We all remember where we were on the eve of June 25th 2009. When I first heard the rumour whilst in a London pub, it spread like wildfire through the clientele, each person passing the news onto those around them whether strangers or companions. Hundreds of Blackberries immediately appeared with BBC News on the screens confirming what seemed unfathomable. On the brink of making his epic return to the stage, the King of Pop had died.
Although Jackson was absent from the music scene during our generation’s childhood, the man was a household name to all. In fact those in our age-bracket probably know him best for the high profile child molestation case in 2005 and that Martin Bashir interview. Many mysteries shrouded Jackson throughout his life: whether or not he abused ten year old ‘companion’ Jordy Chandler; whether Chandler’s father knew all along, but accepted promotion for his screenplay in return for the use of his son; whether he really did suffer from the skin condition Vitiligo, or whether he just turned his back on his race; and whether he was actually the biological father of any child. Equally there are still many mysteries surrounding his death, but it is perhaps possible to put together a clearer picture of the potential turn of events leading up to that fateful day.
Firstly, it should be noted that it was widely accepted that Jackson was addicted to prescription medication. It was the worst kept secret of Tinseltown that since a stage light fell on the singer badly burning him in 1984, Jackson began taking painkillers. Apparently sleeping difficulties caused him to continue the dosage of prescription drugs and this was the case ever since. Secondly, everyone knew Jackson had run up huge debts, reportedly spending around $25 million more than he could afford per year. Many believe that the string of O2 concerts were a last ditch attempt to rid him of a large quantity of his debts and allow him to retain Neverland.
However, an interview with old family friend, Terry Harvey revealed that he believed Jackson had little control over his life in the months which led up to his death. It seems Corporate giant AEG Entertainment (who own the O2 Arena and were responsible for the This Is It shows) permanently guarded the singer, making it extremely difficult for his family or friends to reach him in the months of rehearsals. Reports of them repeatedly changing his telephone number and refusing entry into his residence when his family attempted an intervention persistently emerge during interviews conducted since. Harvey also maintains that it is unlikely Jackson was consulted as the number of shows rose dramatically from the original figure of ten to a staggering fifty. Fifty sell out consecutive dates for a singer hooked on prescription drugs and suffering from severe insomnia is a big call on anyone’s part. And there was a high chance these dates would have turned into a world tour before Michael was even notified, given that the show’s dancers were suspiciously contracted for two years. But Randy Phillips, the Chief Exec of AEG, knew he had Michael right where he wanted him. Having admitted to coaxing him into doing the shows for years, AEG were making the most of it. He desperately needed the money and they were determined to milk it.
“We’re not in this for the money. We’re taking a huge risk on Michael. Forgetting tickets, the local economy will get $500m,” said Phillips during an interview. It seems difficult to believe the corporation did this for the sake of the bank balance of the plebs. And didn’t it all backfire when the one man driving this money machine scheme passed away just ten days before he was due to set foot on stage for the most talked about concert of the decade?
And believe me, AEG are determined to get some of their promised cash. They clearly pumped millions into the tour hence the release of the film This is It. I emerged from the cinema having watched it, astonished that the company could release such a blatant money-spinning cinematic scheme. The film is not even worthy of the big screen as it is simply a montage of the rehearsal videos for the show. There is scarcely any dialogue except for the occasional patient encouraging call from legendary director (and creator of the High School Musical phenomena) Kenny Ortega. The film markets itself as a ‘gift to the fans’, put plainly it is an opportunity to earn back at least a slither of the cash pumped in.
Unfortunately the film does not capture Jackson at his finest. He looks in perfectly good health just 20 days before his death, but one thing’s for sure he isn’t happy. Constantly complaining about incorrect dance moves, bum notes or unacceptable lighting, the film portrays the King of Pop as a führer of the stage. The footage was apparently meant for Jackson’s private archive collection. So why not just sell it off, show the world him having a strop and make a packet? Talk about stamping on his grave.
So how did he really die? Prior to the post mortem, speculation from medical experts suggested that Jackson had attempted a last minute clean up act in order to rid himself of his dependency. He finally attempted to live without the medicinal help he had been addicted to for so long, thus having survived without the drugs for several days or even weeks, a routine dosage administered by his doctor, had a fatal effect. Investigative journalist and Jackson fan Jacques Peretti followed this lead and found that this theory fits with reports from the dance studio managers that Jackson delayed the start of rehearsals and his attendance was poor until suddenly, one day he arrived with a new energy, having finally accepted that he was in it for the long haul. The singer’s post-mortem ruled that his death was as a result of homicide caused by a powerful anaesthetic. The LA coroner concluded that Propofol and the sedative Lorazepam were the primary drugs responsible for the heart attack which killed him. The drugs were administered by his private physician Dr Conrad Murray who is now on trial for homicide. Perhaps it is jumping to unfounded conclusions to suggest that the recent, tragic death of Brittany Murphy could also have been a result of drugs. Whether prescription or not, Perez Hilton claimed that her death came “as no surprise” to those who knew her, suggesting that rumours of drug addictions may have had more truth in them than orginally thought.
The involvement of the drug Propofol is what renders his death so shocking. One LA doctor described using this drug to treat insomnia as like “using a shotgun to kill an ant” as it most commonly used to keep patients unconscious whilst on the operating table; thus, combined with other medication, Jackson and Conrad were always walking on thin ice.
Although less of a household name in his lifetime, Heath Ledger has become a legend of the silver screen since he passed away in January 2008. Whether strolling along the stands of a school sports stadium casually performing ‘I Love You Baby’ to a stunned Julia Stiles, or gallivanting around in his knight’s armour, he was every teenage girl’s dream, awful perm and all. Ledger similarly passed away as a result of an accidental overdose involving a concoction of six different types of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, suggesting an underlying drug addiction. No one specific drug caused his death, but the combination of so many strong medications seemed to have a cumulative effect on the star’s body, especially given that they all carried a risk of sedation. It seems that the actor visited several different doctors in order to obtain these prescriptions, or perhaps got others to do so for him. The masseuse who discovered Ledger’s body intriguingly dialled for his close friend, Mary-Kate Olsen, before calling 911 and eyebrows were raised when she refused to answer questions from the police about the manner in which the star obtained these drugs until she received immunity from prosecution. Although no further action has been taken there have been suggestions that Olsen may have been one source of obtaining further prescription for the drugs Ledger craved. She has of course battled demons in the past, apparently suffering from an eating disorder and her own drug addictions.
Upon learning the results of his son’s toxicology Kim Ledger released the following statement, “Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage.”
Jackson and Ledger are just two of the most recent tragedies who fell prey to the dangers of prescription drugs, but in years gone by Hollywood has lost some of its finest to accidental overdoses: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Judy Garland. Even today these drugs seem extremely easy to obtain; all it takes is a quick visit to your doctor or even the click of a button, with many websites readily selling Propofol to paying customers. Showbiz seems to be riddled with these addictions and with the number of reports suggesting that stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Eva Mendes and Robbie Williams battle the temptation daily, then we are left asking the sinister question: who will be next?