Category Archives: Death and Investigation

MJ’s Death and the Ongoing Investigation

From “Searching For Neverland” To “Life After Neverland”

paris-jackson-rolling-stone-cover-b499cf9c-3bdb-44d2-bb11-2ea90e8b4d2eIn the time since I was last able to post, two controversial issues have rocked the MJ fandom and have ensured that the name Michael Jackson remains a hot commodity in the headlines. I am referring to the outrage that erupted over SkyArt’s “Urban Myths” and the casting of the very white Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, the resultant cancellation of that project (only to be replaced within 24 hours by news of another MJ film project–the Lifetime project entitled “Searching For Neverland”) and, finally, Paris Jackson’s explosive Rolling Stone interview which was released January 24. The title of that interview, fittingly enough, was “Life After Neverland.” Both events have also ushered in their share of controversy, with race being a common thread that linked much of the controversy over both.

Look, I KNOW this is what they were going for…but that didn’t make this ridiculous casting disaster anymore palatable!

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When rightful public and social media protests led to the cancellation of the “Urban Myths” episode, there was an immediate backlash from those who decried “censorship” and were incensed that politically correct protests over casting a white actor to play a black icon could lead to the cancellation of a project-especially a project that, presumably, had already been filmed and was set to air. The funny thing is that, as I read through many of the comments, I got the distinct feeling that most of these people probably didn’t even really care that much about this silly TV episode, and that probably most of the ones raising the biggest hoot over it wouldn’t have even tuned in to watch it, anyway. But as usual, everyone has an opinion if the subject happens to involve the name Michael Jackson. I also got the distinct feeling that their protests and supposed “outrage” wouldn’t have been half so vehement had the focus been any other famous black entertainer besides Michael Jackson. In fact, they probably would have sided with the protesters. But apparently, because Michael Jackson’s physical appearance did become “white” (actually devoid of pigment) in his last two decades, many apparently felt that made it “okay” to cast a white man to play him. To be fair, the entire “Urban Myths” series is intended as a comedic parody of the celebrities it portrays, and Michael Jackson is not the only celebrity being held up for spoofing in the series. Many well respected icons such as Bob Dylan are also getting the treatment in this series, and there does not seem to be any campaigns afoot to halt their episodes. Moreover, there is a pretty clear disclaimer that these tales are, in fact, urban myths that are not supposed to be taken as factual (hence the show’s subtitle of “True-ISH stories”). However, there are much more complex issues at stake that made the Jackson themed episode especially tasteless. If fans and family had been angry before at the knowledge of Joseph Fiennes’s casting, it was as nothing compared to the outrage that hit when the promotional trailer for the episode was released. The clip featured what promised to be a buffoonish parody of Michael Jackson as some sort of real life mix between The Mad Hatter and Willie Wonka who, while on a fictional trip to escape 9/11, apparently makes random stops to romp through the woods exploring nature.

The questionable casting decision of Fiennes aside, I don’t think the portrayal was intended to be disrespectful so much as it was simply doing what parodies do-that is, exaggerating certain characteristics of the subject for comedic effect. During this era, Michael often did come across as a kind of whimsical, sprite-like figure who espoused the wonders of nature and the importance of maintaining childlike innocence. At the same time, however, this was only one facet of what we know was a very complex artist and individual, and to reduce his entire persona to such a one note portrayal is both insulting and misleading (indeed, such portrayals largely remain the reason Jackson remains so misunderstood by the public at large). One only has to look at that atrocious Man in the Mirror TV movie from 2004 to realize how damaging such portrayals have been. At best, these portrayals give the impression of an innocent man/child. But they also reduce him to seemingly nothing more than a deluded-even mentally ill- individual out of touch with reality. I once had a conversation about Michael Jackson with a bus driver who said she had always loved his music but was convinced “that boy needed some therapy or something.” I asked what had led her to that conclusion. He “needed therapy” based on what criteria, exactly? I asked her if she had even read that much about him. “No,” she answered honestly, “but I saw that movie where he was just running and jumping around with that bunch of kids. It was bizarre.” Of course, she couldn’t remember what film she was referring to, but I knew instantly. She was talking about Man in the Mirror.

Well, here’s the thing: That movie, too, had some good intentions. If anything, the writers seemed convinced they were presenting a balanced portrayal of Michael that might lead to some casting of public doubt on his guilt as the Arvizo trial approached. At the same time, they seemed to think that the only way Michael could possibly be acquitted in the court of public opinion was by portraying him as a delusional and regressed man/child-the Peter Pan myth incarnate.

One day the right project may come along that perfectly captures Michael's quirky, sprite-like charm. But that project hasn't come along yet.
One day the right project may come along that perfectly captures Michael’s quirky, sprite-like charm. But that project hasn’t come along yet.

If a project ever got it right, they could certainly do much with the idea of an idealistic man who truly believed in the power of childlike innocence–one who nevertheless became crushed and ultimately destroyed  by the realities of the corrupt adult world-but that project has yet to surface, and would certainly take a far better and more sensitive writer than any who have thus far turned their hand to a screenplay on Michael Jackson’s life. If such a project were ever to emerge, I would certainly be the first to applaud the courage of bringing it forth. But so far, the biggest challenge that has marred these otherwise well-intentioned projects is that it is difficult, at best, to offer a portrayal that balances that fine line between whimsy, childlike idealism and lunacy. Most films make the mistake of tipping that balance on the side of lunacy, rather than by taking a much needed cue from films like Finding Neverland.

But the truth of the matter is that no Michael Jackson film project is ever going to be totally free from controversy. From casting decisions, to the portrayal itself, to what elements of his life are explored and which are ignored, all will be decisions that are not going to please every critic and certainly not every fan. Even This Is It-a movie that starred the man himself-was not immune to controversy, but instead became one of the first truly polarizing projects to tear apart the fan community.

However, there are reasons why the kinds of portrayals such as what “Urban Myths” was planning are especially dangerous. I know that some will scoff and say, “Lighten up; it’s just a comedy” and I might agree-if this was some occasional, one-off deal or if it was anybody but Michael Jackson, an artist whose reputation has only begun to rehabilitate itself after decades of being dragged through the mud, an artist whose very humanity continues to be fogged by a public narrative forged on tabloid myths and comedy skits. As an artist myself, I appreciate the concept of parody and fully support the freedom of artistic expression. At the same time, as someone who admires Michael Jackson in all of his three dimensional complexity, I understandably have issues with the insistence on constantly casting him into the same cliched and worn-out mold, which only serve to reinforce misconceptions that many already hold (as Michael himself once said, if you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes the truth).

