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.

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

  1. Clearly, unlike Michael, Prince is being protected by the powers that be in Minnesota. It makes no sense to talk about Fentanyl without disclosing the reason he was taking it. It’s definitely not supposed to be self-administered. If a doctor made it available to Prince, he or she should be charged. And what about the doctor’s son arriving just past the nick of time with drugs in his possession? Remember that old commercial – “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” – I hope he’s under investigation, because that was bogus as hell.

    Don’t you find it odd that the media has never connected Michael’s death to Joan Rivers? That was a most definitely a “perfect storm” situation. She even died from propofol, too. But instead of one greedy incompetent doctor, she had three. Murray’s an a-hole, but at least he didn’t take a selfie.

    (Whitney Houston died of a heart condition, most likely brought on by drug abuse, but she didn’t overdose on prescription drugs.)

    1. Simba said “(Whitney Houston died of a heart condition, most likely brought on by drug abuse, but she didn’t overdose on prescription drugs.)” That’s right, and come to think of it, Amy Winehouse’s death cannot be classified as “prescription drug overdose,” either-hers was a result of alcoholic poisoning, that most legal of all drugs which everyone has easy and unlimited access to.

      Yes, Minnesota is protecting Prince which is probably a good thing. They even honored him with a state holiday, if memory serves me. More’s the pity, I suppose, that Michael didn’t have the good fortune to die in Minnesota, but in good old, hands down anything goes California (personally, I think the state of Indiana could do a lot more to honor him, as well, but then Gary is a poor city and Michael was never exactly a presence there; I think he returned there only twice in a thirty year span). But Prince had always remained extremely loyal to Minnesota; he was born there and never left. I’ve heard many say that is why he is so beloved there.

      As per the Joan Rivers comparison, yes, it was the same circumstance but I think the difference is that the media tends to look at hers as a case of more genuine, typical medical malpractice (she was in a hospital setting, having an actual medical procedure done). I would make the argument, however, that it was still a procedure she ELECTED to undergo-it was cosmetic surgery, after all, not medical surgery in the strictest sense. I did see some comparisons made to Michael’s death in the very beginning. But I think by and large, the media much prefers to categorize Michael’s as another “drug death.” It’s easier, and prevents them from having to change their script.

  2. Not only it was claimed in the media that MJ died of a prescription drug overdose but I have also seen several articles claiming that MJ died of an opiod overdose. Propofol is not an opiod. Some readers then take this even further and I have seen a comment in the comment section of the Minnesota Star Tribune saying both Prince and MJ died of Fentanyl overdose. Now, individual fans can be minsinformed of course, but I wonder if the misinformation had to do with earlier articles in the media that claimed both MJ and Prince died of an opiod overdose. And there is no excuse for the media for that. MJ’s autopsy is public record. There have even been two public trials about the circumstances of his death. So what’s so difficult for the media in looking up those readily available documents? No wonder there is so much misinformation out there about the allegations when they cannot even get such a simple thing as the cause of his death right.

    I’m not saying this because I find anything shameful in the way Prince died. I wouldn’t love MJ any less and wouldn’t think anything less of him if he had died of an opiod overdose. I am simply annoyed by the fact that the media is so incredibly lazy. That, or they deliberately perpetuate lies which isn’t any better.

    On another note, I find it disturbing how demonized drug addiction or dependency is in the US. I am saying that as someone who never had a problem with drugs. Yet, the lack of empathy is so alarming to me. It’s not like MJ and Prince tried to get high. Prince had legitimate pain issues. I am sure his use of painkillers had to do with that. Whether he still was in pain or he got hooked on the drug when he was and couldn’t get off it ever since I don’t know, but I wouldn’t condemn him for any of those. It’s very easy to get hooked on painkillers and can happen to anyone who is in chronic pain. And chronic insomnia is a b**ch too. When I have a bad night of sleep I am like a zombie the next day and I am not able to give my 100%. Just imagine what happens when you cannot sleep for several nights in a row (remeber that note MJ wrote to Lisa Marie where he said: “I haven’t slept literally in 4 days”? Here: http://static.thehollywoodgossip.com/images/gallery/michael-jackson-letter-to-lisa-marie-presley_507x447.jpg ) and are expected to perform at rehearsals and concerts. Of course you are going to get desperate for a sleep.

    1. My point exactly. Although I think to many people, they just like to lump all premature, unnatural celebrity deaths into the same pile and are content to leave it at that. They don’t care about the specifics of the case.

