Category Archives: Personal Reflections

After 8 Years, Where Is Michael In His Spiritual Journey?

Soul Searching: Where Is Michael Now, Eight Years And Counting?

June 25th, 2017 will mark the eighth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s transition. At this point, some may be wondering what stage of transition he is currently in, at this eight year juncture. I don’t have those answers, but I do have enough knowledge and have researched enough on the topic of spiritual transition to offer some possible insight. It is my hope that what I have to say will be a comfort to those who wonder where Michael is right now; in what form he may exist, and if he is still in any way connected to his earthly existence as Michael Jackson.

But I will also offer some pre-warning statements so as to save some of you the bother of reading. First of all, this post is not for you if you do not believe in an after life. It is not for you if are among those who believe Michael faked his death and is therefore still alive somewhere on this planet. In that case, then Michael still exists in his earthly form (which I do not believe). This post is also not for those who may hold so dogmatically to their own religious beliefs that they will only accept their own religion’s version of what happens to us “on the other side.”

However, it may be worth noting that for every person who dies, their experiences in their new realm of existence will automatically be dictated by their own religious beliefs. In other words, whatever we have believed devoutly on earth still colors our perceptions of what we experience in the afterlife. There are many phases along the spiritual journey that will appear to replicate “Heaven” just as there are phases that will replicate the Christian version of “Hell” (Indeed, we are reassured that many souls will falsely believe they are in “Hell” during some transitional phases, but that it is only a temporary penitence; once the soul has undergone the necessary self reflection and growth, they will be allowed to progress to the next stage of transition).

Interestingly, it has been said that those who believe nothing happens to them beyond earthly existence will experience just that-nothingness. But this stage, too, is only temporary as the earthly consciousness is gradually separated from the spiritual consciousness. After what seems an eternal period of deep sleep, they, too,  will eventually awaken to the sight of their deceased loved ones guiding them into the next phase. I found this very interesting and wondered how Michael’s early training as a Jehovah’s Witness might have impacted his after death experience (even though he was not a practicing JW at the time of his death). Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, upon death, the body and soul simply sleep together until the arrival of the earthly paradise (and/or the ascension to rule with Jehovah in Heaven if they are among the anointed 144,000). In their belief system, there is no such thing as after death consciousness. However, since Michael had long since strayed from many of the JW’s tenets, one would certainly have to question how many of these beliefs he still held to at his time of death. I personally do not believe that Michael exists in a state of unconsciousness, although it is very possible that, due to his beliefs, he may have initially experienced such a state temporarily. Of course, there is also another possibility-that unfinished business may have kept him earth bound and within his earthly consciousness for an extended time. In his case, this is very likely, for reasons I will go into shortly.

Going “Into The Light” Is A Phenomenon Recognized Universally, Across All Religions And Cultures. It Marks The Initial Stage Of The Spirit Journey.

There are several afterlife transitions that are universally recognized and accepted regardless of religion and cultural beliefs. These are stages that have been universally observed and recognized across all cultural and religious boundaries. The first phase-familiar to any of us who have kept bedside vigils with terminally ill loved ones-is that the dying person is greeted by deceased loved ones and/or spirit guides who will assist them in their transition. This is the phase we know and recognize universally as “going to the light.” Although no dead person has ever been able to come back to recount their experience, this is the stage most often recollected by those who have been just “close enough” to have experienced it (i.e, those who have been clinically dead and resurrected) and their accounts are all eerily similar in detail. Most recount it as a very peaceful experience, so much so that coming back into their physical bodies is unbearably traumatic and undesired.

For those who continue into the light, this becomes very much a kind of “welcome home” party. They will be in the presence of relatives, friends, children and spouses from whom they have been separated for years. It is a joyous time of homecoming and of “catching up” and for many, they become convinced at this stage that this is indeed “Heaven” (or whatever variant of Heaven that their own religion dictates). However, this is still only a temporary phase, though understandably, one that many are reluctant to part from. (I have a suspicion that my own dearly departed grandmother, a true chatterbox who could spend hours reminiscing with old friends, may well still be in this stage even after thirteen years! I could imagine she is still “catching up” on her gossip). However, the purpose of this phase is merely a kind of initiation; a way of easing the soul into the afterlife so that no one experiences the trauma of having to go it alone. Also at this phase, the soul is still very much connected to their earthly existence. They still possess the consciousness of their earthly life. They still retain their earthly memories and emotions, which connects them not only to those who have greeted them, but to those they have left behind as well. They will still remember the things that gave them joy and pleasure in their earthly body (favorite foods, scents and yes, even sex!).

But this only applies to those who do, in fact, actually cross over. Unfortunately, many souls become trapped and earth bound, for various reasons. They are initially greeted by their guiding spirits, but for whatever reason,  fail to complete the journey forward. These are the restless souls that eventually manifest themselves as ghosts (apparitions that can be seen or sensed) or, more malevolently, as poltergeist entities. In almost all cases, spirits who remain earth bound are those who died untimely deaths; those who died violently or unnaturally (including many suicides and murder victims); those who died angry, or those with unfinished, urgent business. In some cases, an especially strong attachment to a loved one on earth-or to several-may also hold a spirit earth bound.

With All That Consumed Him In Life, It May Be Small Wonder Why Michael Would Have Remained Earth Bound In Death-At Least For A While.

All of the above criteria certainly applies to Michael, who did die untimely; whose death was a homicide; whose death took place under mysterious circumstances that still have not been resolved; who certainly had urgent business and uncompleted obligations (the This Is It tour); who certainly had many earthly concerns weighing on his mind at the time of death; and who certainly had strong emotional attachments to people he was leaving behind (his three minor children). Additionally, Michael’s earthbound ties would have been compounded many times over by his mass, global world wide following; those millions who mourned his death and who, no doubt, kept his energy earth bound for much longer than the normal duration. (This is true to some extent of all celebrities, especially those who die young and violently and are worshipped on a mass scale-Elvis and Princess Diana come immediately to mind, but I think Michael’s case was particularly unique in the way all of these factors combined. it was a recipe guaranteed to keep him earth bound for a considerably extended time).