I applaud SkyArt’s decision to cancel the airing of the episode (although I suspect it will still surface in some form). But the upshot of the matter was that the decision to cancel the show led to a predictably severe backlash in which ill informed commenters, bloggers, and journalists felt compelled to put in their two cents’ worth of opinions about Michael Jackson and race. Out came the usual parade of cliches’: “He wasn’t black by 2001; he was white”; “Well, he wanted to be white, anyway” and on and on. Inevitably, such typical comments would often be framed by the even more typical question of white privilege: “What’s the big deal?” I remember getting so heated with one particular poster on SkyTV’s Twitter that I wrote, “Sure, and let’s bring back the days of minstrel shows, black face comedy and Italians in bad wigs playing Native Americans. I mean, what’s the big deal?”

However, I was quickly brought to an even more unsettling revelation. There was a time when such a response might have provoked a genuine, “Gee, I never thought about it like that.” But this is the era of Trump’s America, where all notions of what have been perceived as politically correct progress seem to be regressing. I am no longer convinced that I am dealing with individuals who are even remotely capable of feeling shamed by such statements.

Similarly, Paris’s statement in her Rolling Stone interview that she identifies herself as a black woman (let’s keep in mind she had a black father and was raised as a Jackson) unleashed another round of furor from this same faction. Within 24 hours of the interview going public, BET and Wendy Williams both made headlines with statements like, “Not everyone is on board with Paris identifying as black” as if it is really supposed to matter who is “on board” with it or not.

One would certainly think that someone like Wendy Williams-who herself has had to endure much controversy, gossip, and speculation about whether or not she is, in fact, trans gender-would be more sympathetic to Paris. And, look, I get what Williams was saying, that someone like Paris will never have to worry about the stigmas of racial profiling, but the same argument could be made for any biracial person who just happens to look more like their “light complexioned” side of the family. To single Paris out for this kind of treatment is not only unfair to her, it is a slap in the face to every person of mixed race ethnicity, especially those who choose to identify with the side they least physically resemble. I am mixed Native American and Irish ancestry. For all outward appearances, I look “white” but am proud to identify myself as Native American. Among my relatives, I have many dark skinned, black haired and brown eyed siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who do show this lineage. But just because my genes determined that I would look more like my European ancestors does not change the fact that, on the inside, my blood is still more than half Cherokee. Yet I know how racial snobbery works. I have seen it and have myself been a target for it. For people like me, full blooded Natives will often point fingers and make the same argument: “Look at you. You can be Indian by choice. You have no idea what it’s like to have grown up on a reservation, to get the dirty looks and to be spit on when you go into town,” etc etc.” Part of me acknowledges they are right, of course. I don’t have to worry that I’m going to be pulled over and harassed by police because I fit some dark skinned profile or stereotype that they have of a person with brown or black skin. By the same token, however, it makes me resentful when I feel that my right to identify as I choose is being infringed upon by people who know nothing of my family history or my genetic makeup. Always, the first defensive thought that snaps into my mind (and which I often have to bite my tongue to refrain from saying) is that “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I had olive skin, black hair and brown eyes.”

I am stating this , of course, because it has direct correlation to what I see happening now. No one would be making those hateful comments to Paris if she had come out looking, I suppose, more like a Jackson and perhaps less like her white mother Debbie. But it goes even deeper than that. The real source of the outrage stems from something much deeper, uglier, and more psychologically complex, which is the deeply and culturally ingrained belief that Michael Jackson wanted to be white (not just that he had a skin disease) and that he somehow went out of his way to “purchase” white children that are not biologically his. This belief is now so persistent that no amount of evidence to the contrary, no statements from Michael Jackson or from his children themselves, can persuade them to any other view. I doubt at this point that even a confirmed DNA test would do much to change this view. I am firmly convinced now that people are going to continue to believe whatever they choose to believe about Michael Jackson or his children regardless of any evidence that might stand in direct contradiction to those beliefs.

In other words, there seems to be a deeply ingrained sense of justification on the public’s part that both Michael and his children are lying (or in denial or some extreme case of delusion) and therefore it is perfectly justifiable to hurl insults and to attempt a kind of “calling out” with every interview and every public statement uttered. One truly has to wonder why so many feel the need to be so seriously invested in this topic, and why race continues to be the public’s most ongoing concern when it comes to Michael Jackson’s children.

The resentment stems from a deeply ingrained public belief that Michael lied-and that his children are continuing to perpetuate that lie. But such excuses are really nothing but a pretext to justify media bullying.
The resentment stems from a deeply ingrained public belief that Michael lied-and that his children are continuing to perpetuate that lie. But such excuses are really nothing but a pretext to justify media bullying.

Nevertheless, I didn’t really start out here to make this a commentary on Michael, his children and race. It’s just that all of these recent events-and the public’s reactions to them-have served as eye openers in reminding me of just how hateful human nature can be, but I am referring to much more than just the usual barrage of hateful comments that pepper any article relating to Michael Jackson or his race or his children. What has struck me even more deeply this time is the absolute and delusional sense of entitlement that the media, the public-and yes, even some fans-have displayed in regard to the Jackson family, their race and even their genetics. The simple fact is that people somehow feel entitled to bully Michael’s children-and to continue to bully their father from the grave-out of some enraged sense of entitled belief that it is okay because “they aren’t really his biological children,” or “they aren’t really black” and because it has become all too easy now to pick apart anything they say as either a result of outright lying, or as a by product of some delusional upbringing. Sadly, if this only came from the media or the usual faction of MJ hater internet trolls, it would be easy enough to excuse. But now it seems to have even trickled down to the fandom, and over the last few years, I have seen an alarming and polarizing divisiveness growing over Michael’s children. It started back in 2012 when Paris first sounded the alarm on social media about her grandmother Katherine’s “kidnapping” by relatives, and since then has escalated as the children have matured and come into their own, all of which has included their fair share of controversial tweets and sometimes polarizing stances on controversial issues. For example, when Prince Jackson spoke out publicly in support of “All Lives Matter,” he was immediately attacked on social media by fans who called him “white” and said that he was not Michael’s son. I was aghast and appalled to see such hurtful comments being hurled at Michael’s son by his own supposed “fans.” It’s not that I think we have to agree with everything they say. What he said was certainly controversial, coming from the son of the man who gave us “They Don’t Care About Us” (but, also, let’s not forget his father was the same man who gave us “Heal the World”). I understand why “All Lives Matter” is an affront to “Black Lives Matter” but my point is that there are ways to disagree without resorting to personal attacks. Those fans who tweeted to Prince that he was “not his father’s son” bespoke of something truly evil that I fear lies simmering just beneath the surface of the fandom, and this is a genuine distrust/hatred of his children by some factions (due to nothing more than their light skinned appearance)which has only intensified since they have come of age, old enough to forage their own identities beyond their father’s and to state their own opinions. It reminds me of some of the uglier aspects that I see happening right now in our country, where certain segments feel they have squirmed too long under the yoke of political correctness, and now suddenly feel liberated to say exactly what they really felt all along. But to tell this young man that he is not his father’s biological son-something that at best remains only media speculation and has never been confirmed-is crossing a line that no journalist, hater, or fan has the right to cross.

