Lately, the sounds coming from the pro-AEG camps have sounded more and more like crickets chirping. And small wonder. Really, how can anyone continue to defend these guys in the wake of everything this trial has-and continues-to bring out?
What’s interesting is that I have witnessed a slow turnaround in the media’s coverage of this trial as well. Although I do agree with fellow MJ advocate Helena of Vindicating Michael that we continue to get bombarded with a lot of smokescreens in order to distract us, nevertheless, I think that a few short weeks ago, most pundits (including myself, frankly) felt this was an unwinnable case. For myself, it wasn’t that I was on AEG’s side. Far from it. I just felt that AEG might be too big-make that, too intimidating-of a Goliath to take on, one that would only result in more harm than good as we witnessed another round of media mud slinging. I said many weeks ago that, whether Katherine wins or loses the case, ultimately, Michael loses.
But I also said I would keep an open mind as the trial progressed. I have done just that. And in so doing, I’ve come to realize why this trial needed to happen. As someone else has said, it was high time for the evil that surrounded Michael to be exposed.
The funny thing is that a lot of what we’re hearing isn’t exactly news. Some of it we have known-or at least suspected-for a long time. A lot of it was circulated in the weeks and months after Michael died. Recently, I revisited a video that was posted shortly after Michael died, during the time that This Is It was being promoted. Looking back on this video now, it gives me chills to realize just how accurately a lot of what this “insider” said has panned out.
I still remember how sharply the feud between the “This Is Not It” camp and those fans, like myself, who were supporting the film and wanting it to succeed, divided the fan community. It was, to my knowledge, the first major division in the fan community (though it would hardly be the last). It was hard in those days to know what to believe. We had peeps like Karen Faye and this insider telling us one story; we had Kenny Ortega and Randy Phillips on TV telling us quite another. Then came the film itself, and we saw Michael (albeit looking very thin) seemingly on top of his game-rehearsing, dancing, joking, and perfectly in charge. It seemed easy then to believe what we so much wanted to believe, and to dismiss the This Is Not It fanatics as a maverick group of troublemakers
Ultimately, it came down to which version-and perhaps which myth-of Michael we wanted to believe, and hang onto for posterity. Did we want to believe he went out in a proverbial blaze of glory, doing what he loved best? Or do we believe that here was a vulnerable and ill man, whose back was forced by circumstance against a wall, who spent his last months bullied, full of anxiety, and being worked to the point of exhaustion by people who did not respect him and only saw him as a cash cow? A cow who could only deliver if kicked hard enough, at that.
There is still a part of me that wants to believe in the “he went out in a blaze of glory” myth. It’s not altogether a lie, for we saw many flashes of brilliance in his last performances-and as we know, the movie brilliantly captured those moments. But we also have to admit, that was one helluva an editing job. So basically, we have a two hour film comprised of about two nights’ worth of really great rehearsals, and a lot of filler.
I still see the greatness in Michael in those rehearsals. But I can no longer shut my eyes and ears to the truth of what I know, now, that his last months and weeks were like.
Even more of the ugliness came to light during the Murray trial.
Yes, a lot of this has been known, or at least suspected, for a long time. But there’s something about actually having all of Gongaware’s and Philip’s lies, inconsistencies, and displays of arrogant, callous bullying actually put on public display, transcribed, and put forth in black and white testimony, that has really hit home. It has hit home for me, at least, and I think for many others, as well. When I last did a full, in-depth write-up on the AEG trial, Shawn Trell’s testimony had produced a bombshell with the revelation of email exchanges between Trell and Ted Fickre, where they referred to Michael as a “freak.” That was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, however. Since then, the testimonies of Paul Gongaware and Randy Phillips have produced what any reasonable person can only conclude as a harrowing picture of what Michael Jackson’s last few months must have been like.
The cumulative effect of Gongaware’s and Phillip’s testimonies has produced an interesting turnaround in the media. I wouldn’t exactly call it pro-MJ. But I think the simple fact that the apparent lies, inconsistencies, and cover-ups of their testimonies have cast a new light on the perception of this trial is at least a kind of progress. It denotes a subtle shift from the perspective of Michael Jackson as the drug-addled junkie who was solely responsible for his own tragic demise, his family as merely the greedy, bloodsucking leeches, and AEG as the all-powerful and all innocent company who, gosh darn it, just wanted to give this “junkie” and ‘loser” the opportunity of a lifetime to make a dazzling comeback.
It is not nearly enough. But I think, for what it is, it is a subtle shifting of the media narrative. Journalists who, just a few short weeks ago, were scoffing at this trial aren’t snickering quite so loudly anymore. (Okay, maybe I have to eat some humble pie here and admit Panish has done better than my initial impressions). Consider these recent headlines:
Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Trial: Could AEG Actually Lose?
(And an interesting paragraph excerpted from the above article):
Experts believed AEG would and could make the case that they felt Jackson being properly cared for by Murray, who MJ is said to have hand-picked.
In other words, the explanation that Jackson knew what he was getting into and AEG can’t be held responsible for his recklessness seemed airtight).
Or this one:
Music industry expert says Michael Jackson promoters were ‘highly inappropriate’
Even TMZ has now joined the ranks of those voicing a turnaround, with Harvey Levin admitting the other day that he is one of those no longer scoffing at this case. (I still won’t link to them, though, but it was on TMZ Live; you can google it if you care to know what he said).
But all of that has been a rather long pretext to what I really wanted to discuss in this post, which is the events leading up to the March 2009 press conference announcing the London 02 shows, and Randy Phillips’s startling admission that he slapped Michael.