      In my case, I grew up as a child of rock’n’roll and by the time I was in my teens, I was used to (and even numb to) the fact that most of my idols had died from drug overdoses. It just went with the territory, and as they said back then, dying young simply immortalized you more. But the social and political pendulum has swung considerably since those days, especially in the US. While I know people are less inclined to be sympathetic about deaths from illicit/recreational drug use-or these days, even prescription drug use-we can’t afford to discount the emotional or psychological pain that may drive one to make those choices. Case in point: While the world mourned the loss of Prince, scarcely a word was said about the loss of Scott Weiland, who was an amazing talent; one of the greatest rock front men of the grunge era. I saw him perform with Velvet Revolver in 2002 and he was, as always, just an amazing vocalist and performer-the kind you couldn’t take your eyes away from for a moment because every gesture was mesmerizing. That is a rare kind of talent, and when it’s gone, it can’t be replaced-ever. Yet even his wife put out a statement that he shouldn’t be mourned; that another rock star death from heroin shouldn’t be glorified. Weiland had struggled with his demons for a long time, as have so many others.

      We know that Michael had certainly had his issues with painkiller dependency, and he could have died THEN. Fortunately, he didn’t. But if he had, it wouldn’t have changed my own feelings about him. I would have still loved and admired him.

      I certainly am not being judgmental of Prince, either, so I hope no one takes it that way. In fact, I have been very outspoken against the way the media has handled his death, as well. Prince was a very private man who tried hard to keep his private struggles out of the public eye-and he succeeded more than most, until the time when he no longer had the power of control. Prince was also very proud; I think he wanted to maintain the image his fans had of him and to not be seen in any way as broken or fragile. His death simply reminded us that he, like Michael, was not immortal after all, but simply a human being with the same frailties and failings we all have.

  3. Felon has become the invisible man because he doesn’t fit the agenda and that is inexcusable. I do my best to correct that purposeful oversight when I see it. We will not hear anything more about Prince’s death, unless it’s leaked…at least not from the coroner. Laws in that state don’t allow it. On the other hand, Elvis’ COD has morphed into heart attack.

    1. I hadn’t heard that about Elvis. I remember at the time he died it was being reported in the media as a heart attack (many such deaths are initially reported as cardiac arrests). Throughout the 70’s there had been a lot of speculation about Elvis and drugs (mostly diet pills and amphetamines) but fans didn’t want to believe it. I think they worked hard to protect his image in the early days after he died. A lot of the drug stuff didn’t start coming out until later, when the investigations of his doctors made it into the media. In some ways, the heart attack story wasn’t a complete fabrication. Elvis had a weak heart muscle and arrhythmia, but all of that was exacerbated by the drugs.

  4. Anyone who has suffered from sleep deprivation would understand that you are not looking for oblivion, you are just looking for sleep. After years of inability to sleep in a normal cycle, drugs that once helped no longer have the same effect. I have suffered from disturbed sleep for many years and would give anything for a way to sleep, especially when I had responsibilities such as children or work.
    Michael Jackson had great responsibilities. He wasn’t looking for a high, he was looking for sleep and thought the safest way to obtain that would be to have a doctor watch over him and administer the only thing he had left to try as he was under the gun so to speak to be able to perform and fulfill his contract with AEG. A contract he had to buy into for he had great debts, not from just overspending, but for legal fees and lawyers he had to pay to defend himself from of crimes he never committed.

    1. I understand what you are saying, but I still stand by my words. “Oblivion” isn’t a high. It is about a state in which pain can’t get to you. Michael wanted sleep, but he didn’t go to those extreme measures on a nightly basis, only when touring and rehearsing. Those responsibilities drove hiim to those extreme measures (moreso probably the psychological stress induced by those responsibilities) And sleep deprivation is something I unfortunately am starting to know too much about, as someone who has increasingly found that I can’t sleep through an entire night without over the counter medication. I do think we can get so worn down to the point that we just crave oblivion for those seven to eight hours; it’s all we crave.

  5. To put it bluntly , what are the chances that you or I or any visitor of this blog who suffers from chronic pain, die in the privacy of our home from a ( selfadministered) od of opioids, used for painmanagement, a dose which strongly suggests addiction, prescribed /authorized by a medical professional, days after undergoing an emergency treatment for an acute condition.( flu btw can be dangerous at 58 and worse with complications and a bad condition)
    Or those of us who are severe insomniacs to die at home , from improper use of anaestatics/propofol( which is basically a sedative just as opioids are) to induce a coma as a false substitute for sleep, by a grossly negligent doctor, not qualfied to administer them and in a setting that makes operatingrooms in 3th world countries look high tech.