But none of Michael’s children it seems, has both invited and been targeted by this polarization quite like Michael’s strong willed and often outspoken daughter Paris.

Ever since the moment when she took the microphone at her father's memorial, the media and the public have had a fascination with Michael Jackson's beautiful and strong-willed, outspoken daughter Paris.
Ever since the moment when she took the microphone at her father’s memorial, the media and the public have had a fascination with Michael Jackson’s beautiful and strong-willed, outspoken daughter Paris.

Paris’s interview with Rolling Stone was a brutal, no-holds-barred, painfully honest reflection of her life. It had the right title-“Leaving Neverland,” the perfect metaphor for growing up and leaving behind the life of innocence that she had there, with her father. Even though I have my own issues with Rolling Stone‘s refusal to truly give Michael Jackson his due as an artist (as well as their own generally white rock elitist attitude) this piece reminded me of why I have always loved Rolling Stone‘s interviews, from the time when I was a teenager and first set my sights on pop music journalism as one of my life’s callings. Like the best classic Rolling Stone interviews, it is not a piece confined by tight boundaries or restrictive content. It freely rambles at a leisurely pace, thoroughly pulling the reader into Paris’s world and the surreal life-part halcyon; part chaos-that has come with being a child of arguably the most famous icon in the world.

To those like Wendy Williams who questioned, what has Paris done to deserve a Rolling Stone cover and feature, I think it is a fair question to raise. I’m sure there are a million talented music artists who probably deserve that kind of recognition, and here is Paris Jackson whose only claim to fame is a famous name. But let’s face it, ever since that heartbreaking moment when she took the microphone at her father’s memorial and said, “Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine” both the media and the public have been fascinated by her. That fascination has never abated, and as we have watched her grow from that shy and geeky little girl to a beautiful and brazenly outspoken woman, it has only intensified. Among her father’s fans, she is often both applauded for her strong stances and, by turns, referred to as a “spoiled brat” and “poor example” when she refuses to tow a certain, expected line (which has ran the gamut of everything from her fashion choices to her public outspokenness on addiction, race, and other controversial issues).

As for why Paris chose to do the Rolling Stone issue, it’s obvious that she is looking to launch her own show business career. That should be no shocker. It’s what she has wanted ever since she was a small child. Even in an early home video, she can be heard telling her father, “I want to do what you do.”

Paris had set her sights on becoming an actress long before her father’s passing, and although her goals were disrupted in her early teens due to depression and-as we know now, addiction issues-she now seems to be back on track.

paris-and-michael-paris-and-michael-jackson-11020598-500-466Okay, so that might explain the motivation behind doing the interview, but the next question is: Why is this even a polarizing issue? I don’t get the resentment over it. I could see if it had been a negative review full of trash talk about her father, but it isn’t that at all. In fact, she speaks of him as glowingly and lovingly as she always has. And yet, as I read many of the reactions to her interview on social media and fan sites, I was struck by the especial venom that many of these comments dripped with. There were fans who said she was lying (again, this is false entitlement) but lying about what, exactly? Again, the reason I found the comments so puzzling is because I had to wonder if, indeed, we had read the same interview. There were some who said that she cast doubt on Michael’s parenting. Again, I had to ask: Did we read the same interview? I went back over the entire thing with a fine-tooted comb, wondering what I must have possibly missed. And out of all of it, the only thing that could be construed as “bad parenting”-if we really want to split hairs over something like this-is that she says he “had kind of a potty mouth” and could curse “like a sailor.”

To be honest, I, too, felt that the comment on Christopher Columbus-“he fucking slaughtered them”-sounded more like Paris than Michael talking, but I don’t doubt those were Michael’s sentiments and if he told the kids that, then so what? He told them the bloody truth. But this points to a bigger truth that seemed to color perceptions of the entire interview. Every time Paris is making a statement regarding a broader point of truth that she wanted to get across about her father’s values, or to exemplify the kind of person and parent he was, readers start splitting hairs over the way she expresses it, or the words with which the idea is framed, rather than the general truth about her father’s character that she is really trying to get across. Thus, there are readers who will overlook the fact that Michael was teaching his kids the true facts about history because-God forbid, we all know Michael didn’t curse like that! How dare she!

But it goes deeper. It turns out, the more I investigated, the more it seemed that a lot of people were jumping the gun about this interview based on-yes, poor reading comprehension skills, limited attention spans, and a willingness to start spreading rumors about the interview’s contents without even bothering to fact check what was actually said in the piece. First of all, we need to separate the truth of this interview’s contents vs. a lot of the bullshit that has been circulating around the internet.

To address one of the biggest false rumors to come out of this piece, Paris stated that she was “sexually assaulted” at age 14 by a “stranger.” I have since heard some circulating rumors that this individual may have, in fact, been someone known to the family but I cannot confirm that those reports are true. In any event, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that this was an awful, traumatic thing that this girl endured, and yet instead of having sympathy for her, I’ve seen many condemn her for speaking out about it. Why? Well, it seems that some ignorant reporter or someone skimming through the whole article too hurriedly to even be bothered with details-or perhaps simply as a result of willful malice- picked up on that detail and somehow twisted it into an accusation that Paris had stated her father had abused her. There was yet another variation on the bullshit twisting of this incident where some dim witted fan (yes, I said dim witted!) started an internet rumor that Paris claimed she was raped in front of her dad. Where that idea came from I have no earthly idea. From Mars, maybe?