Helena has already written a great post on this topic, and if you haven’t seen it, please check it out.
I just wanted to add a few thoughts of my own to this, as well as taking a fresh look at the London 02 announcement in light of what we now know took place that day.
I love Michael, but I’ve never been able to muster a positive vibe about that press conference. Everything about it seemed “off” to me, from Michael’s mannerisms to the rambling redundancy and even vacuousness of the speech (however, we also now know that there is a very good and plausible explanation for this, which I will get to shortly). The entire speech could best be summed up by two phrases repeated enough times to fill approximately four minutes: “I love you” and “This is it.”
But something about his entire demeanor that day seemed forced, awkward, and out of sync with his usual manner of public speaking-and especially his usual manner of addressing his fans. And yes, I believe it was him (I know all about the body double rumors, but I don’t buy them). Maybe I should clarify that to say, I believe this was certainly him in body. But in spirit? That’s a different matter. However, in light of what I now know, I believe his demeanor had more to do with anger and defiance than a simple case of poor preparation or nerves. And I have been quietly observing, and studying, this press conference for some time to arrive at my present conclusions.
Michael was clearly not in a good place that day, and I doubt it had anything to do with substance abuse of any kind. There is a certain petulance and defiance in his words and mannerisms; a quiet anger just barely given vent. But it is undeniably there. I have spent countless hours watching Michael’s videos in many, many situations, observing his body language and getting a feel for his base line mannerisms. I may not can tell you whether he is lying or being truthful, but I can certainly tell when he was happy, relaxed, sad, angry, or tense. And I can tell you that what we had on March 5th, 2009-aside from a couple of very brief flashes where he was genuinely moved by the response from the crowd-was an angry and defiant Michael, chomping at the bit. But why?
Well, let’s ask anyone how they might feel if, just minutes before an important press conference, they had been manhandled, roughed about, and slapped in the face. How might you feel if you suddenly stepped into that spotlight realizing you have just become a slave in essentially what you thought was a business partnership? But you still have to go out there, and put on your best face for your fans, who, after all, have been waiting over two hours to see you?
Although I called this “the slap heard ’round the world” all it takes is a bit of googling to see a huge disparity in the way this was reported by the mainstream press vs. MJ websites. Since the phrases that pop up in Google and Bing searches are directly indicative of the headline key phrases, it’s interesting to note that almost all pro-MJ websites use the phrase “Randy Phillips Slapped Michael Jackson” while mainstream media outlets were going with the less dramatic (but, ultimately, more evasive) “Promoter Slapped Drunk and Despondent Michael Jackson.”
It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out the strategy behind this. By including the mention that Michael was “drunk” or ‘despondent” (or both) it shifts blame away from Phillips, and squarely onto Michael. Readers might well ask: Did Jackson deserve to be slapped about?
Granted, this all goes back to something very interesting I learned in basic journalism. The same story can be slanted many ways, depending on the phrases that are used and the words that are emphasized. It might look to an untrained eye that the mainstream media is taking the more sensible, balanced, middle of the road approach, while the MJ sites are playing up the sensationalism angle-oh my god, Michael was slapped by the concert promoter! How awful!
You get the idea. There are almost always mitigating circumstances, even for the worst deeds. But in the end, the question we really have to ask is: Do those mitigating circumstances excuse the behavior?
Think of it this way. Does any wife “deserve” to be slapped around by her husband? Does any human being ever deserve to be physically abused or manhandled? We live in a supposedly enlightened society where physical abuse is supposedly no longer condoned-under any circumstances. Women are encouraged to not accept physical abuse of any kind from their spouses, nor excuses for it. Teachers are no longer allowed to use corporal punishment in schools. A slap on the behind in the work place is grounds for a sexual harassment suit. The subject of police brutality is so sensitive today that a person could make a case for simply being pushed too hard by an officer. Even parents who spank their children are prone to scrutiny and societal disapproval; people will say they are abusing their children.
So where does it become acceptable for an upset concert promoter to slap his star, no matter how “despondent?”
The simple truth is that there is never any excuse for physical violence against another human being.
But let’s look at how at least a couple of media outlets covered this story, and testimony. I have emphasized key passages.
The New York Post was, at first, the only media outlet reporting the incident. Richard Johnson’s account was published June 5th, 2012:
- By RICHARD JOHNSON
- Last Updated: 5:40 AM, June 6, 2013
- Posted: 10:49 PM, June 5, 2013
LOS ANGELES — The top executive in charge of Michael Jackson’s final doomed concert tour testified today he had to slap the “drunk and despondent” star on the day those gigs were announced.
AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips also called Jackson “a self-loathing emotionally paralyzed mess,” in a March 5, 2009, to his then-boss at parent company AEG, Tim Leiweke.
Phillips told jurors today he was “exaggerating” in those e-mails, and hopes to make them go away in this civil lawsuit being pushed by Jackson’s family. Phillips doesn’t want jurors to believe he and other AEG officials knew how sick he was before The King of Pop died on June 25, 2009.
APAEG Live CEO Randy Phillips testified in court that Michael Jackson was “drunk and despondent” and he had to slap him on the day his final tour was announced.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” Phillips wrote on March 5, when Jackson showed up two hours late for his press conference at London’s O2 Arena. “(Jackson’s manager) Tohme and I are trying to sober him up and get him to the press conference with his hair-dressing/make-up artist.”
Leiweke replied: “Are you kidding me?”