Based on what I experienced at the time, I believe that Michael initially experienced only a brief few weeks of conscious unawareness. His “awakening” began in July of 2009 and, as an earth bound entity, peaked around August/September 2009. This was the time when so many of us felt his energy and presence most strongly. Over the years, I have heard and collected many, many stories from fans of their collective “after death” experiences with Michael,and the stories all have an uncanny similarity, especially among those who became, in essence, posthumous fans. In all cases, there was a universal, palpable energy that we all felt; a driving desire to tap into something we could not quite explain. Many who had not been fans of his in life, or who had only been casual fans at best, suddenly felt overwhelmed with grief; with inexplicable sadness, and an urge to somehow “correct” the wrongs that had been done to him. The stories, as I have said, are universally similar. It is normal, for example, that in the wake of most celebrity deaths, we might become curious and more interested in that person for a short while. We might be inclined to read more about them or to research their life; we might feel genuinely sad that they passed. But usually that is the extent of it. However, what happened in the wake of Michael Jackson’s passing was much more; it was on a scale with a mass awakening. To this day, it is a force that remains inexplicable to those of us who experienced it.

It was also during this time that many of us experienced some form of contact, through visions or dreams or other mediums of communication. I recounted my own experience here when I reviewed the Deborah Stefenaik book.  (Interestingly, I have since had a similar, though less graphic, experience with Prince, who still seems very confused that he is actually dead). In hindsight, these experiences were not surprising. in this earth bound stage, Michael was a restless spirit determined to get the truth out, as well as seeking his own answers. This was the time in which his physical body remained unburied, and during which the circumstances of his death were under the most intense scrutiny and investigation. These conditions, combined with the intense outpouring of global grief, kept him earth bound for a quite prolonged period.

I don’t know how long Michael remained in this stage. I can only say from my own experience that i felt his energy most intensely and palpably throughout that summer and into early fall. For me, it began to taper off after September of 2009 and I believe strongly that finally entombing his physical remains had something to do with it.

Finally Being Entombed-Over Two Months After His Initial Passing-Seemed To Resolve Some Of His Restlessness.

Also, as more and more people began to take up the mission of uncovering the truth about what had happened to him, he may have finally become satisfied that his mission was completed. Nevertheless, others did continue to have and record experiences (not that I necessarily believe all of them; there are a lot of charlatans out there, but I do believe many of them are genuine). All in all, it would appear that Michael remained in this earthbound phase for anywhere from at least six months to a year. During this phase, he was still very much connected to his earthly existence as Michael Jackson; his consciousness was still that which he carried in his physical incarnation; his earthly memories were still intact. But like a kid at play, he was reveling in the newfound freedom of being able to take any form he chose; to project himself into any consciousness sensitive enough to pick up on him; to converse with anyone he chose at any given time and to be in many places at once.

An earth bound spirit can still eventually transition. Sometimes they require assistance to do so; other times, they simply evolve to a stage whereby they can make the transition on their own. When this happens, it means they are finally experiencing what more fortunate souls were able to experience from the very beginning-that time of bliss in which they are allotted to spend with the loved ones who have finally welcomed them through the transitional process. I don’t know exactly when this happened for Michael, but I do believe strongly that by late 2010 he had definitely “crossed over.”

One thing I have learned from my teachings is that there is no definite time table that exists in this realm, and every individual’s experience is different just as the needs of every individual will differ. Ultimately, each progression is about the evolution of the soul to its most pure spiritual essence-what some call “The Spiritual Plane”-and that journey is quicker for some than for others. This is the stage at which soul and spirit finally are joined as one entity and all ties to earthly existence have been severed. But this destination can take decades, or even centuries.

“Life Review” is often cited as the next phase of the journey. From all the descriptions I have read, most souls-especially if they have been steeped in Christian teachings-will certainly assume that this is the period of judgement. However, the difference is that, while all of their earthly actions are reviewed, the purpose is less about judgement and more about the need for the deceased to learn and grow from the mistakes and sins they committed on earth. During this time, the person’s entire life is played before them (some mediums say it really does resemble a personal theater, where the deceased person watches their entire life projected onto a huge movie screen!). But it is not over in a single viewing. The person is shown their entire life through their own perspective, and then, one by one, through the perspective of every individual involved in their life. It is here that they learn exactly how their actions have impacted others-those they have helped by their actions; those that they have hurt by their actions. Every deed is accounted for.  From here, they will enter a stage of purification (a time of intense reflection and penitence). Some souls may interpret this stage as banishment to Hell, as it is a time spent in isolation,but it is said to be only temporary. However, this stage can be considerably long, or of relatively short duration. If the individual lived a mostly righteous life, and/or if they resolved many of these issues in life (practicing forgiveness and making restitution to those they hurt, for example) then this stage may be relatively short.

I could only imagine that, given the life Michael Jackson lived and his status as a global superstar and icon, his life review has probably been an exceptionally long one. Imagine a review in which everyone  impacted by the life of Michael Jackson-everyone he ever encountered, no matter how briefly- must be accounted for. If one imagines how his life and career was encapsulated in that wonderful Lifetime Achievement montage, just imagine something similar only now including not only every monumental career achievement, but also every personal relationship, and every incident from many multiple perspectives, and one can see how Michael’s life review could certainly be both monumental as well as utterly draining and exhausting. When we consider that even the average person still impacts many lives, one can only imagine how much this is compounded for the public figure whose life has impacted millions, both directly and indirectly. Imagine being Michael and forced to re-live and reevaluate that endless parade of managers, record executives, tour promoters, every hanger-on; every partner; every accuser, every fan; every leech; every friend; every acquaintance; every employee, every relative, etc etc must be considered! A review in which every choice made; every action; every word, both public and private, and every consequence must be weighed and evaluated! Imagine a process whereby he must re-live not only every action he has done onto others (both good and bad, for whatever that is worth) but also, again, every action done unto him. That means, yes, every betrayal must be re-lived; every knife in the back experienced all over again. It means not only experiencing, again, the thrill and high of every concert, but also the entire scope of every trial (imagine his four month ordeal of the Arvizo trial expanded indefinitely and you get the idea!) But, for all the pain, there is joy as well. He will re-live the births of his children; he will experience again Grammy night of 1984; he will embrace Ryan White; he will feel again his grandparents’ caress; this is all part of the experience, the pain as well as the joy and bliss).

Can You Imagine The Epic Scale Of THIS Life In Review?

Given the immense scope of Michael’s life, he may very well still be in the stage of Life Review. But it depends, as I said, on a number of factors. If Michael had resolved many of his life issues before passing, this stage will be reduced considerably. But often those who die untimely or unexpectedly do not have the necessary time on earth to make these kinds of restitutions. Thus, the stage of purification may take longer.

After purification, the soul has evolved to a new level of growth and is ready for servitude. It has been said that many choose to continue in some capacity whatever roles they fulfilled on earth. For example, a teacher may still desire to teach; a caregiver will still wish to serve others. Many choose to become spirit guides. At this stage, there is no longer earthly conscience (the ties of their former life are broken after purification and after all lessons from that earthly life have been learned) but they may still choose to periodically watch over loved ones left behind. I can imagine that Michael would choose to spend his time of servitude in some healing capacity, or perhaps he is still performing and providing comfort and joy to other souls still progressing through their journey. So often in the past eight years, whenever some major tragedy strikes, I have heard people say, “If only Michael was still with us, he would know what to do or say about this; he would know how to bring us together.” If Michael has indeed reached the stage of servitude, then we can be rest assured that he is not only well aware of these earthly events, but is working diligently to help those victims who are transitioning to their own spiritual phase.

