Michael Jackson’s legacy five years since his death: Music, family and ‘What if?’
LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, in a desperate search for sleep as he prepared for a comeback tour that he hoped would pull him out of deep debt and restore his reputation as the world’s top entertainer.
Events of the past five years revealed how that desperation ultimately killed Jackson, while his wealth and fame have been secured in the wake of his death.
Jackson’s final days
Michael Jackson left the United States with his three young children soon after his June 13, 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges. He quietly returned to the country in late 2006, after spending a year exiled in Bahrain and several months in Ireland.
Bill Whitfield and Jevon Beard spent the next two years as Jackson’s bodyguards, which they detail in a just-published book “Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days.”
When Jackson stepped off the private jet in Las Vegas, his entourage consisted only of his children and their nanny.
“He was all alone,” Whitfield said. “It became an unreal thing. Something’s not right. This is a joke.”
The guards, who sometimes went for months without pay, often used their own money to fund the household when Jackson’s credit cards were declined.
Lawsuits and debt collectors hounded Jackson. The guards often drove the singer to lawyers’ offices for depositions where he would have to answer questions for hours.
His managers were “beefing with security” and “doing deals behind his back,” Beard said. “The guy was mentally exhausted.”
Whitfield and Beard revealed that Jackson did have a secret distraction, known only perhaps to some of his more obsessive fans. Jackson had girlfriends. The guards’ book details short visits Jackson would make to hotels to visit with two women known to them only as “Friend” and “Flower.”
The King of Pop would have make-out sessions with a woman behind a curtain in the backseat of his SUV as his guards drove, they said.
“When we actually saw that he really does like girls, we were high-fiving,” Beard said. “We knew it! To be able to see him kissing it was ‘Yes!’ Seeing it for our own eyes.”
The women, who the guards believed to be from Europe, never visited his home and never met Jackson’s children. He would always return home from his dates before Prince, Paris and Blanket would wake up in the morning, they wrote. They remained a secret part of his last years.
Jackson instructed his guards to keep his brothers, sisters and father away, although his mother was always allowed to pass through his gates, they said. Jackson’s relationship with most of his family seemed “null and void” in those last two years, Beard said.
It was Beard’s cousin who recommended Dr. Conrad Murray when Jackson asked for a doctor to visit his rented home in Las Vegas to treat daughter Paris for a cold.
Beard and Whitfield didn’t work for Jackson after he moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and signed a contract with AEG Live. They weren’t fired, just ignored when Jackson’s manager hired a new Los Angeles security team, Whitfield said. Murray, however, did move with Jackson to become his full-time physician as he began rehearsals for his comeback tour.
Testimony and evidence presented at Murray’s manslaughter trial and the AEG Live trial revealed Jackson’s physical and mental deterioration over May and June 2009 — a period where he was getting nightly infusions of the surgical anesthetic propofol to put him to sleep.
Murray told investigators that he used propofol every night for 60 nights to treat Jackson’s intractable insomnia, with the exception of two nights just before his death. Pharmacy records showed Murray ordered four gallons of the drug for Jackson’s use.
A Harvard Medical School sleep expert, hired by Jackson lawyers, made a startling conclusion about how the drug affected the entertainer in his last weeks.
Michael Jackson may be the only human ever to go two months without REM — rapid eye movement — sleep, which is vital to keep the brain and body alive.
“The symptoms that Mr. Jackson was exhibiting were consistent with what someone might expect to see of someone suffering from total sleep deprivation over a chronic period,” Dr. Charles Czeisler testified at the wrongful-death trial.
Jackson could not do standard dances or remember words to songs he sang for decades at rehearsals, according to e-mails sent between show producers and choreographers. He became paranoid, was talking to himself and hearing voices, and experienced severe weight loss, Czeisler said. “I believe that that constellation of symptoms was more probably than not induced by total sleep deprivation over a chronic period.”
If the singer had not died on June 25, 2009, of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic, the lack of REM sleep may have taken his life within days anyway, Czeisler said. Lab rats die after five weeks of getting no REM sleep. It was never tried on a human until Murray gave Jackson nightly propofol infusions for two months, he said.
Whitfield and Beard said that while they would have not been able to protect Jackson from Murray’s treatments if they had been with him in Los Angeles, they might have been able to protect him from the troubles that robbed him of sleep.
“There was no one there just to step up and say he needed to rest,” Whitfield said.
Murray served two years of a four-year jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter, while a jury in the civil wrongful death trial of concert promoter AEG Live decided he was competent to treat the singer.
The Jackson family
The world’s first unshielded look at Michael Jackson’s three children came at the televised memorial service on July 7, 2009. We saw Blanket, then 7, holding a doll of his father. Prince, 12, stood silently while Paris, 11, insisted on speaking about his father.
“Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine,” Paris said, triggering a cascade of tears on faces around the world.
Paris, now 16, is living away from her two brothers at an undisclosed school, a move made after she cut her wrists in a suicide attempt a year ago.
Prince, a 17-year-old honors student at a private school in Los Angeles, and Blanket, a home-schooled 12-year-old, live with their grandmother Katherine Jackson, in a gated luxury neighborhood in Calabasas, California.