Philips wrote back: “I screamed at him so loud the walls were shaking. Tohme and I have dressed him and they are finishing his hair and then we are rushing to the O2. This is the scariest thing I have seen. He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time. He is scared to death. Right now I just want to get through the press conference.”
At his deposition six months ago, before he was shown his e-mails, Phillips denied that Jackson was either drunk or despondent on the day of the president conference, and denied yelling at The Gloved One, saying he merely “raised his voice.”
Phillips says he was telling the truth in his deposition, and was not accurate in his email. “I was relaying what Dr. Tohme told me… I wrote it as fast as I could write it.”
Panish said, “You have to yell pretty loud to make the walls shake. Do you have a tendency to exaggerate?”
Phillips said, “No.”
To another business associate, Phillips wrote: “I haven’t pulled it off yet. We still have to get his nose on properly. You have no idea what this is like. He is a self-loathing emotionally paralyzed mess... I just slapped him.”
Phillips admitted, “I slapped him on the butt.”
The article doesn’t really clarify at the end that it was only in his testimony that Phillips back pedaled and tried to claim that it was actually a slap “on the butt.” But here I will echo what Helena has already stated so well: I don’t buy it. Phillips admitted he was screaming loud enough to “shake the walls” so the idea of him following this up with the equivalent of football coach giving an affectionate pat on the behind just doesn’t add up. Secondly, even if it was a slap on the butt, the idea of anyone slapping a 50-year-old man on the butt is absurd.
Interestingly enough, it was a full five days later when Alan Duke’s write-up appeared on CNN:
Promoter: I slapped ‘despondent’ Michael Jackson
By Alan Duke, CNNupdated 4:46 PM EDT, Mon June 10, 2013
Los Angeles (CNN) — AEG Live’s CEO said he “slapped” and “screamed” at Michael Jackson because the promoter was “nerve-racked” before the public announcement of Jackson’s comeback concerts.
Randy Phillips, testifying in the Jackson wrongful death trial, recounted that it was “a miracle” that a “drunk and despondent” Jackson finally appeared at the London event.
Phillips, who faced a fourth day of questioning Monday, described “a highly charged situation” after the show director, production manager and Jackson’s doctor observed that the singer was declining just five days before Jackson’s death.
Michael Jackson’s mother and children accuse concert promoter AEG Live of liability in Jackson’s drug overdose death, claiming the agency negligently hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Phillips and other AEG Live executives ignored “red flags” that should have alerted them that Jackson’s health was at risk as they pressured him and his doctor to stop missing rehearsals as the “This Is It” tour premiere approached in the summer of 2009, Jackson lawyers argue.AEG exec confronted at Jackson trial
Jackson, not AEG Live, chose and controlled Murray, company lawyers argue. Although they negotiated a contract to pay Murray $150,000 a month to attend to Jackson, it was never fully executed because Jackson died before they signed, they contend.
AEG executives — including Co-CEO Paul Gongaware, who had managed Jackson’s last two tours — had no way of knowing that Jackson was abusing drugs, especially the surgical anesthetic propofol, which the coroner ruled played the largest role in his death, AEG Live lawyers argue.
Murray told investigators he was infusing propofol into Jackson nearly every night to treat his insomnia so Jackson would be rested for rehearsals.
Director worried Jackson didn’t get “enough sleep”
Phillips acknowledged for the first time Monday that he was aware of concerns that Jackson was not getting enough sleep when he and show director Kenny Ortega met with Murray and Michael Jackson on June 20, 2009.
The meeting in Jackson’s living room was called after Ortega sent Jackson home from a rehearsal because he was to ill to perform.
Ortega raised his concerns at the meeting, Phillips said in a video of his deposition played for jurors Monday. “He said he was concerned Michael wasn’t focused, wasn’t taking it seriously enough. He was concerned whether he was getting enough food, enough sleep, things like that.”
After the meeting, Phillips wrote to other AEG executives, “We have a real problem here.”
“But I didn’t know what the problem was,” he testified Monday.
Murray “pretty much assured us that Michael Jackson was fine,” Phillips said.
It was agreed at the meeting that Murray would be responsible for getting Jackson to rehearsals, he said.
“You didn’t have any idea of Dr. Murray’s qualifications to address Kenny Ortega’s concerns?” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish asked Phillips.
“Other than being Michael Jackson’s physician, no,” he said.
When Phillips spoke to Murray for 25 minutes the morning of June 20, 2009, the doctor told him that Jackson was “physically equipped to perform” at rehearsals, but “if we stop the production, it would hasten the decline,” Phillips testified.
Production manager John “Bugzee” Houghdahl sent an e-mail days earlier saying that he was alarmed by Jackson’s “deterioration.”
“I don’t believe Dr. Murray put it exactly that way,” Phillips testified.
“Please stay steady,” Phillips wrote to Ortega about the show director’s concerns. “Enough alarms have sounded. It is time to put out the fire, not burn the building down.” By “burning down the building,” he meant pulling the plug on the tour that was set to begin in three weeks, Phillips said Monday.
“In a highly charged situation like this, I just wanted to keep things calm until we could have the meeting,” Phillips testified.
Doctor frequented strip club before Jackson’s death
The judge wouldn’t let jurors hear that Phillips sent an e-mail after Jackson’s death to the head of Sony Pictures saying that Murray had spent time in a strip club in the days before Jackson died. Instead, Panish described it as visits to a “social establishment.” Laughter from the jury box suggested the jurors understood what that meant.
“Did you learn that Dr. Murray wasn’t at the house caring for Michael Jackson?” Panish asked.