Michael Jackson In Servitude Will Still Be Fulfilling His Life’s Missions: Just In Different Form

I suspect at this stage of his journey that Michael’s spirit is somewhere between the phases of life review, purification and servitude. I do not think he has yet achieved the apex of soul/spirit unification-or what many religions refer to as “Bliss”-just yet, as that is a process that takes many decades or even centuries to complete. If we consider that Michael only “crossed over” from earthbound entrapment a little over seven years ago, that is not a long time in the spiritual journey. However, I believe strongly that Michael was already a highly evolved spirit, which is going to make his transition much easier and speedier than it might have been otherwise.

After eight years, I do not feel that palpable sense of energy and urgency that I once felt from him. I don’t feel the anger, desperation or intense sadness that I once felt from his energy, which tells me at once that he is both at peace to some extent and has let go of much of his earthly connections. But it says something else as well: That he has also moved further away from us. I don’t know what the experiences of others have been (I hope some will feel free to weigh in). But I do feel his essence, every single day. It is a much lighter energy now, minus the heavy oppressiveness of before. I am not naive. I know this comes at least partly from having evolved, myself, to a point of acceptance. When Michael died, I grieved intensely, but over time, even the most intense grief gradually fades to acceptance. I know that is part of it, but it is also something more. I am not sure if he is at peace, but I do think he has evolved to a stage that is much less concerned with ties to his earthly existence and memory. If that is so, it is a reality that is, of course, much sadder for us than for him. As Michael himself once wrote in his poem “Are You Listening,” he was well aware that “from Bliss I came” and “To Bliss” he would return. In that poem, he spoke of the power and eternalness of that which we call “Essence:”

Eons pass

Deep inside

I remain ever the same

From Bliss I came 

In Bliss I am sustained…(Michael Jackson)

 

Bliss is, indeed, the state of all energy in its purest and most evolved form. Religions that believe in reincarnation also believe it is only here that souls can either become born again in a new physical form, or else have transcended the need for further incarnation altogether  (This may explain why Michael chose the line, “From Bliss I came”). In that poem, he also reminds us that “This body of mine/Is a flux of energy” and goes on to speak of that energy as eternal. His poem is really just a reminder of what we are already well aware: That flesh is temporary; the soul transcendent, and that the energy of spirit-that which we call essence-is forever. Even in his art, we often see how Michael was continuously playing with the ideas of life, spirit, and resurrection, always reminding us that he-like all of us-was both temporal and transcendent; perishable and transitory, yet ever eternal.

In both “Is It Scary” and its later incarnation, “Ghosts” Michael depicts himself dying and being miraculously resurrected. But in the earlier “Is It Scary” we actually see the process of the physical resurrection, whereby it is through pure love and faith that he is risen out of his own dust and pieced together again. He was also similarly “resurrected” in “Moonwalker.” Even his idea for the “Unbreakable” video (which never materialized) was going to portray him as a dancing skeleton who has been resurrected, bone by bone, after a nasty fall that has broken him into pieces. 

In reflecting on the eight years since Michael left us, I am reminded more strongly than ever that it really does not matter where he is, or what stage of his spiritual journey he is in. What truly matters is that, as Maya Angelou so eloquently stated, “We had him.”

“We Had Him” by Maya Angelou

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing
Now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace
Sing our songs among the stars and and walk our dances across the face of the moon

In the instant we learn that Michael is gone we know nothing
No clocks can tell our time and no oceans can rush our tides
With the abrupt absence of our treasure

Though we our many, each of us is achingly alone
Piercingly alone
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him

He came to us from the Creator, trailing creativity in abundance
Despite the anguish of life he was sheathed in mother love and family love and survived and did more than that

He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style
We had him
Whether we knew who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his
We had him

Beautiful, delighting our eyes
He raked his hat slant over his brow and took a pose on his toes for all of us and we laughed and stomped our feet for him

We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing
He gave us all he had been given

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Blackstar Square, in Johannesburg, in Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham England, we are missing Michael Jackson

But we do know that we had him
And we are the world.-Maya Angelou

 

“Searching For Neverland”: A Review

Navi Recreating Michael Jackson’s 2007 Ebony Shoot in “Searching For Neverland”

I just watched the premiere of the Lifetime biopic Searching For Neverland and am rushing this review out while the film is still fresh on my mind. First of all, I’ll just acknowledge that I know this review isn’t going to please everyone, as a goodly percentage of the fan base was already gunning for this film from the start. However, despite some reservations, I said I would give it a fair viewing before jumping the gun to condemn it. I am glad I approached it with an open mind.

Here is really the bottom line: One’s reaction to this film is inevitably going to be based on how one felt about its source material, the book Remember The Time by former bodyguards Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard. Fan reception of the book was every bit as polarizing as any MJ project that gets released. Some praised it as a positive account of Michael’s final two years, revealing his struggles to provide a normal life for his three children despite mounting financial issues and the fallout from the molestation trial. Others condemned it as a violation of the very trust that Michael had placed in them.

I gave the book a fairly positive review back in 2014. I suppose given that I was one of those more charitably predisposed to the book, it may explain why I was willing to give a bit more benefit of the doubt to this movie. Let’s just say, if you were one of those who liked Remember The Time, you’ll probably love Searching For Neverland. The movie is pretty much simply a faithful, condensed version of the book. Which also means if you were one of those who disliked the book, it will no doubt color how you view this film.  but if we put that aside and just view the film on its own merits, I found it refreshingly sweet and endearing in its portrayal of Michael as a family man struggling to keep together the most important thing to him-his life with his children. Sure, the eccentricities are there, but this was not one of those condescending portrayals intended to make him look one dimensional, naive, or mentally challenged. (Indeed, the few eccentricities will be familiar ground to anyone who routinely watches celebrity biopics; Michael does not come across as worsted for them ). For once, I think a genuine effort was made to portray Michael in all his human complexities, which is at least a big step in the right direction. The worst thing for me was Navi’s accent, which was frankly terrible, but overall, his performance was surprisingly nuanced. I think he did a good job, certainly exceeding my expectations. Despite what some reviewers have said, he is not a “dead ringer” for Michael Jackson, but his performance was believable and earnest enough to transcend those concerns (and, in fact, in some segments such as the Ebony photo shoot, he managed to perfectly capture the sizzling sex appeal of mature era Michael. Refreshingly, this was one of the few portrayals in which we actually are able to see what the fans always knew-that this was still a sizzizingly sexy and vibrant man, not the media portrayed “freak”-and, yes, we even get the scene of the “backseat date”). In another refreshing twist, this was the first film I have seen to successfully capture both the wonder and enchantment of Michael’s world view without the kind of patronizing condescension of so many projects. Despite the title, there is no pixie dust and no childishly naive pleas to everyone around him to “just believe.” What we do have is a realistic depiction of a man who once truly believed he could create magic, but has become worn down by a world that has turned its back on him. This is the story of a father who simply wants to find a home again, both for himself and his children.

