michael back to good health – but he interpreted her actions in the wrong way and dismissed her. 'He didn't want to listen; that was one of the times he let me go,' she said.
Excerpted from Michael Jackson King of Pop 1958 - 2009 by Emily Herbert. Copyright © 2009 Emily Herbert. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.