“After his death, I learned,” Phillips answered.
Promoter: Learned MJ went to rehab “just now”
Jackson made a highly publicized announcement in 1993 that he was ending his “Dangerous” tour early to enter a substance abuse rehab program because of an addiction to painkillers.
“I don’t remember hearing it,” Phillips testified.
“When’s the first time you heard?” Panish asked.
“Just now,” Phillips responded.
Phillips said he didn’t learned about it from a December 2008 news story focusing on Jackson’s drug abuse and rehab, even though he sent it in an e-mail to Jackson’s manager saying: “Have you read these stories? This reporter did a lot of research.”
“I don’t remember reading it,” Phillips testified.
“Slapped him and screamed at him”
Phillips began worrying about Jackson backing out of the concert tour just a month after he signed the contract with AEG Live to promote and produce it and more than a week before the announcement.
“I was worried that we would have a mess, his career would be over,” Phillips testified. “There were a lot of things I was worried about.”
But instead of pulling the plug then, before millions of dollars were spent, AEG Live chose to force Jackson to continue.
“Once we go on sale, which we have the right to do, he is locked,” Gongaware wrote to Phillips.
Jackson, his children and manager Tohme Tohme boarded a private jet for the London announcement, but he was not ready when Phillips went to his hotel suite to escort him to the O2 Arena.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent. Tohme and I are trying to sober him up and get him to the press conference with his hair/makeup artist,” Phillips told parent-company AEG CEO Tim Leiweke in an e-mail.
Phillips testified it was “a very tense situation” and “frankly, I created the tension in that room. Because I was so nerve-racked, OK, the time slipping away, and his career slipping away.”
AEG was hosting thousands of Jackson fans and hundreds of journalists for the anticipated announcement, which would be seen live around the world.
“I screamed at him so loud the walls were shaking,” Phillips wrote to Leiweke. “Tohme and I have dressed him, and they are finishing his hair, and then we are rushing to the O2. This is the scariest thing I have ever seen. He’s an emotionally paralyzed mess, filled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time. He is scared to death. Right now I just want to get through this press conference.”
Phillips e-mailed a man who was waited outside the hotel with a convoy of vehicles that he put Jackson in a cold shower and “just slapped him and screamed at him.”
In court, Phillips downplayed his words as “an exaggeration.”
“I slapped him on the butt,” he testified, comparing it to what a football coach would do to a player.
Jackson arrived at the 02 more than two hours late to announce: “This is it. This is really it. This is the final curtain call. OK, I’ll see you in July.”
“Now I have to get him on the stage. Scary!” Phillips wrote in an e-mail to another promoter.
Jackson lawyers contend this fear led AEG Live executives to take control of Jackson’s life as he prepared in Los Angeles to premiere the tour in London July 2009.
Show producers sent warnings in mid-June that Jackson’s health appeared to be failing.
Associate producer Alif Sankey testified earlier in the trial that she “had a very strong feeling that Michael was dying” because of his frail health.
She called show director Kenny Ortega after one rehearsal. “I kept saying that ‘Michael is dying, he’s dying, he’s leaving us, he needs to be put in a hospital,'” Sankey said. “‘Please do something. Please, please.’ I kept saying that. I asked him why no one had seen what I had seen. He said he didn’t know.”
After Jackson failed to show up at several rehearsals in June — or was unable to perform sometimes when he did appear — Gongaware sent an e-mail to Phillips that Jackson lawyers call their “smoking gun.”
They argue the message shows the executives used Murray’s fear of losing his lucrative job as Jackson’s personal physician to pressure him to have Jackson ready for rehearsals despite his fragile health. “We want to remind (Murray) that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him,” Gongaware wrote.
Gongaware testified earlier that he did not remember writing the e-mail and Phillips testified last week that he didn’t remember reading it.
However, Phillips convened what he called “an intervention” at Jackson’s home with Murray, Jackson and Ortega present.
A Los Angeles police detective summarized what Phillips told investigators about that meeting: “Randy (Phillips) stated that Kenny (Ortega) got in Michael’s face, at which time Dr. Murray admonished Randy, stating, ‘You’re not a doctor. Butt out.”
Asked about it in court, Phillips said the detective’s summary is wrong. “That’s not what I said,” Phillips testified. “I told them something completely different than this. They just conflated the people and the things.”
What actually happened was Murray “got into and admonished Kenny Ortega not to be an amateur physician and analyze Michael,” Phillips said.
Phillips sent an e-mail after the meeting saying he had confidence in Murray, “who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more.”
“This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig, so he (is) totally unbiased and ethical,” Phillips’ e-mail said.
He conceded in court that no background check of Murray was conducted by AEG Live. Jackson lawyers argue that had it been done, they would have discovered Murray was in deep debt and dependent on the lucrative job.
Phillips contradicted Gongaware’s earlier testimony that Jackson was under no contractual obligation to attend rehearsals. Phillips refused to advance money to help Jackson pay his staff days before his death because he believed the singer was “in an anticipatory breach” of his contract because he had missed rehearsals, he testified.
Key witnesses meet during trial
Phillips acknowledged that he and his lawyer met with Jackson’s former manager Tohme — another key witness in the trial — last month. The meeting happened in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 4, at the end of the first week of testimony.
“I don’t remember if it was the testimony in this case or what the lunch was about, but Marvin Putnam (AEG’s lead lawyer in the trial) was at the lunch with me,” Phillips said when asked about it by Panish.
He couldn’t remember “100%” but they may have discussed Tohme’s legal battle to get paid by Jackson’s estate, he said.