The Film Balances The Fine Line Between Michael’s Sense Of Wonder And Unique World View Without Resorting To Merely Cliched’ Or Cloying Sentiment.

By far the biggest complaint, one leveled at both the book and film (and an irony not lost on most reviewers) is that the film is still, nevertheless,  an exploitation of a man whose last years were already the stuff of exploitation. Certainly there is something to be said for those arguments. However, perhaps it is my own journalistic background, but I tend to take a more tolerant and long sighted view of these things. Michael Jackson was a public figure, and even his personal life has become public property. The simple fact is that, while fans may know and cherish the knowledge of this Michael Jackson-the devoted father who strove to give his kids an ordinary life amidst the most extraordinary circumstances possible-it is still a side of him that many do not know, and haven’t bothered to know. If even a fraction of those bothered to tune in tonight, they will have met a very different man from the “Wacko Jacko” they thought they knew. And if the film at the very least accomplishes that goal, it is a worthy endeavor. I’m not going to necessarily subscribe to the school that insists every single project made about Michael Jackson is some sort of gross exploitation. Most are, but for every fifty films that are trash, there is always going to be at least one that deserves a fair chance to be seen and heard.

As I had mentioned back when I first reviewed Remember The Time, the one thing that really struck me the most was how they captured the claustrophobic sense of how small Michael’s world had become at that point, a world consisting mostly of himself, his kids, nanny Grace, and the bodyguards. There have only been two books that have successfully shed light on what those last two years were like for Michael and his kids, the other being Dr. Karen Moriarty’s Defending A King: His Life and Legacy (which also originated from Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard as sources). Not surprisingly, this is also a central narrative of the film, and even though it doesn’t dwell on any of the real controversies that created these circumstances, it successfully conveys the pathos of a wildly famous father, his life now tainted by scandal, who is struggling to keep life for his children as safe, secure, and filled with love as possible. The bottom line is that, as much as we may wish to respect Michael’s bid for privacy from a human perspective, his life-both public and private-has long since passed into the realm of public domain. We live in a celebrity dominated culture, where interest in the private lives of public figures continues to be a billion dollar industry, and where the proliferation of biographies,  biopics and “tell all” memoirs are a permanent fixture of our culture. For better or worse, future journalists, historians, bloggers, scholars and, yes, filmmakers, will be telling his story. In this case, at least some genuine and heartfelt effort was made to get it right, even if they may have failed on one or two minor fronts.

Of course, this was not so much Michael’s story as it is Bill Whitfield’s (and to a lesser extent, Javon Beard’s). Like most celebrity memoirs told from the perspective of another party (be it friend, former employee, lover, etc) we already understand that it is going to be filtered through the lenses of that individual’s perception. That is the nature of memoir, for better or worse. In Michael’s case, almost everyone who ever came into contact with him-for all of five minutes-has claimed at some point to have been his closest confidante. Whitfield and Beard are no exceptions. However, as a narrative frame device, it holds the film together well, and Chad Coleman (familiar to Walking Dead fans as Tyrese) gives a compelling performance as Whitfield, a man torn between his obligations to his own family and the surrogate family he has come to love.

There are some controversial aspects, however, although it’s not anything that anyone already familiar with the book won’t know. The worst, and I suppose the one still most difficult to grapple with, is when we see Michael obliviously piling a shopping cart with Christmas gifts for his own kids while supposedly knowing that the body guards had not been paid in months and were not even able to buy gifts for their own kids. But even here, it is not so much an attempt to portray Michael as selfish or disconnected from reality; instead, it is further evidence of just how little control Michael had by that point over his own finances, and indeed even his own life. (As in the book, Raymone Bain is quite villified). Scenes like this are not intended so much to belittle as to humanize, and I liked that the film seemed at least capable of walking that tightrope without tripping to the extremes of either condescension on the one hand, or mindless sychophantism on the other. In other words, Michael is allowed something in this film that he’s very rarely been allowed to have in any film portrayal up to this point, with the possible exception of An American Dream over twenty-five years ago: His humanity. It won’t please everyone, but it is what it is. And it did not detract in the least from the endearing sympathy already built for the character (if we keep in mind this is as much a story with a narrative as a depiction of a real life). If I had not already been in love with Michael Jackson before I watched this film, I certainly would have been afterward, and I think that is the power it has (and again, a huge credit for this must go to Navi’s affecting performance; terrible accent or not, he did manage to capture Michael’s essence without resorting to cloy sentimentality or childish caricature). I also appreciated that the film actually had a sense of humor. It enabled viewers to see a side of Michael rarely glimpsed in these types of films, as someone who could be a bit self deprecating and loved practical jokes. The humor here is endearing, as it was in real life; not in a way that simply makes him look foolish or immature.

This is still a long way from being the perfect MJ biopic (I’m not even convinced such a thing is ever going to be possible) but, as with An American Dream, it is a satisfying recount of one particular chapter in his life, and for bringing that story full circle, a fairly decent companion piece to that film. (This may not be surprising, considering Suzanne de Passe was the force behind both). Understandably, it still leaves gaping holes in the story, even with its two and a half hours’ running time. As some reviews have already pointed out, Conrad Murray becomes little more than a side player, and the insinuation (just as with so many projects both better and worse than this one) is that Michael’s death was more about the bigger picture: The intense pressures of facing the This Is It shows, in which succumbing to Murray’s “treatments” merely becomes symptomatic of a much bigger problem: An inability to cope with the pressure squeezing him from all sides. As usual, this will most likely leave viewers to merely surmise, again, that Michael was indeed a victim, but perhaps more than anything, a victim of his own inability to cope. This isn’t so much a critique of the film as of the source material (even in the book, Whitfield and Beard were irritatingly soft on Murray). However, as far as these things go, it isn’t a fatal flaw of the film. Most viewers are intelligent enough to know that any movie can only cover so much ground, and that frankly, it isn’t really this film’s purpose to faithfully recount the events of those final two months of Michael’s life, in which Whitfield and Beard were no longer actively involved. Indeed, their story with Michael ends when Michael leaves for Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for This Is It.  At any rate, that is another story perhaps beyond the present film’s scope. The events that transpired beyond those cloistered two years of Michael’s life spent in Vegas are certainly well documented enough for anyone who really wants to research further, and this is not a documentary.

