As the death of Steve Jobs gives rise to many anecdotes, quotes and inspirational retrospect the trial of Doctor Murray over the death of Michael Jackson continues, surrounded by dogged media frenzy. I can’t help but see a correlation between the lives of these two iconic figures. The creative visionary, striving for perfectionism. Understanding their audience and delivering a product to them of a high standard, beyond expectations. Playful curiosity. The smallest detail makes all the difference. Apt then is this trial in which every detail will be scrutinized. But which detail will make all the difference?
I was a Michael Jackson fan. Not one of those manic screamers like in the carefully edited montages at the beginning of anything branded Michael Jackson, but an appreciator. I appreciated his absolute perfectionism when it came to his music and his performances. His attention to the smallest detail culminating in the biggest Wow! factor any performer has ever produced. Rare is the unbiased human that has come away from an MJ performance feeling they were a bit bored. His life long commitment to making the best show, to inducing creativity, preserving that childlike innocence that is so important to the creative mind, and carrying on in the face of adverse criticism, speculation, blackmail, and damn right lies, cannot be matched. I admired him greatly for all his faults and whims, his preservation of inspired past times full of different kinds of stresses, his misguided mistakes, lunacy, and his abundance of absolute compassion and giving, misconstrued as it usually was.
I’ve watched and read as each day those last moments of Jackson’s life are laid in front of Dr Murray and the court room entourage, the tedious factual detail examined from both biased sides, along with speculative anecdotes from the press. The more detail that is divulged the more the relationship between doctor and patient melds into employee and employer. This is echoed in Dr Shafer’s witness statement: “Yes” is what an employee says. “Yes” is NOT what a doctor says.” With my restricted knowledge, I would even go so far as to say the relationship melded from employee and employer to friend and friend, with medical benefits. The impassiveness of the court room makes light of the depth of this bond. Only flickers of human desperation are divulged, as with the emergency room doctor’s account of Dr Murray’s adamant request: “do not give up easily, try to save his life”, even though he was technically clinically dead on arrival, and probably had been for an hour or so before. They did not give up for another hour.
After an intense three year relationship dealing with Jackson’s highly confidential personal medical issues, living in the same house as his patient six days a week as his personal physician, Murray obviously had his cover up methods down to a tee. The well practiced PR management of MJ would obviously extend to his medical dealings, and so Murray would have had this drilled into him and probably contractually bound upon his employment by AMG as Jackson’s official personal physician, and therefore on his mind continuously. When presented in court however of course these resulting cover ups would look shady. Prescribed medications were found in MJ’s bathroom in other names; these names matched orders that Murray had placed for the medication. Interestingly, the court heard of orders Murray placed for Beneguin cream, to use in the treatment of the disease Vitiligo. Murray is alleged to have been very anxious to remove some kind of cream from MJ’s room that the star wouldn’t have wanted the world to know about. If the press had found out what Jackson was taking they’d have had a field day. Jackson’s whole life was one big PR cover up. Understandably so for probably the most famous, and exploited, person in the world. Doctor Murray had to uphold this charade.
At the time of his death, 50 year old MJ was preparing for his nine month stint of 50 shows at the O2 Arena in London, England performing his This Is It concert to an audience of over a million people. His first major concert in 12 years, it was to be his final farewell to the arena scene, and it had sold out within hours of being announced. Jackson’s financial pressures deemed these shows necessary. No room for whimsical creative output; the Michael Jackson brand was required in order to financially fulfil contractual agreements. Rehearsals were intense, mostly because Jackson insisted they be so. Tired and under pressure to get himself ready for the concerts, MJ took anti-anxiety pills and sedation medication. Something he had always done; something his doctors throughout the years had always allowed him to do. The crux of the trial lays in whether Murray administered the extra sedation medication or whether Jackson himself did, and then whether or not Murray’s actions were negligent after Jackson was found unconscious. I would argue it goes far beyond the tunnel vision of a convoluted court room’s comprehension will allow.
It is alleged that Murray removed propofol bottles from MJ’s room seemingly in an attempt to cover up the amount of the potent sedation drug MJ had taken/Dr Murray had administered. These sedatives MJ was regularly taking seem to be far more suited to hospital anaesthetics than to treat a case of insomnia. The drug doesn’t just make one fall to sleep, but deeply sedates to the point of requiring constant monitoring. A drug the anxious MJ felt he needed during this highly pressurised time when the world awaits him to perform, some for fandom, mostly for the fiscal gain of faceless organisations, but closely observed by all. The very fact that the daily routine was to attach a IV saline drip in his leg to treat dehydration tells us of the intensity of his hours upon days of rehearsals; perfectionism before physical pain. As a result of this pressure MJ consequently pressured Murray to administer propofol so he could get the rest required for him to carry on his demanding rehearsal schedule, which would hold dire consequences if not adhered to, at least in MJ’s mind.
It has been reported that MJ knew a lot about the drug, and previous doctors had even let him administer it to himself! Something Murray claims he wouldn’t let MJ do, thus requiring the necessity for his living in MJ’s house six days a week. Murray has also commented on the state of MJ’s veins, describing them as course, dried up and filled with clots caused by too much IV over time. How long had this man been functioning like this?! Murray seems to have been under constant pressure from MJ to give him more and more drugs to make him sleep as he just could not go to sleep no matter how much he took. MJ is alleged to have said to Murray he wanted to “go all the way; other doctors would do it”. What a pressure! And what does this say about the previous doctors who had obviously broken under the pressure of someone like Michael Jackson desperately demanding more and more resulting in this state of a man, even to the point of letting him administer his own medication!
The description of Jackson’s bedroom – the scene of his death – includes an oxygen tank, syringes, an IV catheter, an IV pole with a saline bag and tubing. There were drugs to put him into artificial sleep as well as drugs to wake him up and enable him to function quickly. Drugs for every waking moment of pain, anxiety and depression. Drugs to counteract the effects of the drugs. A cornucopia of pharmaceutical delights. Michael Jackson was a machine, fuelled by pharmaceuticals. Six days and nights a week Murray was in charge of intricately monitoring and controlling, counselling and soothing this delicate instrument of a human body that so many had a stake in and so many relied upon. Just another, if rather essential, holder of the puppet strings.
I don’t believe we will ever fully know the how and why’s of MJ’s death. No one will ever know the closely guarded truth of this man’s life, never mind his death. And as I watch the Doctor who is to bear the weight of culpability for this most public of fatalities I can’t help but wonder who else should also share the burden. To rest guilt at only one person’s feet seems too simple. His death is the culmination of a life of “yes” people, of fanatical acquaintances, of friends only within the enclosure of fame. Michael was obviously in constant physical pain, suffered severe insomnia, and seemed to be manic and depressive in most ways. What a life to get through, especially with his self imposed pressure for perfection of his chosen (for him) profession.
I will watch the Doctor take the blame for the last gasp of Michael Jackson’s carefully mishandled befuddling life – moulded by so many people, the second-handers – and I feel great compassion for him.