“I don’t remember what I ate that day,” Phillips said.
“I didn’t ask you what you ate,” Panish replied. “I asked you what you talked about.”
Judge: Beware being evasive
Panish’s feisty exchanges with Phillips — a successful music industry executive who dropped out of law school — has forced Los Angeles County Judge Yvette Palazuelos to intervene.
“I can’t jail somebody for not answering a question,” Palazuelos said when Panish complained Phillips was being evasive. “There’s only so much I can do.”
She warned Phillips that jurors would see it for themselves.
“You give an answer, and you’re not answering the question, the jury is going to get the impression that you’re being evasive.”
“I realize that,” Phillips said.
When I first read these reports, I envisioned something very much like this scene from A Streetcar Named Desire (0:18-0:20) where a drunken Stanley is given the same “sobriety treatment” by his friends:
The mainstream media reports, in other words, succeed in painting a picture of a frantic Phillips doing, perhaps, what needed to be done in order to get this guy to his scheduled press conference on time. Even if we don’t agree with the methods used, we might be prone to sympathize with a man in that situation-and whatever tactics had to be done to get an erratic star to his scheduled gig, before all is lost.
But there are some important details-in fact, several-which the mainstream media is failing to report. Reading the transcripts is the only way to assess the full story, along with all of its holes and inconsistencies.
In the transcripts, Panish asked Phillips about the email to Tim Lewike, CEO of AEG. In that email, Phillips stated that “I just slapped him and screamed at him louder than I did with Arthur Cassell.”
When asked the identity of Arthur Cassell, Phillips responded that he is “one of the most annoying human beings on the face of the earth.”
I think any reasonable person can deduce from this context that what he gave to Michael was no nice, motivational slap on the behind.
And there are also conflicting testimonies as to Michael’s actual condition. Was he truly drunk and despondent? I think it’s certainly reasonable to assume that he may have been paralyzed with fear. He didn’t know how he would be received. It can’t be stressed enough that this was his first public announcement of any kind since the 2005 trial and the resultant lynch mob mentality against him that had resulted, at least in the USA and UK. Michael’s method of dealing with stressful or anxiety-producing situations was avoidance and procrastination. It’s feasible that he may have been dragging his heels a bit; he may well have had a few drinks. But the story that he was drunk-and, in fact, drunk enough to require a mass effort of physical manhandling in order to sober him-has been contradicted by at least three sources. Tohme Tohme and his attorney Dennis Hawk called the claims “an exaggeration” when interviewed by Randy Sullivan for his book. Paul Gongaware contradicted the claims in his testimony:
Q Did Randy ever tell you that Michael was drunk and despondent before that press conference?
A No, not drunk and despondent.
Q Did he say something else?
A He just said he was having a hard time getting — getting him going.
Q And did he explain that further?
Q Did you have an understanding of what he meant?
A I — no. I was just too busy at the press conference.
Q. Describe a little bit the scene. Was there any press?
A. Not in the area backstage. He walked into that area and he saw me and he came up to me and he gave me a big hug. And he whispered in my ear, he said, “make sure the teleprompter has big words. I don’t have my glasses.”
Q. OK. Were there Teleprompters to assist him?
Q. All right. And what big words for what? What did he need words for?
A. On the Teleprompters.
Q. OK. How did he seem to you?
A. He was good.
Q. Did you say anything back?
A. I said OK.
Q. OK. Who did he arrive with?
A. He came with Dr. Tohme, Randy, some security. I don’t remember who else was with him.
Q. So after he gave you that hug and told you he’d forgot his glasses, what happened next?
A. Then I said, “are you ready?” he went, “yeah, let’s go.” and then we had like an emcee, I guess you’d call it, that went up and sort of announced you know, made the announcement, “here’s Michael Jackson.”
Q. Now, when he came in and hugged you and spoke to you, did he seem inebriated in any way to you?
Q. Did he seem drunk?
Q. Did he smell of alcohol?
Q. Did he seem altered in any way?
Perhaps most damaging of all, Randy Phillips in his own deposition. contradicted his own, earlier story:
Q. Was Mr. Jackson drunk?
A. No. Not to the best of my knowledge, no.
Q. Ok. Was he despondent?
Q. Now, sir, you testified there that Mr. Jackson was not drunk and he was not despondent, correct?
A. There? Yes.
Of course, the problem with these guys is that they have all lied and contradicted themselves so many times that it’s hard to know what to believe. In an apparent effort at damage control, Phillips tried to spin his emails as himself simply being a “drama queen.”
Michael Jackson looked ‘hung over’ but wasn’t ‘drug-addled’ before announcing comeback tour, says AEG CEO
BY NANCY DILLON / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
PUBLISHED: THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 2013, 8:39 AM
UPDATED: THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 2013, 8:39 AM
Michael Jackson looked more “hung over” than drunk before the 2009 London announcement of his comeback tour and wasn’t some “drug-addled 5-year-old,” the top exec for AEG Live testified Wednesday.
Randy Phillips said he was being a “drama queen” when he sent secret emails to colleagues claiming he had to “scream” at the King of Pop and personally dress him in his black satin neo-military garb for the much-anticipated March 2009 press conference.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” Phillips wrote in one email. “He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt.”
Under questioning by his lawyer, the CEO of AEG Live said he wrote the email before seeing Jackson with his own two eyes, basing it on information from Jackson’s manager that he “got a little drunk” and was acting depressed.