For those who chose to condemn this movie out of hand, simply on principle, that is their right but in my honest opinion I think this was as good as a film of this caliber could be, given its limitations (low budget, no access to Michael’s music) and the generally low expectations most fans have come to expect from any movie made about Jackson’s life. Those trepidations don’t come lightly; they have been earned as per my previous post. I didn’t go into this one with high expectations, but within the first ten minutes, I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be watching with a reviewer’s judgmental eye, and was simply caught up in a compelling story of an eccentric but beautiful dad struggling to keep together his beautiful family. Of course, it was a bit cheesy in places; this was a Lifetime biopic, after all, not an Oscar contender. But as these films go, it’s definitely a cut above some of the other recent Lifetime biopics, and as far as movies about Michael Jackson, it’s definitely a step beyond the usual drivel that we’ve been subjected to.

All in all, not perfect but certainly a very sweet and affecting film. Also, the follow up documentary that Lifetime is broadcasting, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Icon, is excellent. I highly urge everyone to check it out. (For those still convinced they won’t be able to stomach the movie, at the very least fast forward to The Ultimate Icon-it’s well worth it!).

I can honestly say, however, that Searching For Neverland has at least redeemed my hope that a decent MJ biopic can still be made. All it takes is a little heart and respect for who the man was. Unfortunately, it will still be found lacking in some regards. Viewers still will not come away with any enlightened view of Jackson’s philanthropy or work as a humanitarian. And they won’t learn anything new about Michael Jackson, the artist (however, as mentioned, the follow-up documentary The Ultimate Icon pretty much covers that ground). What we’re left with is, quite simply, a poignant and tender tale of a father’s love. But maybe that is all it really needs to be.

Now if we can just work on Navi’s accent (lol) and if the estate would loosen the purse strings on Michael’s music, we just might finally get ourselves a halfway decent MJ biopic.

Just What The Hell Is A “Respectable” Death, Anyway?

The Media-Fueled "Rivalry" Is Adding A Macabre Final Chapter.
The Media-Fueled “Rivalry” Is Adding A Macabre Final Chapter.

I was starting to feel, finally, that it was time to move on from the MJ/Prince-related topics, but with the toxicology reports from Prince’s autopsy finally in, and with the sense of closure that comes from having an official cause of death, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to comment on yet one more point of comparison between these two artists for which the media has seen fit to compare, whether fairly or not. I am talking, of course, about the matter of their deaths.

Propofol-Use

Fentanyl Citrate, a CLASS II Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the secure area of a local hospital Friday, July10, 2009. Joe Amon / The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

At least, with the toxicology reports in, we now have some answers as to what killed Prince-acute fentanyl toxicity. We also know that  according to the coroner’s report, it was a self administered fatal dose. That puts to rest at least one question-we know now that all of the rumors of Prince having died of a drug related death are true, and we know the drug that was the culprit. Frankly, I never bought the story of the flu (yes, the flu can certainly be nasty, but let’s get real, the chances of it killing an otherwise healthy 57-year-old with access to the best in medical care just does not compute) but it still leaves a lot of puzzling and disturbing questions, of course, which I’m sure (just as we saw with Michael) will result in continued investigations, as well as  endless conspiracy theories, tabloid stories, and future books to be written. The fact that Prince died alone, with no apparent witnesses, will no doubt only further serve to deepen the mystery of “what really happened.”  And we still don’t know the full story of the circumstances that led him down this path. The only thing we can fully ascertain is that chronic pain-the debilitating chronic pain of a performer’s body that has come from years of wearing the body down through high intensity performances-and lack of adequate health care are the primary causes. (And yes, I am aware that this may sound contradictory to what I said earlier, but there is a vast difference between being able to afford adequate health care and actually having it). And by lack of adequate health care, I mean the lack of anyone with medical credentials who cares anything for this person’s well being other than as a never ending supply of cash. If looked at from that perspective, then yes, Michael and Prince at least died with that much in common. But I think we have to be very careful about lumping both of their deaths into the same tragic mold. Yes, we might say both came to very tragic ends, but the manner in which both died bear very striking differences that have to be considered. If we rely solely on media reports, however, we are never going to get that truth. You see, the media loves nothing better than stories of tragic, fallen superstars who ultimately do themselves in due to their own inability to cope. Just look at how the media continues to perpetuate the false story of Michael Jackson having died from a “prescription drug overdose” with every story written about him, despite having had full public access to the autopsy report for nearly seven years (and yes, even despite a fully televised trial leading to the conviction of his doctor Conrad Murray on the charge of manslaughter!).

Recent Typical Media Headline From ibtimes.com:

Like Michael Jackson, Prince Was Overprescribed Drugs By ‘Friendly’ Doctor: Report

 

The truth of Michael Jackson’s death has become, unfortunately, muddled by this inaccurate reporting. Remember Michael’s own words: “If a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth.” The truth, as verified by his official autopsy report, is that Michael Jackson did not die from anything even remotely resembling a prescription drug overdose. His death was a result of acute propofol intoxication, administered by another’s hands (hence the reason why his death was officially ruled as a “homicide”). In this regard, we might argue that dying from propofol intoxication is still a drug-related death. But propofol is a surgical anesthetic; it is not a prescription drug. Part of the issue I have with this constant repetition of the erroneous “death from a prescription drug overdose” is that, first of all, it is patently false; secondly, it is lazy journalism, and third, it conjures for the uninformed reader a sense that Michael, like so many troubled celebrities before him, simply self administered his own end, whether willfully or accidentally, with a handful of sleeping pills. Or else they are left with the stereotypical image of another junkie shooting himself up with a fatal overdose.

Slowly but surely, the media is writing the narrative of his death that suits them.
Slowly but surely, the media is writing the narrative of his death that suits them.