First of all, anyone who has actually used two brain cells and invested fifteen minutes of time to actually read the article knows that is a piece of bullshit lie that is nowhere in the interview. Paris does state she was sexually assaulted, but at age fourteen, which would have placed the alleged incident as over three years after her father passed! Here is the actual passage, as quoted from the article. It is the only mention of sexual assault anywhere in the piece!

There was another trauma that she’s never mentioned in public. When she was 14, a much older “complete stranger” sexually assaulted her, she says. “I don’t wanna give too many details. But it was not a good experience at all, and it was really hard for me, and, at the time, I didn’t tell anybody.”

I saw some fans debating as to whether she may have been referring to the incident having taken place in front of her current boyfriend, Michael Snoddy. But again, this is a clearly a case of people jumping the gun about the interview’s contents without having actually read it, or apparently having read it so hurriedly that they couldn’t be bothered with details. Since she clearly states this happened when she was fourteen, it was long before Michael Snoddy was in her life. But more important to note, there is no mention of the name “Michael” anywhere in conjunction with the incident. I have pasted the passage verbatim exactly as it appeared in the article, and nowhere is the name “Michael” mentioned. She isn’t claiming she was assaulted by someone named “Michael,”; she isn’t claiming to have been assaulted in front of someone named “Michael” so why this has even been a topic for debate-either in the media or among the fandom- I frankly have no earthly idea.

Obviously, this confession, along with many others such as her issues with addiction, depression and mental illness, are not a reflection at all on Michael’s parenting, but rather, a brutally honest confession from his daughter about the traumas she has endured since his passing, mostly as a direct result of losing the only parent she knew and the only one who was able to give her any sense of stability or true guidance in her life. Anyone who chooses to read it otherwise is either seriously challenged in reading comprehension skills or choosing to be willfully selective about the bones they want to pick with Paris. Through it all, my impression between the lines was that of a lost child who is keenly aware that her path would have been much different if her father had lived, but it is the hand she was dealt and she has worked hard to overcome her demons.  That is no one’s fault-either hers or her father’s. It is simply the reality of what she has grown up with as Michael Jackson’s daughter and as a child who lost a parent much too early.

Another controversial passage from the interview that seemed to become the topic of hot debate was whether Paris had referred to her father as “homophobic.” That debate stemmed from this passage:

She says Michael emphasized tolerance. “My dad raised me in a very open-minded house,” she says. “I was eight years old, in love with this female on the cover of a magazine. Instead of yelling at me, like most homophobic parents, he was making fun of me, like, ‘Oh, you got yourself a girlfriend.’

This was more a case of simple bad phrasing, but the actual meaning should be obvious. What is clearly meant by the statement is “unlike many parents who are homophobic” but again, we are splitting hairs since the passage makes it abundantly clear that Michael wasn’t outraged about this incident, but took it in good natured stride. Certainly a topic that remains hotly debated among many factions is that of Michael’s own sexuality, and among fans (most of whom do not question that Michael was straight), there is also ongoing debate as to just how tolerant vs. conservative his own views were. Personally, I believe Michael grew up with very conservative views but, obviously, those views would have ultimately been shaped, challenged, and altered by a life spent in the very liberal world of show business. Either way, that Michael was comfortable enough in his own views to tease his daughter about “having a girlfriend” simply means he wasn’t a parent who was going to get bent out of shape over something like that. Of course, there are also those who will come from the opposite end of the spectrum and say, “Look, he was encouraging his daughter to like women. What kind of parent does that?” so either way, someone is going to get their feathers ruffled. But again, a close reading of the passage reveals neither approbation or condemnation-Paris, at best, was probably only four to seven years old at the time-but like she said, it simply shows him as a tolerant parent and individual.

homicide5Yet another controversial bomb dropped in the article was Paris’s statement that she and the family believe that Michael was murdered. Well, at least for some in the media, this seemed to be a “shocking revelation” although I have no idea why. Michael’s death was ruled a homicide in 2009; was the subject of two highly publicized death trials, and has been the subject of ongoing speculation and conspiracy theories for years. So I’m not exactly sure why now, all of a sudden, the media is all over Paris and acting as if she’s dropped some shocking bomb over her dad’s death or acting as if they think she is sitting on some deep, hidden secret information that no one else knows. I know exactly what Paris was referring to and it is the same beliefs that many of us have held to since 2009. It continues to be a source of futility and frustration because many of us, just like Paris, know that Conrad Murray’s measly two year sentence wasn’t even partial justice, but whatever the case, it definitely is neither “news” nor, at this point, “shocking.” I think Paris puts these statements out there because she is still bothered that more hasn’t been done to bring real closure and justice to this case, yet every time she does, she is setting herself up as a target-sadly, from those who will insist she is delusional “just like the rest of the family” to even those fans who will resent her for keeping that pot stirred. Let’s not forget, the media has already made up its own narrative of how Michael Jackson died. It’s the tragic story of one more superstar who couldn’t handle the pressures of fame, and self destructed as a result. Anything that deviates from that narrative is going to be met with skepticism and ridicule. But since it does make good copy, the tabloids will naturally be all over Paris’s statement as if it is news all over again. Already Radar Online has used it to hatch a phony story about Michael’s body being exhumed for another autopsy-an article so shoddy they even quote FBI specialist Ted Gunderson-deceased since 2011-as if he has just issued a statement regarding the need to exhume Michael’s body! Yet nowhere in that article do they actually bother to connect the dots. No one is disputing the coroner’s ruling that Michael Jackson died from a propofol overdose. That isn’t the point; this isn’t about disputing what killed Michael Jackson. The point that remains is-who did it, how, and why? And was it a slow, methodical poisoning, or a decision made that night to finish him off? These are the kinds of questions that have to be raised. But to resume my original point, it is absolutely ludicrous that the media has swarmed all over Paris for this one comment, to the near exclusion of everything else in her interview (which, let’s not forget, is mostly about all that she has had to overcome, from suicide attempts to being a rape victim).