“I knew I was going to go into his room and I wouldn’t be able to write emails (once inside),” he said. “I figured I owed my immediate report an idea of what was happening.”
He said when he finally entered Jackson’s suite at the Lanesborough Hotel, he found the superstar sitting in a robe on a couch with a clear bottle of what looked like vodka or gin on the floor.
“To me he looked hung over,” Phillips said. “I talked to him. I said, ‘Michael, you okay?’ Randy Phillips said. “That’s when he said to me he was really concerned there was not going to be anyone there and. . . people didn’t care anymore.” Phillips said he assured the singer thousands of fans already had assembled. He said he helped the pop icon pick from three shirts to put on over his white v-neck undershirt.
In the van riding over to the event, Jackson told Phillips he looked thinner and laughed when Phillips attributed his physique to the frantic pacing he’d done outside Jackson’s room, Phillips told jurors.
As he walked up to the podium, Jackson grew taller and taller, like the “chart of homo sapien” evolution, Phillips recalled.
“He started a little hunched over, got up, got up, and when he went through that curtain, that was Michael Jackson,” Phillips recalled.
The testimony came during the seventh week of a wrongful death trial pitting Jackson’s mom and kids against the concert giant.
Katherine Jackson claims the company negligently hired the doctor who overdosed her son. Her lawyer said during his opening statement that Michael’s “despondent” behavior before the London press conference should have been a red flag.
AEG has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was Michael who hired Dr. Conrad Murray and secretly sought out a powerful anesthetic to treat his chronic insomnia.
“We seem to be talking about Michael like he’s the 5-year-old singer of the Jackson 5,” Phillips said on the stand Wednesday, referring to prior testimony from other witnesses. “He was a sophisticated, articulate 50-year-old man who had control of his life….he’s being presented as a drug-addled 5 year old, and that’s not the man I dealt with. The man I dealt with was forceful, kind, but determined.”
When Randy Phillips stated that the Michael he knew was “a sophisticated, articulate 50-year-old man who had control of his life” and not “a drug-addled 5 year old,” the quote was passed around by many fans as a kind of affirmation of the folly of this trial. The danger in this propaganda, however, is that Phillips knows what Michael’s fans want to hear, and how to play into the narrative. I have no problem believing Michael was, in fact, every inch that sophisticated, articulate business man that Phillips describes. His career accomplishments are proof of that, and I don’t need Randy Phillips to confirm the obvious for me. But at the end, he was not in control of his life. AEG was in control, and pulling the strings. And Phillips’s words and actions, as confirmed by himself and many witnesses, are certainly not the words and actions of someone who respected Michael Jackson-on any level. Let’s not forget that these were the alleged words Randy Phillips had to say about Michael, according to Conrad Murray’s documentary. (Granted, Murray isn’t exactly a beacon of truth and virtue, but based on what we now know and what many other witnesses have confirmed, I have no problem believing Phillips said this):
“What’s this bulls**t all about? Listen this guy is next to skid row. He’s going to be homeless. Nine security guards? Why does he need that? I’m paying for that s**t. I’m paying for the toilet paper he wipes his f**king a** with.”
Here are some important things to keep in mind about the situation and how it escalated that day. On the one had, a part of me can sympathize with Phillips’s plight. He’s got over 3,000 fans waiting at the 02. He’s getting frantic calls from 02 personnel. He knows they are facing, at the very least, a 90 minute drive across town through “mind boggling” traffic. And here is Michael, whether drunk or hung over, still undressed and dragging his heels. But was the situation really that dire, let alone dire enough to warrant physical abuse? Phillips seemed to admit that he allowed his own short temper to get the best of him, and that it was largely his own anxiety that fueled and then escalated the situation.
“We have a little issue”
Phillips had doubts Jackson would show up for the London announcement because he couldn’t reach him a week before the scheduled date. The singer was not returning his manager’s calls because he was upset that Tohme Tohme had planned to auction off some of his belongings. Phillips couldn’t call Jackson directly — only through Tohme, he said.
“I was flying blind,” Phillips testified. “I didn’t know what was happening in Michael’s camp.”
Phillips was starting to worry about Jackson breaking his contract with AEG Live for his “This Is It” concerts. “If there ever was a time to stop the process,” it was then in late February, he testified. “That’s when we had the least amount of risk and the greatest amount of collateral.”
But Phillips decided to press ahead, even if Jackson failed to get on the private jet for London.
Jackson arrived with his children, Tohme, a bodyguard, and a nanny who also did his hair and makeup on March 4, 2009. Phillips, who had to stop in Miami for the launch of Britney Spear’s “Circus” tour, landed in London on March 5, just hours before the press event was set to begin.
Phillips went to the Lanesborough Hotel, where Jackson and Tohme had adjacent suites on the first floor. He sat on Tohme’s couch watching CNN while the manager checked on Jackson, he testified.
“I was starting to freak out,” after a while, he said. Getting from the hotel to the O2 Arena on the east end of London could take 90 minutes since “traffic is mind-boggling,” he said.
After more waiting, “I am completely freaking out,” Phillips said. “I was in the hallway pacing back and forth.”
“We have a little issue,” Tohme eventually told him, he testified. “Michael got drunk.”
Tohme returned to Jackson’s suite, leaving an anxious Phillips in the hotel hallway, he said.
“I had an earpiece in my ear, Blackberry in my hand, and I was typing e-mails at the same time I was talking and receiving e-mails from a lot of very concerned people at the O2,” Phillips testified.
One of those e-mails was to his boss — parent company AEG CEO Tim Leiweke:
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent. Tohme and I are trying to sober him up and get him to the press conference with his hairdresser/makeup artist.”
