MJ to close friend: "Don't leave me, they're trying to kill me."
The word hangs in the air. Somebody killed him. By accident or on purpose. Somebody killed Michael Jackson.
On Monday, the Los Angeles coroner's office reportedly ruled that the 50-year-old "King of Pop" was killed at the hands of another, and a search warrant said that Jackson had "lethal" doses of the powerful anesthetic propofol in his body when he died.
His personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has been the focus of a possible criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed. Murray could face criminal allegations of involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide, as well as civil charges of medical malpractice or wrongful death. Police have searched his offices in Houston as well as several storage facilities around the country. Still, many people close to Jackson wonder if the doctor should be the only target of inquiry.
Was it the reckless administration of a potent cocktail of deadly medicines that killed Jackson? Or was it a grueling schedule, relentless expectations and a zeal for perfection that led to his death? (Friends said Michael thought he had originally agreed only to a couple dozen concert dates, not the 50 that had been scheduled by promoter AEG at London's O2 Arena.) Or was it the artist's own penchant to get whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, without boundaries or limits? Could anyone say "no" to the King of Pop?
In the days after Jackson's June 25 death, I was inundated with questions and concerns from many who were close to the superstar throughout his life and career. They killed him, they would say to me. They finally did it.
What did they mean? Who were "they?" And who would stand to gain at the death of a legend?
Jackson had amassed nearly $400 million in personal debt, but still controlled billions in assets, future royalties on music rights, real estate and other holdings. His lucrative Sony/ATV catalog - which contains 250 Beatles songs, music from Elvis Pressley and Little Richard that he bought in 1987 for just $47.5 million - is easily worth 50 times that today. In fact, the catalog is set to make even more money when the interactive video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" hits shelves in October.
Jackson still co-owned - although it was heavily mortgaged - the infamous Neverland Ranch and surrounding 2,600 acres in pristine Santa Barbara County. And his own MiJack music catalog contains much of his personal music from Off the Wall, Thriller and his other solo projects -- plus an estimated 150 unreleased tunes -- and will help contribute to the more than $200 million in record sales and other revenue for the estate by year's end. In the two months since his death, Jackson's previously released albums have racked up nearly 4 million new sales. Nine out of the top 10 digital sales on iTunes the week after his death were Jackson cuts -- and his Number Ones CD, originally released in 2003, is now the year's second best-selling album, closing fast on Taylor Swift's Fearless. Plus, Sony bought the rights to his rehearsal video footage for $60 million and plans to release it as part of a documentary called "Michael Jackson THIS IS IT" in late October.
Jackson, some say, may indeed have been worth more dead than alive.
Dick Gregory, the civil rights activist and natural health proponent who had been an advisor to Jackson for years, told me that singer was often concerned for his own privacy and safety. In the days before Jackson's 2005 trial ended, Gregory was abruptly called to come and look after Michael's deteriorating health. The once-regal superstar was noticeably exhausted, dehydrated, worn out.
"Michael's mother sent word to me, come quick," Gregory recalled to me two days after Jackson died. "When I got there, Michael told me, 'Dick, don't leave me, they're trying to kill me." He never said who "they" were.
Gregory and Jackson ultimately checked into a nearby hospital, after taking a circuitous route that originally had the two driving toward San Francisco, nearly three hours away. "When we got there, they rushed him straight to the emergency room," Gregory said. "At 5 p.m., they hooked him up to IVs. At 5:15 a.m. the next morning, they were still putting fluids in him. He was fighting for his life. They said if we had waited 12 more hours, he'd have been dead."
Secrecy was also part of the life Michael lived. His close friend and attorney, John Branca, who is also co-administrator of Michael's estate, recently recovered $5.5 million that the artist had secretly squirreled away with occasional financial advisor Dr. Tohme Tohme, money Jackson wanted hidden away for a rainy day, perhaps to buy his next home.
"He said, 'Don't tell anyone about this money,'" Tohme told the Associated Press earlier this month. "But when he passed away, I told them I had this money, and I gave it to them."
Even his sister Latoya recently told London's Mail On Sunday that she feared Michael was killed by "greedy hangers-on" who preyed on the star:
I believe Michael was murdered, I felt that from the start," the 53-year-old said. "Not just one person was involved, rather it was a conspiracy of people. He was surrounded by a bad circle. Michael was a very meek, quiet, loving person. People took advantage of that. "Less than a month ago, I said I thought Michael was going to die before the London shows because he was surrounded by people who didn't have his best interests at heart.
Now, there has yet to surface any hard evidence that anyone - a single individual or those with shady business interests in the Jackson empire - has had any direct involvement in the death of the King of Pop. But the questions and conspiracy theories persist.
The investigation into who killed Michael Jackson clouds the life and legacy of MJ, arguably the most talented creative force of a generation. When people remember Michael, will it be for his work, his music, his family or his philanthropy? Or will it be as the complex, conflicted man with wolves at the door, a man who was never told "no" and indulged until the very end?
Perhaps Michael, in his own words, may have queued up his own legacy when I talked with him in 2007 for Ebony magazine:
"Everybody wants immortality. You want what you create to live, be it sculpture or painting or music. Like Michelangelo said, 'I know the creator will go but his work survives. That's why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work.' That's how I feel. I give my all at work. 'Cause I want it to just live..."
Bryan Monroe conducted the last major interview with Michael Jackson in September 2007 for a cover story while he was editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines. He has also been a regular contributor to CNN during the Jackson funeral and subsequent coverage. He can be reached at www.bryanmonroe.com.