Monday, September 10, 2012

Emails reveal dire worries about Michael Jackson’s health in the days before his death

 	In this May 6, 2009 image released courtesy of Michael Jackson, pop star Michael Jackson, center, and director Kenny Ortega, left, are shown in Los Angeles during rehearsals for his upcoming concert in London. (AP Photo/courtesy of Michael Jackson)

AP

In this May 6, 2009 image released courtesy of Michael Jackson, pop star Michael Jackson, center, and director Kenny Ortega, left, are shown in Los Angeles during rehearsals.

Five days before Michael Jackson took his last labored breath in a darkened bedroom, the director of his ill-fated “This Is It” comeback tour was sounding the alarm — even louder than previously revealed.

Kenny Ortega sent a panicked email in the predawn hours of June 20, 2009, telling promoter Randy Phillips, the head of AEG Live, that Jackson appeared too “weak and fatigued” to rehearse the previous night, “trembling, rambling and obsessing” to the point Ortega recommended a psychological exam.

When Phillips didn’t immediately address his fears, Ortega fired off another email 11 hours later, the Daily News has learned.

“I honestly felt if I had encouraged or allowed him on stage last night he could have hurt himself,” Ortega wrote to Phillips in the confidential 1:20 p.m. missive obtained by The News.

Phillips responded within the hour, shooting down Ortega’s concerns with even more force than formerly exposed. “It is critical that neither you, me, or anyone around this show become amateur psychiatrists or physicians,” he wrote, adding that he was in touch with Jackson’s personal doctor, Conrad Murray, and had gained “immense respect” for the cardiologist who would later got to jail for involuntary manslaughter.

“(Murray) said that Michael is not only physically equipped to perform (but) that discouraging him to (perform) will hasten his decline instead of stopping it,” Phillips said.

“You cannot imagine the harm and ramifications of stopping the show now,” he wrote. “It would far outweigh ‘calling this game in the 7th inning.’ I am not just talking about AEG’s interests here, but the myriad of stuff and lawsuits swirling around MJ that I crisis manage every day and also his well-being.”

Signing off as Randy, he added: “Please stay steady. Enough alarms have sounded. It is time to put out the fire, not burn the building down.” Jackson, 50, appeared to improve significantly at followup rehearsals but died that Thursday after Murray provided a lethal dose of the surgery-strength anesthetic propofol to help the King of Pop sleep.

The trove of emails detailing dire concerns over Jackson’s health are expected to play a central role in two lawsuits set for trial next year.

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One involves Jackson’s heirs suing AEG for wrongful death. The other is a battle over the $17.5 million insurance policy that Lloyds of London wants rejected due to Jackson’s alleged ailments.

A lawyer for AEG said the leaked emails were “cherry-picked” from more than 40,000 documents in an effort to “misguide” the public.

“Both Michael Jackson and his personal physician, Dr. Murray, repeatedly told all involved in the tour that Michael Jackson was healthy.

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PAUL BUCK/POOL

Randy Phillips, Chief Executive of AEG Live and promotor of Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' concert tour, testifies during Dr. Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial the death of singer Michael Jackson.

And indeed the autopsy showed that was in fact the case,” lawyer Marvin Putnam told The News. “AEG could not, and did not, cancel its agreement with Mr. Jackson, a respected performing artist who insisted he was ready and willing to perform, simply because he’d been ill one night.”

Putnam said Phillips and Ortega met with Jackson after the worrisome rehearsal to express their concerns and check on his welfare.

Jackson was “calm, lucid, and appeared fully healthy and engaged,” he said, and “backed up that convincing interview by performing brilliantly at the next two rehearsals, which Mr. Phillips attended personally.”

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AL SEIB/POOL

Defendant Dr. Conrad Murray in court during his involuntary manslaughter trial in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 29, 2011.

The more than 200 pages of correspondence obtained by The News — and first reported by the Los Angeles Times — also provide a window into the strange behind-the-scenes minutiae surrounding the King of Pop’s final days.

One striking exchange shows Murray micromanaging his proposed London accommodations while Jackson — the man he was hired to attend — lost weight as he begged for dangerous drugs.

“Make sure that the mattresses are in top shape or they will have to be changed,” Murray wrote in a June 15, 2009, email about the posh residence he planned to inhabit with his three daughters and infant son.

Other leaked emails show that even though London’s O2 arena holds some 20,000 people, Jackson was only allowed 10 comp tickets per night for the sold-out run.

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MATT SAYLES/AP

Actress Ashley Tisdale and director/producer Kenny Ortega arrive for the premiere of Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' on Oct. 27, 2009, in Los Angeles.

And two months before Ortega complained to Phillips that Jackson appeared “weak” and neglected by his personal staff, an AEG executive personally fired Jackson’s longtime nanny and confidant Grace Rwaramba to help the bottom line.

“AEG has been cutting down on Mr. Jackson’s expenses in anticipation of his upcoming tour. Unfortunately at this time the services you provide do not meet our needs,” AEG exec Paul Gongaware told Rwaramba April 19.

Perhaps most shocking were emails Phillips sent an AEG colleague shortly before Jackson stood at a podium in the O2 arena on March 5, 2009, and blew kisses to his screaming fans as he announced the “This Is It” deal.

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AL SEIB/POOL

Paul Gongaware, concert promoter and producer of Michael Jackson’s ill-fated 'This Is It' tour, testifies in the Murray trial in Los Angeles on September 28, 2011.

“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” Phillips wrote. “Tohme and I are trying to sober him up and get him to the press conference.”

Dr. Tohme Tohme was Jackson’s manager at the time and had negotiated a $100,000 per month salary from AEG.

“Are you kidding me?” the colleague wrote back. Together, Phillips and Tohme dressed Jackson in his glittering black satin neo-military suit and sunglasses.

“I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking,” Phillips wrote. “This is the scariest thing I have ever seen.

He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self loathing and doubt now that it is show time. He is scared to death.” 

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