Leiweke responded: “Are you kidding me?”
There were 3,000 fans and 350 news organizations waiting at the O2 for Jackson. “Time was ticking away,” he testified. “I was sweating bullets.”
Phillips eventually talked his way past bodyguard Alberto Alvarez and into Jackson’s room, where he saw an empty liquor bottle on the floor by his couch.
Jackson, wearing a robe and pants, “looked hung over,” Phillips testified.
“I said ‘Michael, are you OK?'” he said. “He said to me that he was really concerned that there wouldn’t be anyone there and maybe this would be a bust.”
“Trust me, Michael,” Phillips said he told him. “You’re quite wrong. You have over 3,000 adoring fans, many who have camped out over night.”
Phillips helped Jackson pick out the black shirt he wore to the event. But he reached his breaking point when Jackson could not get his armband fastened to his sleeve. After 10 minutes, the hotel engineer was called to help, he said.
“It was more than I could take,” Phillips testified.
Phillip’s next e-mail to his boss suggested his tone with Jackson was anything but soothing:
“I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking,” Phillips said in another e-mail to Leiweke. “Tohme and I have dressed him and they are finishing his hair. Then we are rushing to the O2. This is the scariest thing I have ever seen. He’s an emotionally paralyzed mess, filled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time. He is scared to death. Right now I just want to get through this press conference.”
Phillips vented his frustration with more than words.
“I just slapped him and screamed at him louder that I did with Arthur Cassell,” he wrote to the person waiting outside the hotel with a Ford Expedition SUV and bus to take Jackson’s entourage to the O2.
Cassell is someone he once screamed at over a booking issue with Lionel Richie, he said in court.
“I slapped him on the butt,” like a football coach would with a player, he testified.
“A drama queen”
Phillips now takes the blame for letting the situation with Jackson get out of control.
“I admit to being a bit of a drama queen,” Phillips testified. “I was so nervous, I created so much tension in the room, you could cut the tension with a knife.”
Again, I want to stress that I agree absolutely with Helena’s assessment, that this was no mere slap on the behind, and I believe Phillips is lying through his eyeteeth. None of the scenario he is describing about this intensely stressful situation lends itself to a good-natured, motivational slap on the rear. By his own admission, Phillips was angry, frustrated, and tense, and it’s easy to believe he lost his temper. He wasn’t there to motivate Michael, nor was he interested in motivating him. Simply put, he was angry at him and taking out his stress and frustration on him. Tempers were high. Everything he has testified points to a slap in the face. (But even a slap on the butt is no less humiliating and degrading, not that I believe that’s what it was).
And what was Michael actually slapped over? Let’s revisit this sentence, paraphrased from Phillips’s own testimony:
But he reached his breaking point when Jackson could not get his armband fastened to his sleeve.
So…an errant armband is what brought Phillips to the breaking point, resulting in violence? I don’t know what else could possibly be inferred from this statement.
All told, we have a lot of reasons to now understand why Michael’s 02 press conference seemed so rambling and disjointed that day. There was no speech formally prepared. In the haste to get to the 02 arena (and no doubt, with Phillips screaming in his ear) he had forgotten his glasses, and was unable to read the Teleprompter. He had been slapped in the face and brutally manhandled just hours before (I would consider being thrown into a shower, whether clothed or unclothed, a case of brutal manhandling). The thoughts swirling in his mind that day must have been conflicted and chaotic, indeed.
Phillips described it as an almost heroic transformation, as the frightened and “self loathing” superstar took the stage to face his fans. I don’t doubt that he grew taller in the moment. Michael had always gained his strength from the stage, from the spotlight, and from his fans. But I see much more when I watch this clip. Michael certainly isn’t walking drunk from the moment he steps out of the van. He is strutting his famous strut; confident and head held high. But it’s as if he has now gone into a determined “Let’s get this over with” mode. From the moment he steps out of that van, it becomes obvious he is creating distance between himself and Tohme and Phillips (watch as he walks; not only does he purposely stride several steps ahead of Tohme, but he never once even acknowledges his presence). This may or may not mean anything; he doesn’t acknowledge Alvarez, either, whose job at this point is merely to serve as security. But his demeanor seems to be clearly one of distancing himself from everyone around him. When he begins to speak at around 5:45, there is something else very interesting, as well. He says, “Thank you all” in a noticeably deeper voice. Although Michael was using his natural voice much moreso in later years, as I have noted before, Michael’s use of his “real” voice was reserved only for what he considered very important and momentous events-or, in other words, the more serious the subject at hand, and the higher the stakes, the more apt it would be for the vocal register to come down. This was a message to the fans: I am stripping away the pretense. What I’m about to tell you is very serious, and very important, so pay attention. What follows next could be genuine nervousness and fumbling, or a calculated pause to let the moment sink in; it’s hard to tell. Michael was always the ultimate showman and certainly knew how to milk the moment. But when he intones, “THIS…IS…IT” at 5:58, there is a noticeable energy shift. The bravado seems forced to me. I don’t think he’s excited about announcing the shows. If there is genuine bravado here, it is from being able to take control and say the words, “THIS IS IT!” One has to wonder, was this the first that Phillips, Thome, and company had heard of any plans to make this “the final curtain call?” Or had Michael cleverly kept this ace up his sleeve, to be delivered at the right moment for maximum impact? Was it, possibly, a way of saying, “After this, you won’t control me anymore?”