And, to some extent, I feel anger towards those who will devote more time to worrying over how she makes her father look in an interview-or the impression she is giving of him-than any actual concern for her as a person in her own right. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know the reasons it bothers us every time one of Michael’s kids speaks out. What will he/she say, and will it make their father look bad or cast aspersion on him in some way? We have to somehow get past that. The usual claws are going to come out every time Michael’s kids are featured in any public light-positive or negative. We know the usual questions of, “Are those really his kids?” are going to come up; that stupid people are going to waste more time dissecting their skin tone and eye color than anything they have to say. I felt bad for Paris that she even had to feel the need to “go there” in her interview. She doesn’t owe the world an explanation for her genetic makeup; for her skin color or how she chooses to identify. As if I hadn’t been irked enough by so many of the rude and nonsensical comments I saw in the aftermath of this interview, it was even more appalling to see fans who were seriously discussing the question of why Michael’s kids didn’t just get a DNA test and publicly end all of the speculation?

First of all, Paris did claim at one point to have had a DNA test. She even posted it on her Twitter-“Where do you think my first haircut went?”-but for some reason (surprise, surprise!) the media chose to ignore it completely.Interesting, considering that we know the media is all over those kids’ twitter accounts like hawks! They sure didn’t waste any time pouncing on it when Prince made the statement about “the blood of the covenant” being “thicker than the water of the womb.” This was no surprise, since Prince’s comment appeared to confirm the media narrative, while Paris’s served as a direct contradiction. Apparently, however, Paris deleted the tweet soon afterward. I’m not sure why (perhaps on advice from the family or a publicist) but I do know she put it out there, however briefly. I had even screen capped her tweet (I still have it saved under the title “Paris DNA test”) but now if I try to upload it, I simply get an error message stating that the file cannot be opened. So I am sorry I can only state my word that I did see such a tweet from her, and I am sure there are some fans who will recall it because it was being discussed briefly on social media before it completely disappeared. But it is clear that her statements in the Rolling Stone interview continue to confirm that she apparently has every reason to believe she is a biological Jackson. Do I sometimes get weary with it all and wish the kids would just get a DNA test and put out an official statement? Yes. But as I stated previously, these days I am not so sure that even that would be enough to shut up the doubters. People would still insist on clinging to their own stubborn beliefs; they would say the tests are fake; the family is lying.  Nothing would change.

As for the impression she portrays of her father in the interview, it is the same one we have always been privy to-a devoted father who loved his kids, and was the center of their world. The interview isn’t so much about that as it is about what happened to this young woman when that world was pulled out from under her.  And yet, when incidents happen such as the inexcusable incident of Paris being jumped and cornered by paparazzi at at an airport only days after the interview hit, there were those who said “she brought it on herself” and “it’s not a good look” for Michael Jackson’s daughter to be running in an airport (yes, someone said that).

First of all, any viewing of that footage should be enough to make anyone who says she is “asking for it” to feel shame. Paris is clearly overwhelmed by this ambush (I agree with all those who asked: Where was security?) and cornered like an animal. Again, the media twisted the headlines to make it sound like she “freaked out” over being questioned about her father’s murder, when the reality of what the footage shows us is that she was CLEARLY “freaking out” over being ambushed and bombarded. By the point where she is running and crying is clearly when these reporters should have backed off. When I saw the footage, I immediately thought of Princess Diana and her own father, Michael. When Princess Diana died as a direct result of being chased by paparazzi, one media headline referred to her as a deer being hunted. Yet this is ample proof that the media never has, and never will, learn by its mistakes. When I saw this footage, the first thought that popped into my head was, “This is another suicide in the making.” I hope against hope that I am proven wrong, but in show business, I have seen these vicious cycles repeat themselves so often that nothing truly surprises me anymore. This is, in many ways, the culmination of the tragic cycle that began when Michael, a baby of five, was thrust into the spotlight far too young.

But there is another side of that tale that we must acknowledge, which is that Michael loved his life in the spotlight and, even if given a choice, probably wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I always believed that Michael had a definite love/hate relationship with fame, and to those who question why Paris continues to court this kind of attention even while knowing the consequences, I think this is at least part of the key that we must understand. Prince has said that she is more like Michael than either himself or his brother, and I think this is one of the biggest traits she shares with him-the craving for adulation that drives her to the spotlight on the one hand, coupled with the fragility that makes her easily overwhelmed when it gets to be too much. And it may indeed be a fair criticism to say that Paris has brought some of the negative attention she receives on herself. After all, no one is forcing her to be on social media; no one (at least we can presume!) is forcing her to do interviews. But to argue that Michael’s children should stay silent or somehow make themselves invisible isn’t addressing the true, underlying problem. It needs to start with the sense of entitled bullying that gives others the right to presume that they somehow have more knowledge about what is “right,” what is “correct,” and what is “fact from fiction” in a celebrity’s life than they know themselves.

No doubt, Paris is taking on the role of celebrity with full knowledge of what that life entails. She grew up with it; she saw what it did to and for her father. But she is also an adult now and old enough to make her decisions. She is, after all, the product of a show business family and has grown up immersed in that world. It shouldn’t come as any shocker that she has grown up knowing fully well the inherent risks of celebrity, but also its rewards. As to whether she possesses any actual talent, that remains to be seen. She may well fall flat on her face. Then again, she could usher in the new generation of Jackson family superstars. We just don’t know, and it is too early to tell. But whatever happens, both her mistakes and her triumphs are going to play out on the world’s stage. At some point, those of us who are more invested in her father’s legacy than in hers’ will nevertheless have to learn to let go and let her make her own mistakes. Without those mistakes, she will never be able to flex her wings and grow, either as a human being or as an artist in her own right.

The interview’s publication has no doubt raised a lot of the old arguments as to whether “this is what Michael would have wanted” for his kids. Well, first of all, Michael never explicitly stated that he did not want his children to be in show business. I’m not sure where that myth comes from. In his autobiography Moonwalk Michael stated:

“A lot of celebrities say they don’t want their children to go into show business. I can understand their feelings, but I don’t agree with them. If I had a son or daughter, I’d say, ‘By all means, be my guest. Step right in there. If you want to do it, do it.”-Michael Jackson, excerpted from Moonwalk p. 282.

Ten years later, even after the birth of his first child, his views had not changed. This is what he told Barbara Walters in 1997:

 

It is true that Michael kept his children’s faces masked to protect them from the paparazzi (and from the threat of kidnapping, which I have heard-and frankly believe-was a much bigger concern for him) but even he knew there was going to come a time when the masks would have to come off. He couldn’t keep them hidden forever, and frankly, that was never his intent.