The family’s relationship with the men named in Jackson’s will as executors of his estate was rocky from the start, with both of the singer’s parents challenging them for control in the first months after his death.
That turbulence is gone five years later, evidenced by a message posted on patriarch Joe Jackson’s website last week: “I would like to thank the Estate of Michael Jackson for taking care of my wife Katherine and my grandchildren Prince, Paris and blanket.”
The peace between Joe Jackson, 85, and the executors coincidentally — or not — came just as the estate purchased the home they had previously been renting for the family. Joe Jackson does not live there and is not a direct beneficiary of the estate.
Katherine Jackson, 84, remains active. She attended most days of the criminal trial of Conrad Murray and the civil trial of her lawsuit against the concert promoter AEG Live.
She is assisted in overseeing Michael Jackson’s children by her grandson T.J. Jackson, who was appointed as a co-guardian after she went missing for several days during a bizarre family power struggle in July 2012.
Four of Michael’s brothers — Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon — reunited onstage in recent years. The Jackson brothers recently completed a residency in Las Vegas and are touring the world, singing their Jackson 5 hits and some of the music Michael made without them.
Sister La Toya Jackson has built a reality TV career since her brother’s death, appearing on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” and her own “Life With La Toya.”
Janet Jackson, one of the world’s top selling recording artists, continues to work on music projects after her marriage to a Qatari billionaire announced last year.
Michael Jackson’s music did not stop with his death.
Columbia’s Epic, Jackson’s label for three decades, released two posthumous albums under a longterm contract with the singer’s estate to mine the large archive of music left behind. The first LP released in December 2010 — titled “Michael” — was met with some negative reaction from fans and Jackson family members who complained some of the vocals were not Michael’s voice
The second album — “Xscape” — was a global hit and more accepted by fans. The album, produced from nearly-completed Jackson tracks that current producers “contemporized,” sold over 2.3 million copies in the first three weeks of its release in May. It remained in the top 10 on album charts in United States, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom a month later.
The single “Love Never Felt So Good,” which included tracks added by Justin Timberlake, was certified gold and a top 10 single in the United States the week leading up to the fifth anniversary of Jackson’s death. That makes Michael Jackson the only artist to chart in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 in five different decades. Michael did it in six decades when you count his Jackson 5 singles.
The highlight of the 2014 Billboard Music Awards was a Michael Jackson “hologram” performance of one of his new songs — although technically it was not a “hologram” nor Jackson, but a video illusion created to appear as a live performance.
Another telling measure of Jackson’s popularity today is measured by social media. The 75 million “likes” to his Facebook fan page is more than Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars.
Jackson is 35th and rising this week on Billboard’s “Social 50″ chart — which is becoming a more important ranking for artists in the music industry as album sales fall. Timberlake is one position below at 36. The chart is based mostly on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram followers and conversations.
Cirque du Soleil’s “Immortal World Tour,” built around Jackson’s music and choreography, is ranked as the ninth top grossing tour of all time. The live show has grossed $360 million since its premiere in October 2011. At least 3 million people in 135 cities in 27 countries over four continents have seen it.
Cirque du Soleil is also regularly selling out it’s Las Vegas residency show “Michael Jackson ONE,” which premiered last summer.
“This Is It,” the documentary based on video of Jackson’s last weeks of preparation for his never-to-be comeback tour, became the biggest grossing documentary, with box office sales of $263 million just months after his death.
If Michael were alive today
Michael Jackson would be approaching 56 this summer had he not died. His autopsy revealed that Jackson was in good health when he overdosed from a combination of the propofol and sedatives while preparing for his comeback tour.
Would Jackson have completed his tour, which called for shows around the world after the first 50 concerts in London? Would he still be performing? Would his comeback have lifted him from the huge debt that burdened his last years?
An entertainment industry expert testifying for Jackson’s mother at the AEG wrongful death trial said he was “reasonably certain” Jackson would have performed 260 shows around the world as part of his “This Is It” tour. He would have earned $890 million over the three years of concerts in Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Australia, said Arthur Erk.
An AEG expert witness, however, disagreed. He testified that even if Jackson had not died on June 25, 2009, he may not have survived the London shows because of his use of propofol to treat his insomnia.
Erk testified that he would have expected Jackson would do four more world tours before his 66th birthday.
Michael Jackson planned to focus on making movies after his “This Is It” tour, according to trial testimony. His first discussions with AEG Live — which led to the concert contract — were about making a film about Egypt’s King Tut with AEG, witnesses said.
Jackson planned to buy a large estate in Las Vegas with part of his profits from his three-year contract with AEG Live, according to testimony. But did he plan to live in Las Vegas and perform there, instead of traveling on tour in his later years?
Whitfield and Beard, the former bodyguards who worked for Jackson most of his last two years, said that while Jackson said he wanted to do shows in Las Vegas, he would have found a permanent home elsewhere.
“He likely would have stayed out of the country,” Beard said.
Jackson, who had endured the child molestation trial in California, believed people in the United States were “mean” to him, Whitfield said. “Those were his words. ‘It’s so mean here and how wonderful people are in other countries.’ The way I took it, the dude is out.”