    Chances that it happes to us is next to zero. For high achieving celebrities/artists who can afford the most sophisticated care, it is almost 1/1. If we take 3 of the most popular artists of the last 4 decades who died of unnatural cause, arguably Elvis, Michael and Prince, all three of them died under supervision of medical professionals, were treated at home instead of in a medical facility for serious but non life threatening dicease.
    These are no accidents. What they suffered from, the technicalities of how they died or other politics are only distractions from the deeper problem which is corrupted doctors who deliberately put a life at risk to fill their pockets. And unfortunately celebrities who think that money can buy them health and quick fixes. Which is only human.

    This is such a disturbing pattern that I cant wrap my head around it that so far only ConMurray was convicted and has done time. And imo only because there was a lot at stake for the DA personally( running for judicial selection), huge media covering for the most popular artist in the world, overwhelming evidence and some will disagree – but also because Murray was not part of the “Hollywood home doctors ” establishment to challenge and it was a black on black crime.

    Whether they administer it or just prescribe overdoses of it, or turn a blind eye, doctors, nurses , concert promotors, managers and hangers on who facilitate improper /unethical use of medical drugs or treatment to an addict and/or someone who is debilitated because of extreme stress or lack of sleep, leading to their death , are criminals.

    Comparing what is written or said about who by whom, imo is a distraction from the real problem, and who takes Nancygrace seriously anyway.
    Everyone faces hard times , extreme stress, insomnia , grief, trauma, addiction, mental and physical disabilities and what not. These are not untreatable conditions and these men should not have died if they were treated like human beings.
    If anyting it is the criminal and totally unnecesary aspect of why /how they died that Imo should get more attention.

    1. Sina said, “This is such a disturbing pattern that I cant wrap my head around it that so far only ConMurray was convicted and has done time. And imo only because there was a lot at stake for the DA personally( running for judicial selection), huge media covering for the most popular artist in the world, overwhelming evidence and some will disagree – but also because Murray was not part of the “Hollywood home doctors ” establishment to challenge and it was a black on black crime.”

      I have heard other arguments to that fact, as well. Conrad Murray was an especially easy guy to target and, in a sense, to make into a “scapegoat” for all the other Dr. Feelgoods out there. That isn’t to defend him in any regard-he definitely deserved conviction. But it did seem that the prosecution went after him with an especial zeal. He just had that kind of smarminess about him that made him an easy guy to dislike, and an easy target for the media. During his trial, he was beat up pretty good by everyone from TMZ to HLN (which astounds me all the more that memories seem to be so short). Sometimes I get irritated with the media’s tendency to treat him with kid gloves, but then when you look back at the trial days, he really was demonized quite a bit. Was some of that racially motivated? I don’t know. This was a black-on-black crime (which statistically are often taken LESS seriously by the judicial system) but in this case the victim just happened to be the world’s most beloved entertainer. Additionally, the circumstances of this particular death were so much different than all other preceding celebrity deaths where drugs and doctors were involved (and frankly, more bizarre, which always makes for good media copy!). I don’t think we had ever had a previous case where the celebrity patient had died as a DIRECT result of being injected by their doctor in their home. It was a far cry from the more typical case of a doctor writing a prescription from an office, that the patient then takes home and self administers. That “Homicide” coroner ruling-as opposed to “Accidental” is what made all the difference, even though I agree that the doctors who knowingly over prescribe are just as guilty.

      As far as no one taking Nancy Grace seriously, I knew I would get those comments but here’s the thing…what she said made me mad. It’s that simple. Not that it was any surprise, but it was SO hypocritical of her, especially after all her ranting and railing against Conrad Murray during the trial coverage. Also, my point is that this mantra is all too typical of the media-she just happens to be one of its shrillest mouthpieces.

      “These are not untreatable conditions and these men should not have died if they were treated like human beings.” 100% agreed.

      1. If Murray had killed a white superstar, he would still be in prison. As a convicted felon, he certainly wouldn’t be asked to render his “expert” opinion on other doctor-caused deaths on entertainment shows.

  6. I think the Jackson family’s civil trial reinforced the media’s misapprehensions about what killed Michael. Their legal team argued from the perspective that Michael was an addict. Personally I was outraged by the case that was made on their behalf – irrespective of whether or not AEG or anyone else was or was not culpable. For a lot of the misconceptions out there about the cause or nature of Michael’s death, or his health generally, we have some members of his family to blame.