And since Paris’s interview has been released, it has raised another old, often beaten about issue that I think, finally, needs to be laid to rest. Once again, I heard all of the old arguments that “this is not what Michael would have wanted.” These kinds of arguments may have had validity when the children were younger and were being exposed to some often questionable decisions and publicity stunts. But I am not so sure these arguments hold the same validity now that Prince and Paris, at least, are adults and old enough to make their own decisions. Paris will soon be turning nineteen. At some point, it has to cease being about what Michael would have wanted, and has to become about what she wants for her life.

And we must face the hard truth that inevitably would have confronted Michael had he lived-that is, at some point, we have to know when to let go. Prince, Paris and Blanket have indeed had to learn to life in a “life after Neverland.” It hasn’t always been pretty, or easy, but I am still confident that these young people will never do their father anything less than proud.

article-0-0583B1CD000005DC-754_468x411

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.

Book Review: The Murder of Michael Jackson, The Cover Up and Conspiracy by Deborah Stefenaik

murder of michael jacksonHere is another title from the books on my summer catch-up list. Let me just say that, normally, this is the kind of book I would have probably passed over without much of a second thought. Its author is a psychic and medium who claims to have conversations with Michael (as well as, apparently, many of his deceased friends and family members!) from “The Other Side.”  This is actually her second book about her conversations with Michael, although I have not read her first book Another Part of Me. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m skeptical of those who have “The Gift.” In fact, psychic and intuitive abilities run in my own family, and the very reason I was intrigued enough to read this book in the first place is because I quickly realized that the author and I have shared a very eerily similar vision of Michael’s death, which I will get to in due order. I’ll just say that the excerpt I read on Amazon was enough to give me chills. And besides, at under three bucks for the Kindle edition, what did I have to lose, anyway?

That isn’t to say I was entirely ready to put aside my skepticism. I do believe there is certainly life after death and, as stated previously, I do believe that some people are blessed with the intuitive ability to communicate with the dead. But some of the book does sound a little “out there” and requires a certain suspension of belief. The title gives much of it away. It is what it is; a personal memoir written by a psychic medium about the alleged conspiracy theory behind Michael’s death, based on her own conversations with Michael’s spirit and the visions he has allowed her to see through his eyes. Still with me? Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking right about now, and trust me, it was  my initial reaction as well.

But there was one, troubling detail I could not shake off or dismiss: The author and I had had exactly the same vision, with but a few details varied. What’s more, my sister had the same dream, both of us within days of Michael’s passing. So when I read the excerpt from this book, I realized right away that even though I could dismiss it all as BS if I wanted to, there was one troubling detail I could not so easily shake off:  the fact that I now had a record of at least three different people, all of whom, independently of one another, had experienced the same vision of Michael’s death within the same time frame, and all with the same eerily similar details. That knowledge alone was enough to keep me reading. I became intrigued to find out how many more details of my own (and my sister’s) vision would be corroborated by Stefanaik.  I started reading this book on June 25, not exactly a cheery way to top off an already depressing day. But if there was any day appropriate to begin reading a book about Michael’s final hours, well, that would certainly be it.

I don’t wish to provide too many spoilers of Stefenaik’s book. After all, the purpose of any book review is to encourage people to read the book for themselves  (or to run like hell, as the case may be) so I will try to refrain from going too much into her theories here, lest I give too much away. But even a casual reading of the book’s blurb will tell you that there are a few individuals and entities who obviously do not come out of this book smelling very good, namely Randy Phillips, AEG, Sony, Frank DiLeo, the Estate executors and most of all, “Dr.”  Tohme Tohme, all figures that converged on (or reentered) Michael’s life during a relatively short window of time between December of 2008 and June of 2009. These names alone are enough to insure that this is bound to be a polarizing book, one that may not be warmly embraced by all segments of the fan community.  However, as I’ve always said, it pays to keep an open mind. While I don’t believe in slandering anyone without sufficient evidence, we have to keep in mind, again, that the book is what it is: A medium merely recounting what she claims to have seen in a series of visions. So in that regard, we can’t exactly call it slander, nor can it stand as evidence of a crime committed. But for those readers willing to keep an open mind-and to keep a handy helping of salt nearby, just in case-it is certainly a disturbing and thought provoking read.

However, the book’s contents aren’t entirely made up of the author’s own visions and “conversations” with Michael. There is a lot of solid, factual evidence, as well. Using trial transcripts from the Conrad Murray trial, the Katherine Jackson vs. AEG trial, the official autopsy report findings and other records, as well as the emails exchanged between all of the parties involved (most of which became public record during the criminal and civil death trials) she is able to provide more than enough factual evidence to support many of her theories. Of course, her agenda is to “prove” that these facts corroborate her visions. Nevertheless, too many details have come to light since Michael’s death that do bear questioning. Why, for example, did Michael’s own children testify that they saw Randy Phillips in their home at odd times when they knew he was not supposed to be there? And why did both Phillips and Tohme seem to have unlimited access to Michael’s home? Why was there such a discrepancy between the actual time of death (according to paramedics who claimed Michael had obviously been dead for hours) and the calling of 911 at 12:22pm? Why was the syringe found at the bedside, containing Propofol and Lidocaine never properly tested? (Remember, this was the syringe that Murray and his attorneys fought so hard to prove as “evidence” that Michael had self administered). Why was DA Steven Cooley receiving financial contributions from AEG (certainly, at the very least, a major conflict of interest!). Why was Tohme Tohme, whom Michael had fired in March of 2009, listed as of June 22, 2009 (three days prior to Michael’s death) as a beneficiary of AEG’s “accidental death” insurance policy with Lloyds of London? Why, indeed, was this man even still in the picture, even to the extent of being present at the hospital on June 25? And what did happen to that missing surveillance tape?

Stefenaik does attempt to answer these questions, and to her credit, relies on factual and documented evidence to support most of her claims, though it would have been helpful if the author could have provided actual PDF facsimiles of the documents in question, rather than merely copying them verbatim-skeptics can always claim the documents have been altered or faked. Fortunately, most of them are public record and can be verified easily enough with a little research, but being able to show the actual documents always helps in the credibility department.

As stated previously, however, I was most intrigued with the author’s vision because its details so nearly matched what my sister and I (in nearly identical dreams on the same night) experienced six years ago.