To be sure, many celebrity deaths have occurred just that way, and it is no less tragic. But what I find most disturbing in the case of Michael Jackson is the media’s determination to write the narrative of Michael’s death in the manner that suits them, while blatantly ignoring all readily available evidence that either contradicts the narrative or makes it a lot more difficult to explain. It is certainly much more convenient-and less troublesome-to simply throw around the “death by prescription drug overdose” phrase than to do any actual research or to ask the tough questions. It irks me even more when such quotes are thrown into otherwise positive pieces about Michael’s art or humanitarianism. It bothers me because even when such pieces are sympathetic (as a lot of them are) it is still perpetuating false information. The danger in this is that, just as Michael prophesied, it is a falsification that is slowly becoming an accepted truth through sheer dent of repetition. When even well meaning writers and journalists are blindly repeating the “prescription drug overdose” lie (not because of malice but because they have simply been led to believe it is an accepted fact) we know it has become a problem-at the very least, it is a problem for those of us who care about truth and who care about justice. With another June 25th anniversary fast approaching, I am dreading what I know will be another onslaught of death anniversary “tribute” articles that will no doubt, once again, continue to perpetuate the “Jackson died from an overdose of prescription drugs” lie. Already, since Prince’s death in April, there has been no shortage of articles relating his death to Michael’s. I imagine that as June 25th approaches, we will be seeing a lot more of these memorial tributes that will no doubt laud their artistry on the one hand while, in the same breath, condemning them for what will be perceived as their shared inability to cope with the pressures of fame and addiction.

Allow me to back up a bit and talk about what prompted this post. On April 21, 2016, the day that Prince died, Nancy Grace hosted a call-in segment in which she was asked about the possibility of foul play in Prince’s death. Granted, it was the caller who invited the Michael Jackson comparison but it was Nancy Grace who chose to give the off-the-cuff and grossly misinformed answer that no, their deaths (like their lives) couldn’t be compared. Prince, she said, had died a “respectable death” and “wasn’t strung out on drugs; he didn’t need propofol to go to sleep.” She went on to speak of Prince as being “normal like us” (my reaction to that: since when?” and further insulted Michael’s work ethic by needlessly adding that “Prince went to work everyday” (never mind, I suppose, that Michael died while in the midst of a grueling rehearsal schedule). She also made a point of saying that Prince was someone who had remained “in control” of his life.  Actually, I would agree with that statement but for reasons quite different than hers.

I know that I am probably going to get an onslaught of comments about how we shouldn’t get worked up over anything Nancy Grace says, and that her opinions are basically worthless. But all the same, the comments are troublesome because they serve as a microcosm for the media in general and for the prevailing attitudes and double standards in reporting on Michael Jackson’s life or death. It also troubles me because this was the same woman who covered the Murray trial extensively for HLN and who knows the in’s and out’s of all the ugly information that surfaced in that trial; the same woman who went on nightly tirades against Conrad Murray for leaving Michael to die, as she put it, “surrounded by his own urine.” Her rants then were all in favor of Murray’s conviction, and Michael was the victim whose life had been taken. Now, suddenly, three years later,  she seems to have conveniently forgotten all of that, and it’s back to Michael’s death as an orchestrated will of his own inherently weak character.

Vitriolic (But Truthful!) Response to Nancy Grace’s Comments From a Prince Fan

Well, it wasn’t even within twenty-four hours of Nancy Grace’s tirade when the reports began to leak that Prince’s death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose (among many other crazy rumors that quickly spread throughout the media and tabloids). I bided my time, however, determined not to prematurely jump on that wagon until the official toxicology reports were in. Now that they are, I have to ask-is Nancy Grace eating another crow sandwich? And does it taste as nasty as the one she had to swallow on June 13th, 2005?

Don’t get me wrong, Prince’s death was a terrible tragedy. So was Michael’s. Any death, we might argue, is tragic unless, maybe, for the people who get to make it past ninety and who expire peacefully in bed surrounded by family. My real issue-and motivation for writing this piece-is that when it comes to the celebrity world and untimely deaths, it seems ludicrous to somehow hold up one celebrity’s manner of death as superior to another’s. And of all the “MJ vs. Prince” points of comparison-some fun, some intriguing, some ridiculous and some just inane-this comparison is probably one that has to rank among the most disturbing. It only goes to show that even when it comes to the manner in which a celebrity exits this life, Michael is still somehow held to an unfair double standard. Prince certainly didn’t die anymore or less of a “respectable” death than Michael Jackson, and depending on one’s view of these things, there were certainly many commanalities as well as important differences.  In this post, I would like to look at some of those important differences, and why their deaths cannot be simply lumped into the same category. But I will also examine those important commonalities, as well, which I do think must serve as a vital warning of what is happening in the medical profession in regards to celebrity care.

First of all, we have to keep in mind that we still do not have all of the facts yet about Prince’s death. Many media outlets have been falsely reporting that Prince’s official autopsy report has been released. It hasn’t. We still do not have a full autopsy report, nor the toxicology report. What has been released to the media is simply a coroner medical report press release, and that press release only states some very basic information. It does not go into the full clinical details of the autopsy procedure or its findings. So it is not a lot to go on, actually. But for the time being it is all we have. And based on that information, we  at least know the official cause of death as well as the official coroner ruling-accidental (a key component I will be examining).

However, Michael Jackson’s full autopsy report has been public record for some time, as well as his full toxicology report, and those documents are a key component for looking at important differences in how he and Prince died, and why they died. While much of this information is going to be old news to MJ fans, it bears repeating here due to the media’s reluctance to discuss the real facts of Michael’s death. That reluctance has continued to perpetuate myths that are only growing-rather than diminishing-with every passing year, especially given the media’s refusal to treat with any degree of seriousness the official coroner ruling of “homicide” (let alone the fact that prosecutor David Walgreen had lobbied hard to get a charge of second degree murder against Conrad Murray, rather than manslaughter).

But let’s look at what we have, and what we do know.

Michael Jackson Coroner Medical Report:

michael autopsy3

Prince Coroner Medical Report:

prince_autopsy_report

As these two official documents show, their manner of deaths were completely different, and rendered under completely different circumstances. The only similarity is that both died from some form of chemical toxicity. But Prince’s death was ruled to be caused by a self-administered fatal dose of fentanyl, a powerful  opioid whose potency is roughly equivalent to heroin, and in fact, is often mixed with heroin or sold as a heroin substitute.  The coroner ruling of the death was accidental. If we rule out all of the various theories of suicide and murder (although I don’t think those can ever be ruled out completely) this means that Prince, acting of his own free will, chose to administer the drug that ended his life. He probably didn’t mean to die (though I have to admit, I do find many of the details around his death a bit odd, such as the all black clothing and being found in the elevator: that could have only been intentional or else one of the greatest coincidences among pop star deaths) but the end result was the same.