    1. I supported Katherine’s decision to take AEG to trial, but the manner in which her attorneys handled the case seemed extremely puzzling, as it seemed to play exactly into AEG’s defense (no doubt, probably a big reason why they lost the case).

    2. “Their legal team argued from the perspective that Michael was an addict. ”
      This is simply not true and one of many inaccuracies that feed the misapprehension. Here is what the case was about and addiction is not mentioned a single time.
      http://probatelitigation.typepad.com/files/0916_jackson_wrongful_death_tmz_wm.pdf

      It was actually the AEG defense (including an expert “coincidentally “ hired by the executors of MJs estate to esti-mate Michaels ‘worth’ ) who were pushing the addict agenda and other nastier insinuations, trying to hit more birds with one stone. Btw I do not see what is so magical about the word addiction that it could make worse what happened to Michael.

      Michaels health, by all accounts WAS deteriorating, he complained to fans and they wrote letters to him to postpone the concerts. His dancers at rehearsal were tweeting about the situation, and were asked by Ortega to pray for Michael. The email exchange between the promotors and managers of the tour were called ‘trouble at the front’ for a reason.
      A healthy man with 50 shows coming does not need to be put in a coma to ‘sleep”. Alif Sanky testified that she told them ‘Michael is dying, he’s dying, he’s leaving us, he needs to be put in a hospital, please do something. Please, please.’ And guess what, he died. From your pov they d rather shove it under the rug so that those lacking comprehension and reading skills would not misunderstand. I do not get that mindset nor the victim blaming.
      I supported KJ vs AEG wholeheartedly, In the end she is his mother, not a fan.
      The case gave a shocking insight in the circumstances that led to Michaels death, the behind the scenes of the concert promotors and ‘managers” the lies, the bullying and deception and their MO. And it put into perspective many things that we were not aware of that played out before and after the trial. Janet Jacksons recent cancellation of part of her Live nation promoted tour proves that there are better ways. If only AEG cs had had the decency, compassion and care for their artist that Live nation did have ,they would not have driven him over the edge.

      1. I usually come back to the attempts at settlement (x2) that, if accepted, would have erased the intrusive, we must get the truth out, reason for filing. One can argue that is the way the legal system works, but enough money would have made the whole thing go away. So what were priorities here? Expose a nasty corporation and place blame for what Murray actually did or pocket some cash in retaliation? Doesn’t change anything at this point but no one’s hands were clean in that mess. IMO.

  7. I felt so angered about CMs lack of care for his patient and all that surrounded it. Lying, attempting to cover up and manipulation, taping his patient, refusing to accept responsibility…all of it. He deserved what he got and IMO it should have been more. He knew the dangers surrounding propofol..he used it previously for cardiac procedures in the proper setting. In the real world, providers RX patterns re: opiate prescriptions are closely monitored. And patient histories are on a data base that allows for fast info regarding recent scheduled drug Rx’s. Very useful tool.

    I loathed that AEG trial.

  8. Raven says,
    “While I know people are less inclined to be sympathetic about deaths from illicit/recreational drug use-or these days, even prescription drug use-we can’t afford to discount the emotional or psychological pain that may drive one to make those choices….

    “…..We know that Michael had certainly had his issues with painkiller dependency, and he could have died THEN. Fortunately, he didn’t. But if he had, it wouldn’t have changed my own feelings about him. I would have still loved and admired him.”

    These statements reflect my feelings, Raven. I also believe the narratives that are spun about “sensational” celebrity deaths—tragedy, hubris, self-destructiveness, etc.—- play a large role in shaping the public’s attitude toward drug use/abuse on the whole.

    When drug or alcohol use reaches a point where a person (famous or not) finds themselves in a bad way with a dependency or addiction, I can no longer distinguish between “recreational” use, psychological self-medication, or habitual use of prescription painkillers for “legitimate” reasons. I believe the stigma that exists around drug use of any kind (and the shaming that often goes with it) is harmful in itself. It should just go away.

    The public needs to be educated about this matter. Those who have never suffered from insomnia, chronic pain, or—whatever* causes people to use drugs in the first place—-need to drop their sanctimonious, judgmental attitudes about substance use and abuse. It gets us precisely *nowhere* toward understanding the basis of the problem, or how to address it. For anybody.

    Mindful of the larger picture, I’ve noted before that other social/cultural stigmas—not only around drugs, but other (decidedly non-criminal) things of which Michael was “accused”—simply need to go away, once and for all.