I have never spoken much about that dream, having only confided its details to a very few people whom I trust. Mostly, I haven’t spoken much about it because I know the general skepticism that people usually give such claims, but also because the logical and common sense side of my brain would always say, “It was just a dream. It’s not like it’s something you can ever prove; it’s not as if anyone would ever actually take this as serious ‘evidence’ of a crime.” And yet a part of me has felt guilty, also, about that silence. This, too, has crossed my mind on many occasions. What if Michael, in those first few weeks when his soul was most restless, had actually indeed reached out to a select few, receptive individuals to show them exactly what happened to him that morning? And if he chose some of us to give this information, what exactly did he want us to do with it, or take from it? That is a thought that has weighed heavily on my mind for the last six years. If Michael wanted this knowledge to be known, had I somehow failed him by sitting on it, dismissing it as “just a dream” that no one would ever take seriously? Did I somehow have a responsibility that I had failed to hold up?

I have to admit that Stefenaik’s book has again raised a lot of those questions for me. Like I said, I probably would have been a complete skeptic about this book were it not for the fact that I saw and felt-almost to a tee-exactly what she felt and describes in this book, as allegedly given to her straight from Michael.

In my case, my dream occurred just a few nights after Michael’s passing. It was long before any photos of the death scene had been leaked to the media; I had no way to even know what the interior of the Carolwood home looked like. It was also long before the autopsy results or any of the details of the death were well known; thus, it was the time when there were still many conflicting media reports and no one seemed to know what had actually happened that night or that morning.

Stefenaik described it as a kind of channeling experience, and this was very similar to what I felt. It was as if I was in Michael’s body, witnessing the events through his eyes as he would have experienced them. There were many details that stood out to me about the room-to the right of the bed there was a lamp that burned continuously, even into the morning hours. There was a white mantelpiece with what looked like either a gold framed mirror or some type of screen above it. Over the windows, heavy beige colored drapes were parted, and through the white sheers that covered the window it was obviously sometime around dawn, as there was just a tinge of gray in the sky. When I finally did see photos of the bedroom, it confirmed for me everything I had seen. I felt intuitively that I had been inside that room before.

death bedroom2

 

I can only say that what I experienced through Michael’s body (if indeed that’s what was happening) was a horrific sensation that I hope to God to never experience again. The feeling was of being completely incapacitated and unable to breathe. He was mostly conscious of what was happening around him, but unable to move or make a sound. It was like being paralyzed and drowning, all at the same time. My breath was so shallow and labored that every intake of air hurt and burned my lungs. What I felt was very much a semi lucid state, where I seemed to be dipping in and out of consciousness, at times acutely aware of my surroundings; at other times, slipping into a non-lucid state where I believed I was drowning.

I could hear two men laughing. At the mantelpiece, two men stood with their backs turned to me. Since the bedroom photos have come out, I have seen that there were, in fact, two such mantelpieces that would have been within Michael’s range of vision, the one that would have been to his right, beneath the mirror, and one in the foyer outside his bedroom, which looks to have a framed painting above it.

Long before these photos were made public, I had seen the white mantelpiece with what looked like a mirror above it. There was also, however, another white mantelpiece visible on the opposite side of the foyer.
Long before these photos were made public, I had seen the white mantelpiece with what looked like a mirror above it. There was also, however, another white mantelpiece visible on the opposite side of the foyer.

death bedroom6

I could not tell for certain which mantelpiece I saw the men standing in front of (after six years, some of the details have started to get a little blurred to me, as far as whether what I was seeing was to the left or right) but I want to say they were in front of the mantel with the mirror over it. They were going through papers; a lot of papers. They ignored me, assuming I was either dead or out of it. As they sorted and signed papers, they kept laughing like guys exchanging dirty jokes. One of the men I saw was clearly Conrad Murray. The other, however, I could not immediately identify other than that he was a very large, white, stockily built man with longish brown hair.

The next day I was talking to my sister and you can imagine my shock when she described to me having the very same dream, with the exact, same details. We had both seen Murray and the same, stockily built man with brown hair in the room. We had both heard them laughing, and had seen them sorting through and signing many papers. We both had the sensation of being unable to breathe or move. There were, however, a few things that she was able to recall more vividly than I (for the record, her abilities have always been far more advanced than mine; she never ceases to amaze me with the things she is able to “know,” long before anyone else). She said there was a black binder or brief case into which those papers were placed. Also, she recalled seeing Murray escort the brown-haired man out of the room and into what she described as a hallway to the left of the bedroom. After the Murray trial and after the photos detailing the interior of the Carolwood home were made public, I realized that what she was describing was the foyer outside the bedroom, which would have been to the left from Michael’s point of view on the bed. She saw the two men converse briefly in the foyer, then they parted ways. The brown-haired man turned to his left (from Michael’s point of view) and descended down the stairs, unescorted. Murray returned to the bedroom.

My sister believes that she was seeing the last thing that Michael was consciously aware of before his death. During the Conrad Murray trial, at least one eerie detail emerged that chillingly seemed to confirm her vision. It was said that before Michael’s body was moved, his head was tilted on the pillow to the left, with eyes open.That would mean that whatever he had last seen that morning would have been from exactly that point of view, looking towards the foyer.

It was only in the aftermath, while looking at photos of the various individuals involved in Michael’s life at that time, that I realized the brown-haired man I had seen most closely fit the description of Tohme Tohme.

There Is One Thing That Stefenaik's Vision Has In Common With My Own And My Sister's-The Brown-Haired Man Who Most Closely Resembles Tohme Tohme.
There Is One Thing That Stefenaik’s Vision Has In Common With My Own And My Sister’s-The Brown-Haired Man Who Most Closely Resembles Tohme Tohme.
Tohme Appeared At The Hospital The Day Michael Died, Despite Having Been Fired Months Before. Why?
Tohme Appeared At The Hospital The Day Michael Died, Despite Having Been Fired Months Before. Why?

Now, given all I have told you, imagine the chills I got when I read this passage from Stefenaik’s book, as “told” to her by Michael:

“A man put a needle in my arm – an IV drip in my leg. My arm was sore from pins and needles in my shoulder. I couldn’t see. A brown haired guy. They were going through my papers. I could hear them. They ransacked the house. There was a security camera. It was pointed at the gate, but that night something wasn’t right. My life was turning upside down and I didn’t know why. I was out of my body, but not dead. He gave me the last shot and I died instantly. The man with the brown hair, short sleeved shirt, wide open collar, white. I hoped he’d come back to see more, but he didn’t. He stayed away while Conrad Murray cleaned up. I just stood there watching, helpless. He wrote down the time (Conrad Murray). It was significant. He had a pad of paper with him, taking notes. He said he carried it with him where ever he went. Black with leather trim. Frank was separate from this guy. They drove in separate vehicles…”

Stefaniak, Deborah (2014-12-30). The Murder of Michael Jackson (Kindle Locations 80-84). . Kindle Edition.

