Category Archives: Death and Investigation

MJ’s Death and the Ongoing Investigation

“The State of Death Deserves Respect In Any Land”-Across Eight Decades, The Words Of A Grieving Mother Can Help Bring Comfort and Perspective To MJ Fans

Since Michael's "Smooth Criminal" Was Inspired by 1930's Gangsters...Well, It Seemed Appropriate For This Piece
Since Michael’s “Smooth Criminal” Was Inspired by 1930’s Gangsters…Well, This Photo Seemed Appropriate For This Piece!

The recent airing of a cable TV movie on Bonnie and Clyde renewed what had been for me a childhood fascination with the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the infamous lovers whose inter-state crime spree held America enthralled for over two years before they met an untimely and bloody death when ambushed by officers on a rural stretch of highway in Gibsland, Louisiana in May of 1934.  I was only about eight years old when I saw their “death car” at a local county fair.  In those days, before the famous bullet-riddled Ford V8 finally came to rest at a permanent museum, it was often toured as an attraction at county fairs.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car
Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

I can still remember the reverent awe I felt as I stood on tiptoe, trying to reach the passenger window of that bullet-riddled door so that I could peek inside. I didn’t know it at the time, but since I was standing on the right side of the vehicle, I would have been looking directly onto the seat where Bonnie Parker died. When the officers had approached the car, someone with a 35 mm camera filmed the graphic scene. This was long before the days of the internet, social media, or even TV. But the newsreel footage would make it into every movie theater in America, to be shown as titillating “entertainment” before and in between films; as scantily clad “news” that was in actuality passing for morbid entertainment for the masses-sound familiar?

Graphic Footage Taken At The Time Showed Bonnie's Body Slumped Against Clyde's  On The Front Seat. Combined, The Two Of Them Had Been Shot With Over 120 Bullets
Graphic Footage Taken At The Time Showed Bonnie’s Body Slumped Against Clyde’s On The Front Seat. Combined, The Two Of Them Had Been Shot With Over 120 Bullets

The footage showed Bonnie, her body slumped onto Clyde’s and (according to some reports) her half-eaten breakfast still clutched in her hand (they had made their last stop, to grab breakfast to-go, at a diner about eight miles from the ambush site). Some reports at the time also said that Bonnie had a machine gun across her lap. I never believed that; even for hardened outlaws as them, it would have been a major inconvenience to be riding with a machine gun in one’s lap; not to mention, just plain stupid for safety reasons. Perhaps she might have grabbed the gun from their artillery in the back, in the last second when they realized they were being ambushed, but given the amount of reaction time they would have had, even that seems highly unlikely. Perhaps someone planted the gun in her lap (such a thing would have certainly been right in keeping with what Bonnie’s mother wrote later).Perhaps, in truth, there was no gun at all, but merely another bit of media sensationalism added to the story of Bonnie and Clyde. What we do know:  Her body, along with Clyde’s, was riddled with over fifty gunshots. Her right hand was mostly blown off.

As a small child, tiptoeing to see over the edge of that door and into that shattered window, I know exactly what I was hoping to see. Blood, and lots of it. Alas, I was somewhat disappointed. The blood stains were still there, of course. But after fifty years, they had long darkened with age, and what remained had mostly soaked into the upholstery. Bonnie had bled out the most of the two, and the still visible  dark stain that covered a sizeable portion of the back of the seat on the passenger side would have come from her.

I couldn’t have realized at the time that the morbid curiosity that led me to peek inside that car (hoping, of course, that I might be rewarded with lots of blood and overlooked body parts that had somehow managed to survive fifty years’ worth of morbid curiosity seekers-while normal enough childhood curiosity on the one hand-was also symptomatic of a much bigger and problematic issue. One that goes to the heart of our humanity.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Michael Jackson, or why I’m writing about it on an MJ blog. Well, bear with me for a moment and read on because this is not off topic. It is all going to tie together in due time, I promise.