    We can push back against mistruths until we are blue in the face; but until our culture can adopt saner attitudes toward celebrity—and spaces where celebrity intersects with the fabled “drugs, sex, and rock-n’roll”—this sort of thing will keep happening, again and again.

    Beloved “icons” will die, and everyone will go, “tsk-tsk-tsk, what a tragedy.” We’re now at the point where tragedy has become farce.

  9. A few other thoughts, which are related to some larger issues I’ve been thinking about re MJ and Prince, and their very different styles of addressing the press and the public.

    About the notion of a “respectable” death, as you title this post, Raven, this goes to what I believe you pointed out earlier: Michael Jackson was a more controversial figure in life, and so in death. And I feel this relates to the larger issue of “respectability politics,” which has in recent years been the focus of a lot of discussion in the African American community. (But more on that later.)

    On another level, artists like Prince and MJ had to (or felt they had to) keep up a grueling, physically punishing performance regimen when they toured. They had to perform like athletes; and the recent death of Muhammad Ali, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease (for which head trauma is a known risk factor) for the past twenty years, reminds us of the fragility of our own bodies. Some bodies—including those of professional athletes and entertainers—are often pushed to and beyond the limit of their endurance over a sustained period. Why does everyone wonder why they take pain killers?

    Prince and Michael Jackson were both known to oppose drug use. Perhaps neither wanted to be seen as a hypocrite if it were revealed they were “taking drugs,” whatever the reason. Although Prince was a private person, as you said, Raven, I don’t know if the manner of his death should be withheld from the public. (There’s a difference between prurient sensationalism and level-headed reporting, of course—though too many news outlets, and their consumers, don’t seem to observe that distinction very well!) Even if Prince felt that his drug use might tarnish his pristine image, I think the social value of the disclosure— if it could raise public awareness of the widespread hazard of opioid addiction—would override those considerations.

    From everything I’ve read, and in my own interpretation, the way Prince articulated his newly-founded religious leanings after his (2001?) conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness sect, did *not* do wonders for his personality. He became harshly judgmental about a lot of things he had embraced in the past, reneging on his former vision of freedom. Holding oneself and others around to a set of behavioral standards that may not genuinely accord with one’s own (but are instead handed down as dicta from “on high”) can do a violence to one’s own personality and others’ experience, in my opinion.

    I kind of liked Prince better as a clean-living (in some ways), “dirty-minded” and dirty-mouthed musician who challenged social mores blatantly enough to move Tipper Gore to form the Parents Advisory Service, responsible for attaching warning labels to records! (I personally feel he was a *better* role model for young people in that earlier part of his career, when his more ribald sexual sensibilities were conjoined to spiritual exploration.)

    I’ve been researching a lot about Prince lately, and thinking about some noteworthy contrasts in the ways he and Michael constructed their separate personalities in public view—through their interviews, among other things. I’m thinking these factors might have contributed in a big way to their very different treatment in the media, as things evolved over the years. (But more about that later, perhaps.)

  10. I am so tired of media bullshit about MJ– and they keep it up even 7 years after he died (see Guardian article today re MJ and other stars who met with Presidents, where they call him J–o and bring up the false accusations that he molested 2 boys in Mexico and Reagan covered it up–a lie spread by Victor Gutierrez!). Unbelievable bias and hate. I agree with DJT that the current libel laws must be changed– right now if you are a ‘public person’ –like a celeb– you need to prove ‘malice’ in a civil suit against the media, something almost impossible to prove.

  11. IMO changing the current law is the only way to stop them. Look what happened to Gawker. Hit them in the pocketbook, and they will start covering things better.

    1. As long there is no law against slandering nothingwill change to the better the oposite s the case Jun25th is coming near and things are only getting worsewith all the old rehashed lies and nonsense. I am so devastated in the moment, these crap makes my heart sick!!,

  12. They say am different they don’t understand but there’s a bigger problem much more in demand you got world hunger not enough to eat so there’s really no time to be tripping on me.We’ve got more problems that well ever need you got gang violence and blood on the street you got homeless people with no food to eat with no clothes on the back and no shoes on the feet tell me what are we doing to stop this.Why you wanna trip on me WHY YOU WANNA TRIP ON ME.(MICHAEL JACKSON) Angel of mine you are still bigger than the universe and for good or for bad people still finding the need to put your name next to anything for money.REST IN PEACE.Miss you forever LOVE AND PEACE.

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