Now let’s look at what Michael Jackson’s coroner medical report reveals. The cause of death is listed as ” acute propofol intoxication.” Propofol, usually marketed under the brand name of Diprivan, is not an opioid but a surgical anesthetic. It can, of course, mimic some of the effects of an opioid, but its general purpose is to render unconsciousness, not euphoria. And unlike fentanyl, it is seldom used for recreational purposes (as Wikipedia reports, largely because of the monitoring that is required to use the drug safely). In the small percentage of cases where the drug  has been known to be used recreationally, it has mostly been by-surprise, surprise!- those in the medical profession, whose work allows them easy access to the drug. Obviously, for the casual drug user, even if the effects of injecting propofol were worth the risks, the sheer unavailability of propofol outside of a hospital setting makes it an unlikely choice for simply “getting high.” It is not, in other words, to be confused with painkiller opioids or prescription meds that can be easily obtained with a prescription (legit or otherwise). This brings us to the second important difference between how Michael and Prince died.

Michael’s death was ruled as a “homicide,” meaning he did not die by his own hand-an important distinction. The medical report clearly spells out: “Intravenous injection by another.” And although Murray’s defense tried to make the argument that Michael had self injected (among many conflicting and confusing theories they desperately offered up at trial) the report clarified exactly why and how the ruling of “homicide,” rather than “accidental,” was justified. Indeed, it is naive to think that the medical and coroner professionals who were putting this report together would not have considered the possibility of a self administered injection. Thus, considerable space was dedicated in the report to explaining the reasons why the determination of of a homicide ruling was appropriate, and why the idea of a self administered injection was all but impossible:

michael autopsy 7 standard of care

 

michael autopsy 6 standard of care

It was this official ruling which paved the way for Michael’s death being investigated as a homicide, eventually resulting in the conviction of Conrad Murray.

But what about the so-called “benzodiazepine effect?” Would that not justify the claims of a “prescription drug overdose” death? Not exactly. The report clearly states that the benzodiazepines detected were not direct causes of death, and are consistent with the reports of what Murray had given him that night. Even further revealing is the toxicology report. Of all the chemical substances that were tested for, only six came back positive (discounting Lidocaine, which is simply a drug used to prepare the area of injection for propofol, and is routine procedure for its administration, especially for patients with smaller veins who are exceptionally sensitive to pain-as Michael reportedly was). If we discount propofol-the known direct cause of death, the Lidocaine (standard procedure) and Ephedrine (generally only used as a mild stimulant-Michael had died as a direct result of cardiac and respiratory depression, so we can rule that out)) this leaves only the drugs we already know, via Murray’s statement, that were administered to Michael that night by his hand, and most of those, including midazolam, are also part of routine procedure in conjunction with the administering of propofol:

michael toxicology2

 

But what about those who will argue that Murray was merely abiding by Michael’s wishes? If I have heard that argument-“If it hadn’t been Murray, it would have been some other doctor”-once, I have heard it a million times. For Conrad Murray, it remains his personal mantra; indeed, his entire defense was built on it. He has already given a media interview to Inside Edition  since Prince’s death, claiming that “Prince’s doctor will need  to get  a good attorney” (why the media even continues to give this man a platform is beyond me, but that is an old argument I have already beaten in many previous posts).

Why Does The Media Continue To Give This Convicted Killer A Platform?
Why Does The Media Continue To Give This Convicted Killer A Platform?

This is precisely why the Michael Jackson death case remains so muddled-and it is the loophole through which the media continues to justify its relentless insistence on lumping his death with other similar celebrity self-administered overdose deaths (Prince’s included). But even if we grant that Murray wasn’t the first doctor to introduce to Michael the idea of using propofol as a sleep aid, we still have to consider the peculiarities of this particular case. During the AEG trial, it was revealed that Murray had been administering this “treatment” to Michael on a nightly basis for over two months, an unprecedented experiment in the human body’s tolerance for this drug, and which had resulted according to expert witness  testimony during the trial as a kind of slow, systematic poisoning. Whether it was intentional or not is beside the point.  However one looks at it, the end result was the same-Michael had died as a direct result of his treatment at another’s hands. Any reasonable person would see this goes well beyond the more typical scenario of a doctor (or many doctors) whose biggest culpability is writing excessive prescriptions for their celebrity patients. We could argue, certainly, that those doctors are still culpable for those deaths, but it is a far more distant culpability than the direct actions of a physician who takes his patient’s life with his own hands, and as a direct result of his own actions. One can argue that the patient still makes a conscious choice when they decide to take the prescribed pills, especially in excessive dosage. In Michael’s unique case, the drugs were being directly administered by a doctor who certainly should have known better, and who had an obligation according to the Hippocratic oath to look out for the well being of his patient (regardless of how much money he was receiving, or what the patient may want).

But we also cannot afford to completely dismiss the similarities of their deaths. Both the untimely deaths of Michael and Prince are part of the new wave of musician deaths that have resulted-not from recreational drug overdoses as was common in years past-but as a result of prescription drugs and/or as a direct result of physician malpractice and greed. From an Inquisitor article on the rise of celebrity prescription overdoses (yes, again, another article that lumps the death of Michael Jackson in with all the other “celebrity prescription overdose deaths, but bear with me-this part of the article is worth quoting):

The Perfect Storm

A “perfect storm” is defined as a rare combination of events or circumstances that converge to create an unusually bad situation. In the case of these celebrities, in pretty much every single case, their perfect storm consisted of the same three attributes: access to doctors that would prescribe them anything; money to be able to afford it; yes-men surrounding them who didn’t have the courage to tell them they shouldn’t do it, and a lot of alone time, or a combination of the last two.

CNBC reported on a survey that was released by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found “44 percent of Americans said they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.” Most Americans believe the government is not doing enough to provide health care resources for the people who are addicted to prescription painkillers (66 percent), or heroin (62 percent).
Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/3061420/celebrities-prescription-drugs-and-the-rise-in-overdose-deaths/#7eGJGcOk43614srE.99

 

What we do know of Prince’s situation is that he had actively sought help for his addiction, but that “help” arrived too late. His body was discovered by the son of the addiction specialist who had arrived into town that very morning to begin rehabilitation therapy. The media was also quick to pounce on another morbid fact after the medical report was released: The paparazzi shots taken of Prince as he left a local Walgreen’s pharmacy on Wednesday evening, April 20th, 2016, evidently show him wearing the same black clothes he would later be found in, and most likely carrying the bag containing the fatal contents.