Now watch these few minutes carefully from 6:10 to about 6:33. This is where I most sense that Michael is holding anger in check. It seems like he wants to say more, and is chomping at the bit because he knows he must keep a tight lid on things. He’s reluctant to say too much (hence, he relies on a lot of repetition). Watch his emphatic hand gestures that are punctuating his words; the raised eyebrow at 6:26 when he says, “These will be my final shows, performances, in London.” These are all base line gestures that Michael used to emphasize strong and genuine emotions, and to drive home a point. “When I say this is it, I really mean this is it because…”
Notice this. Michael almost starts to say why “this is it.” He gets as far as “because” and then there is a very, very long extended pause. It seems at first that he is merely overtaken by the crowd’s response-and I do think that is part of it. These few seconds right here are probably the rawest, and most genuine of the entire press conference, and one can especially appreciate this moment if we believe that he really was full of such doubt as Phillips described at the hotel, wondering if the fans would even care enough to turn out, let alone give such an overwhelming response. But perhaps there is something deeper going on here, as well. Perhaps in that moment Michael realized why he really couldn’t go into all the reasons “because.” It was not the time or place to vent those feelings, and perhaps, in the end, he simply didn’t want to let the fans down. There could be a number of possible scenarios, all of which may have been racing through his mind in those few seconds:
Perhaps he realized this wasn’t the time or place to vent, and expose AEG.
Perhaps in that instance, buoyed by the fans’ response, he really started to think, “Yes, I can do this, after all!”
Perhaps he simply felt bad for the fans, thus bringing us right back to Square One (realizing it simply wasn’t the time or place, and that he would have to bite the bit for now).
After this very long pause-one that must have given him ample time to let a lot of things sink in-he simply switches gears, and instead of giving us his “because” simply launches into his rehearsed (but emotionless) line, “I’ll be performing the songs my fans want to hear.”
I sense that Michael is torn between two very strong and conflicted emotions throughout the press conference: Anger at some hidden cause, and genuine love for the fans (along with a sense of regret at what has to be done and said). Throughout the conference, he reminds me of a dog we used to have who was an expert at growling out of one side of his mouth (at whatever he was angry at) while keeping his tongue out the other side of his mouth, for us. While Michael is stifling his anger at Phillips and company, he is trying hard to put his best face forward for his fans and for the press. But his growl is ever present-and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t lost on Phillips or Thome.
Most of all, he had to have been chafing at the indignity he had just endured. He once said that one of the hardest things to do was to endure Joe’s harsh punishmnets and criticisms, and then have to go onstage, smile, and pretend to the world that everything was just honky dory. And here he was, at fifty, enacting almost the exact same scenario.
Watching the video at 7:54, I’m also struck by how many times Michael felt compelled to repeat to the crowd, “I love you, from the bottom of my heart. You have to know that.” It reminds me of when a parent is trying hard to convince a child that what they’re doing is for the child’s own good. For whatever reason, it seemed of vital importance to Michael that day to make sure the fans took this message away from the press conference.
I have heard some fans who were there that say say, later, that they felt a little put off by Michael’s demeanor that day-or at least, puzzled by it. “He seemed angry at us,” one fan reported. I think those fans, possibly, were picking up on the same thing I am picking up on, but ignorant as to the cause, misdirected the reasons for that anger. It was certainly not at them. But now that we understand what it must have taken for Michael to come out and face them, after that horrific scene at the hotel, I think we are now in a much better position to understand what he must have been feeling. Phillips was right, in a way. Michael did undergo an amazing and heroic transformation that day. But did it come from simply reaching deep within and finding the courage to face that crowd, or perhaps because somewhere in those 90 minutes between the hotel and the 02 arena, he had plenty of time to think out a plan, and plenty of time to determine, “I’m not taking this sh_t.”
One can almost sense, with baited breath, that in that long pause after Michael says “This is it because…” that he just might say, “Because I’m not taking this &^%$ anymore.”
It might have been the day that officially ended Michael Jackson’s music career. But who knows, it just might have saved him.
In the end, his better judgment ruled. But he still managed to get across a loud message to the world, in three words: “THIS IS IT.”
I chose to call this piece “The Slap Heard ‘Round The World” despite the media’s rather tepid coverage of this story. I chose to do so simply because I do think, in many important ways, that this slap has been a wake-up call. It has been a wake-up call to a media that, so far, has refused to acknowledge the responsibility of the entertainment industry in how our artists are treated. Even if the truth must come to us in watered down fashion, we can still manage to look past “despondent” and “drunk” to the only words that matter:
Randy Phillips slapped Michael Jackson. Does the rest really matter? Again, I will ask the hypothetical question: If someone is physically abused, do we ask, “What did they do to deserve it?”
Personally, it seems to me that one of the saddest and most tragic aspects of Michael’s life is knowing that, in the end, at age fifty, his life had come full circle. As a child, he was often beaten and yelled at when he couldn’t or wouldn’t perform, or if he missed a step, or gave an “okay show.” As an adult, he was finally able to take full control of his life and career. But it seems now, from all indications, that his last months must have been a harrowing return right back to what he had endured in childhood. His life and show business career began with verbal and physical abuse, and that was how it ended.
I don’t have the heart to sugarcoat it. Perhaps when Michael said “This is it” that was his way of proclaiming that slap to the world, in a way that would allow him to keep his dignity intact.
Silence can often be the most powerful sound of all. Perhaps we’ll never know what Michael wanted to tell us when his “because” trailed off into silence. But I believe that the truth he couldn’t speak then, is coming out now.
And all I can say is, thank God that it is.