Emails Reveal Michael Jackson's Mental State in Final Days: 'He Is a Basket Case'
Michael Jackson was a "basket case" in a "weakened and troubled state" in his final days while preparing for his comeback tour, according to email correspondence published by the Los Angeles Times.
A total of 250 pages of email messages -- which, The Times reports, suggest that Anschutz Entertainment Group was aware of Jackson's mental state in the days leading up to his death on June 25, 2009 -- were leaked as two lawsuits ready for trial next year: The shows' insurers, Lloyd's of London, have claimed that AEG gave false claims about the singer's health when seeking a $17.5 million policy, while Jackson's heirs have filed a wrongful-death suit claiming that AEG pressured him into the 50-show tour in London despite knowing he was too weak to perform.
Even before AEG executives met with Jackson in September 2008, they had their doubts about the superstar and were seeking insurance to cover any potential losses if the shows fell through, according to the emails.
In a message detailing strategy for the first meeting, AEG Live exec Paul Gongaware, who knew Jackson, advised colleagues to wear casual clothing because "MJ is distrustful of people in suits."
While AEG estimated that a world tour could pull in $132 million for Jackson, "This is not a number that MJ will want to hear. He thinks he is so much bigger than that," Gongaware wrote, suggesting they talk only in terms of potential grosses.
Jackson signed the deal in January 2009, promising a "first-class performance." If he reneged, AEG would take control of Jackson's company and recoup its money off the income from his music catalogs.
AEG planned a March news conference to announce the comeback shows. But Jackson disappeared as the date approached.
"We are holding all the risk," Gongaware wrote to music promoter Randy Phillips. "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."
While AEG execs publicly said Jackson was very "healthy," "sane" and "focused," behind the scenes, his actions suggested otherwise, according to the emails. Jackson did make it to London for the March news conferences, but Phillips reportedly told AEG president Tim Leiweke in a series of emails that Jackson was intoxicated and didn't want to leave his hotel suite. Phillips and Jackson's manager were forced to dress the singer, who arrived 90 minutes late to the event.
"He is scared to death," Phillips wrote to Leiweke.
An AEG attorney countered that Phillips was exaggerating and that Jackson was suffering from a case of "nerves."
After rehearsals began, several individuals working with him started complaining that he was missing rehearsals, was slow to learn routines and would have to lip-sync some songs.
"MJ is not in shape enough yet to sing this stuff live and dance at the same time," the show's musical director wrote.
After a week of missed rehearsals, he showed up June 19 too weak to take part.
Wrote one production manager: "He was a basket case. Doubt is pervasive."
"We have a real problem here," Phillips wrote to Leiweke.
Kenny Ortega, the director of the show who had known Jackson for 20 years, told Phillips that the singer needed professional help.
"There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior," he wrote. "I think the very best thing we can do is get a top Psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP. 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."
A lawyer for AEG told The Times that, in response, execs began monitoring rehearsals and consulting the singer and his doctor, both of whom insisted that he was fine.
Meanwhile, Lloyd's of London wanted AEG to have a doctor give Jackson a complete medical examination before it would expand its policy to include illness and death. The company wanted five years of medical records, including information about the singer's fitness program and responses to media reports about his health.
"Always with no response," wrote a Lloyd's underwriter.
AEG decided to ask Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray, to gather the information.
On June 25, Murray replied that he had conferred with Jackson. "Authorization was denied," he wrote, according to emails presented at Murray's criminal trial.
Jackson was dead less than an hour later, the cause of death later being determined to be propofol intoxication after suffering a respiratory arrest. In November, Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter is serving a four-year sentence in prison.
AEG's lawyers told The Times that none of the emails mentioned propofol and that AEG wasn't aware that Murray was administering it to Jackson.
A week after Jackson's death, AEG filed a claim for the entire $17.5 million insurance policy and said publicly that it had lost $35 million on the whole thing.
Still, the company made money off This Is It, a concert documentary produced about Jackson's ill-fated comeback tour. The movie made more than $250 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.
But, he added, "I still wish he was here!"
Lawyers for AEG told The Times that the messagse were incomplete and were leaked with the intention of portraying the company in a negative light.
"If you are in the creative arts business, you are going to be involved with individuals who have a great many problems," an attorney said. "Michael Jackson was an adult and ... it is supercilious to say he was unable to take care of his own affairs."