The Mantra of The Paparazzi: "You Just Never Know When That Random Pic You Snapped Is Going To Prove Valuable"
The Mantra of The Paparazzi: “You Just Never Know When That Random Pic You Snapped Is Going To Prove Valuable”

While this post may have been inspired, to some extent, as a defense reaction to Nancy Grace’s comments and my continued irritation with the media’s continual insistence on ignoring the facts of Michael Jackson’s death, it is definitely not my intent to pass judgement on Prince for the way he died. Rather, I think we do owe it to ourselves to examine their commonalities. However we may add or subtract the details, the fact remains that we have lost two amazing music legends way too soon, and it is a crime against humanity if we don’t at least pause for a moment to ask ourselves why we lost both Michael Jackson and Prince before either could make it past their fifth decade. Both deaths occurred without reliable witnesses, compounding the mystery and speculation. The only ironic difference we might note is that if Prince hadn’t been left alone-if someone had been on the premises to witness the onset of a medical emergency-he would probably be alive today. On the other hand, if Michael had been alone (without Conrad Murray present) he would probably still be alive. Personally, I have my own theories about the circumstances of Michael’s death, as I related in this post last year, and conversely, I have found some of the circumstances surrounding Prince’s death to be disturbing and puzzling as well, but since the official accounts are all that we can go on without entering the realm of conspiracy theories, that is where I will leave it for now. Ultimately, the thing they shared most was pain-not necessarily emotional, though we can’t ignore that aspect of it-but the sheer physical pain of a dancer’s body that has worn itself down through years of demands. By far, one of the best (certainly one of the most profound and sympathetic) pieces to come out since Prince’s death was an article from Lorraine Berry titled “Prince Did Not Die From Pain Pills-He Died From Chronic Pain.” I would highly urge everyone to click on the link and read the article in its entirety. I can only quote a small excerpt here, but it is an excerpt that certainly highlights what I have said here:

Prince was not addicted to pain medication. Prince had a medical condition — chronic pain — which is criminally under-treated. It is also a medical problem that is more likely to be reacted to with stigma and condescension, even challenges about the patient’s moral character, or, if male, masculinity. Pain is still the condition that we treat by telling its sufferers to just “suck it up,” or “maintain a stiff upper lip,” or to stop acting like a “wuss.” And yet, when someone dies from complications of the disease — for that is what chronic pain is — we react with shock and pity and anger that the person died from a drug overdose. Some outlets make money off our confusion about overdose and medications and our fascination with drugs.

In another interesting excerpt, Berry notes the racial discrepancies in the medical profession for dealing with pain and very real medical issues:

Into the mix must surely be added the element of race. Prince was a black man. Strong racial disparities in how doctors and other medical staff respond to pain in the emergency room has been documented. For example, a recent study published in one of the most prestigious pediatrics journals studied the treatment of appendicitis, a condition that is often initially suspected after a “chandelier test.” In medical slang, if a doctor places her hand on the pain point in the lower abdomen affected by the pain of an inflamed appendix, the patient will try to jump up into the metaphoric chandelier on the ceiling above their head.
And yet, even here, black kids cannot get a break.

“Our findings suggest that there are racial disparities in opioid administration to children with appendicitis,” wrote one of the lead researchers, Dr. Monika Goyal.

“Our findings suggest that although clinicians may recognize pain equally across racial groups, they may be reacting to the pain differently by treating black patients with nonopioid analgesia, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, while treating white patients with opioid analgesia for similar pain.”
Similar studies have documented that African Americans’ chest pain is less likely to be diagnosed correctly as a heart attack. Other studies have attempted to measure whether African Americans have a “lower pain threshold.” Similar studies about why women’s pain is not taken seriously in emergency rooms have also been produced.

However, while treating Prince’s death with unusual insight and compassion, even Berry is guilty of trying to hold his death as somehow “above” Michael Jackson’s when she casually lumps Michael’s death in with Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, etc as typical celebrity “drug deaths” from heroin and other illegal substances. Ironically, she chastises the media for “pushing Prince toward that precipice over which we have pushed Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Michael Jackson, and every other artist who has died from drugs in the past century” while she, herself, contributes to the continued confusion and media misrepresentation of Michael Jackson’s death. In some ways, as much as I loved the rest of her article, it is merely another variation of a trope we have seen far too often, and far too disturbingly, in the last two months-the need to build Prince up by tearing Michael down. But when this even comes down to the manner of their deaths, I say something has to give.

First, we need to look at the facts. Second, we need to get past this societal tendency to judge-not only in judging other peoples’ pain, but in judging their tolerance for pain as well as the methods they may choose to cope. When I look at the deaths of both Michael and Prince, and the means by which both were taken out, one fact stands abundantly clear above all others-both died as a result of craving oblivion. That is what both fentanyl and propofol provide. I have long wondered (and granted this is just a personal theory of mine) if part of Michael’s attraction to propofol over other means of sleep aids may have been desire for the complete, dreamless state it provides (even dreams are a state of consciousness, and can be terrifying; propofol simply brings on a state of temporary non-existence). And we cannot begin to understand why either of them died until we are prepared to understand the root causes of their need to obliterate pain and to have oblivion from the demands of consciousness. In that regard, I think we have a long, long way to go-and until we get there, maybe it is best to refrain from our shallow judgments. How do we begin to judge what is a “respectable” death, especially in the celebrity world? I’m reminded of the comments which that old geezer Gene Simmons recently took heat for, when he likewise tried to claim that “David Bowie’s death was a tragedy; Prince’s death was just pathetic.” Aside from the fact that he was speaking out prematurely (Prince’s autopsy results weren’t even in at the time) there are simply too many fallacies in a statement like that. How do we know that even David Bowie’s liver cancer wasn’t a direct or indirect result of his lifestyle and his partying days? The answer is simply that we don’t.  Every death, ultimately, has its cause-even a so-called “respectable” death like cancer. In the end, it all comes down to a common factor-the lungs stop breathing, and the heart stops beating. That is all. Death shows no favoritism, either in who it claims or how, or why. True, some deaths are perhaps more avoidable than others, and that is the gauge by which we tend to judge them, especially for celebrities whose entire lives have already been an open book for our greedy consumption. In the case of Michael and Prince, we owe it to both of them to continue putting the pressure on unethical doctors who take advantage of the vulnerabilities of celebrity patients. Their deaths and the circumstances that led to them are indeed very different in many critical ways-certainly we can’t afford to overlook the crucial difference between a homicide case and a self-administered accidental overdose. But it is equally irresponsible to ignore their tragic similarities.

CfncmkLWEAEP4IwPerhaps, ultimately, we owe it to both of them to stop comparing their deaths, especially simply for the sake of exploitative sensationalism , or simply to add yet one more final, macabre chapter to the “Who Is Better” rivalry.prince-1-671x377

 

If we have to talk about why they died, we had better be prepared to look equally hard and critically at our own failings, and journalists, especially, must be held accountable for inaccurate reporting that tries to cast every premature celebrity death  in the same mold. If not, then we are better served by investing our energy and focus to where it matters most-cherishing their lives and celebrating the legacy they left.