Later, in the “final vision” she describes seeing exactly how the brown-haired man, whom she also identified as Tohme, delivered to Michael the fatal shot. Ironically, Michael had stated many times that he would die from “a shot.” He used to say that to Frank Cascio a lot, according to Cascio’s book, and of course Frank assumed he meant a gunshot (in other words, an assassination). Perhaps Michael had enough foresight to realize his death would be brought about by “a shot” one way or another. Certainly I think he had a premonition that his death would come early, and that it would not be a natural one. He always believed that he would be murdered.

I will just say that there are more than enough similar details between my vision, my sister’s, and Stefanaik’s to give some serious pause for consideration. Of course, there are marked differences, also. For example, I never saw anyone other than Murray and the man I presumed to be Tohme. I never saw DiLeo or Randy Phillips or any of the other individuals that Stefanaik claims to have seen (but that isn’t to say she’s wrong; only that I didn’t personally see them). I also never actually witnessed the murder act itself. Possibly I may have been experiencing the after effects of the shot (although Stefanaik claims that Michael told her he died instantly after the shot)or perhaps it was the effects of the other drugs that had been administered in order to rend him unconscious before the actual, fatal act. In her version, she says that her vision (looking through Michael’s eyes) was very blurred. She says she later learned, after reading the autopsy report, that the drugs that had been found in Michael’s system in conjunction with the Propofol-mainly the benzodiazapines, would result in blurred vision. In my own dream, I don’t particularly recall having blurred vision, but I do recall feeling in and out of consciousness and the sensation of being unable to move or breathe; all indications of heavy sedation. Also, it’s highly unlikely that three individuals would remember all the same details exactly, or that we were even all given the same details exactly. What I really look at overall are the consistency of the details, which all involved a large, brown-haired man, and the fact that we all saw at least two men in that room going through papers. Call it what you want, but that cannot be coincidence. It seems, rather, that we were all being given pieces to the puzzle; some of us with more detail than others, but all forming a very similar scenario. In my case, I can’t say I saw anything that actually points to murder or to a specific individual. What my vision did tell me, however, was that there was definitely someone else in the room that morning, and that this individual looked a lot like Tohme. Beyond that, I can’t say with certainty that this man killed Michael, but the fact that I saw him there (as did my sister) has certainly been cause enough for us to believe this was a man who, if not directly responsible, was at least complicit in some way.

But let’s just say it did happen that way. Where, then, does this leave Conrad Murray? Was he an innocent man framed, or a complicit accomplice-a “fall guy” as many suspected-willing to take the blame on himself in order to protect the real party(ies) responsible (perhaps in exchange for a major payout down the road)?

Stefenaik seems to be of the opinion that Murray, while hardly a good guy (certainly one who was putting his own interests ahead of his patient) did not commit the fatal act and, perhaps, had no knowledge of it. Her vision revealed only one person-Tohme-who administered the fatal shot. If one believes this, it could, of course, explain why Murray and his defense were so gung-ho for the “Michael self administered” defense, given that his attorneys probably theorized that it would be much easier (insofar as creating doubt in the jury’s mind and obtaining an acquittal) to blame the victim, rather than trying to argue that someone else “could” have been responsible for the crime. Such a defense would have been a long shot gamble, and all but impossible to prove with so little evidence, so shifting all the blame onto Michael would have been the next logical step as far as the defense was concerned.

Within the Michael Jackson camp there have always been people who have sworn that Conrad Murray did not actually kill Michael Jackson. There are many who still believe that Murray’s conviction was simply a smokescreen, one that allowed the real killer to slip through the cracks.

I am, however, not so quick to let Murray off the hook. I know what I saw in my own vision. Murray was on the scene, along with Tohme, and I believe, absolutely, that he either killed Michael or was complicit to the deed with Tohme-perhaps enough that he was willing to take the fall to cover Tohme’s actions. In the end, I am still one hundred per cent convinced that Murray deserved to be tried and convicted. But it is disturbing to think that Murray’s measly manslaughter conviction and two year jail sentence could have, in fact, been a mere cover for something far more sinister.

I don’t know if we will ever really know the full truth about what happened to Michael Jackson. The LAPD, for now, seems quite content to have closed that chapter with Conrad Murray’s conviction. That doesn’t mean a lot of us are willing to give up that search for answers, however. Whatever one is willing to make of the visions that Stefenaik, myself, and my sister have all shared, I’m convinced that it can’t be coincidence that we all claim to have seen this same, large- framed, brown-haired man in the room that morning. Something-or someone-wanted us to see this, and I feel, wanted this story to be told, even if, perhaps, the chances of it being believed (let alone acted upon) may be slim. Spirits who have suffered traumatic deaths, including murder victims whose deaths are covered up or whose murders are never solved, are among the most restless of spirits. They want their stories told, and usually cannot be at peace or move on until they are.

I don’t claim this as the book that has all the answers, and sometimes I did find myself reaching for that pinch of salt. However, there are indeed some things that can’t be explained away. I “saw” what this author claims to also have seen, and that is enough to convince me that there is certainly something to this thing, even if I’m at a loss to explain exactly what that “something” is.  I do know enough to convince me that the final chapter of what really happened to Michael Jackson cannot be closed as long as Dr. Tohme Tohme still walks free. At the very least, his actions of that morning bear investigation, and I pray a time will come when that truth will be revealed. Until then,  Michael’s homicide remains, as far as I’m concerned, an open case.

This book won’t be for everyone. Not only is its subject matter controversial, but as with many self-published books, it could have really used a good editor. The numerous typos, misspellings and punctuation errors were a little distracting at times, but if you can overlook its editorial flaws, it’s certainly a compelling read and one that will raise many disturbing questions about what really happened to Michael on the morning of June 25, 2009-and why.  The advice so often given about books of this nature is, likewise, the best advice I can give here: Read it and judge for yourself.

The Murder of Michael Jackson, The Cover Up and Conspiracy by Deborah Stefenaik is available on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Murder-Michael-Jackson-Conspiracy/dp/1505842840