In the eighty years since Bonnie and Clyde died, their story has often been glamorized, Hollywood-ized, and told over and over from many perspectives. Whether they were true “heroes” pitted against a corrupt government and an even more corrupt law system, or simply low-life thieves and murderers who deserved what they ultimately got, seems to depend largely on whatever political climate they are being viewed from. It’s not surprising that the current film, just like the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway classic that made them cult heroes in the late 1960’s, has come about at a time of economic downturn and government distrust. Every so often, the political climate becomes rife for the anti-heroes to take root. Bonnie and Clyde themselves were victims of the Depression, and like many of their criminal contemporaries, became cultural heroes and icons as much as villains. Every few decades, it seems, their story goes through a revisionist process. Any version of their story is always going to be colored or clouded by the perceptual lenses of our own time, and thus, we may never know the full truth. At the height of their “fame,” it became easy to pin any murder or robbery on them, and there is ample evidence that this happened more often than not. Yet Bonnie and Clyde, two young adults who seemed to glory in the infamy they created, didn’t especially go out of their way to prove their innocence in these cases. What would have been the point? Regardless, their fate had already been sealed. By the time they died, they were damned if they did; damned if they didn’t. If they were innocent of at least a portion of the murders penned on them, who was going to believe it at that point? The story of the real Bonnie and Clyde, far from being a glamorous Hollywood story, was a story of two sociopathic but nevertheless very frightened kids who, when faced with the reality that they were in over their heads, lived a hard and desperate life, on the run for two years, before being gunned down in a hail of bullets.kiss

Whatever you can say about how Bonnie and Clyde lived, their deaths were a tragedy that brought out the worst of our morbid fascination with celebrity deaths. Within mere minutes of the ambush, their car was surrounded by a mob of onlookers; their bodies molested by the curious; their respective funerals a nightmare for their families.

bonnie and clyde death

 

Bonnie Parker's Funeral. Both Funerals Became A Circus-And A Nightmare For The Families
Bonnie Parker’s Funeral. Both Funerals Became A Circus-And A Nightmare For The Families. “It Was A Roman Holiday”-Emma Parker

While I was aware of this, it wasn’t until I began researching them again in the wake of my renewed interest that I discovered a surprisingly enlightening article written by Bonnie’s mother, Mrs. Emma Parker. According to the website where I found this, the article was included as part of the epilogue of a 1968 book titled “The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde” but the quotes were from much earlier, probably dating from about 1934 when these events were still fresh in the mind of Emma Parker. (For the record, Emma Parker died in 1944, outliving her daughter by a mere ten years).

Now, here is where it gets very interesting to me as a Michael Jackson fan, especially with yet another TV show upcoming that will be dedicated to the subject of his autopsy. It is interesting to note that Emma Parker, a humble and grieving mother who, in 1934 was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened to her daughter, struck a cultural nerve that still reverberates to this day. There is much insight here that can be equally applied to most any celebrity-famous or infamous-whose deaths have evoked this same kind of mass hysteria and morbid fascination.

These are Emma Parker’s words:

The horrible things which occurred both in Arcadia and Dallas, following the death of Bonnie and Clyde, were the sort of revolting episodes which shake one’s faith in civilized humanity. We didn’t expect people to have respect for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They were due no respect. But the state of death deserves respect in any land, and this was denied them.

Dr. Wade, the coroner at Arcadia, related afterwards that when he arrived at the scene of the killings two hours after it occurred, officers were still milling around. A crowd of several hundred had gathered about the death car, and Bonnie’s dress, which was shot to ribbons, was almost cut from her back by curiosity seekers who were gathering souvenirs. Clyde’s blood stained shirt and undershirt were in the same condition. We still have these garments, bearing mute testimony to the truth of this statement. Bonnie’s hair had been clipped away, also, and someone was trying to get her diamond rings off her fingers. One man was reported to have been rifling Clyde’s pockets when the coroner and undertaker arrived. They stopped them. Other people had ripped open the trunk on the back of the car and scattered its contents. Some enterprising onlooker was attempting to remove the hub cap from a wheel. Every piece of broken glass was eagerly picked up. The spot where the officers had lain in wait was trampled level by those who hunted for empty shells to take away. The crowds even cut down the trees and dug bullets from them…I was told by a man who was there that he stopped some unknown person in an attempt to cut Clyde’s ear off. This person wanted to preserve it in alcohol, he said.

The bodies were not brought to Arcadia till noon, and then the undertaker was held up for two hours for the inquest…..

When the bodies arrived in Dallas on the morning of May 24, people behaved in about the same manner as they did in Arcadia, but the Dallas police made an effort to control them. Twenty thousand people jammed the street in front of the funeral home where Bonnie lay and almost as many came to view Clyde. It was a Roman holiday. Hot dog stands were set up; soda pop vendors arrived to serve those who waited to view all that was left of the South’s most noted desperadoes.

The final grim and sardonic touch was the great loads of flowers that arrived. It was impossible to hold the crowds back and they were wrecking both the place where Bonnie lay and the establishment where Clyde had been taken. Some newsboys contributed money for wreaths for Clyde and Bonnie. A small bouquet of lilies arrived with a note asking that they be placed in Bonnie’s hands that night. The sender said that another bouquet would be sent the following day when these flowers had wilted, and asked that the wilted bunch be saved and given to me. I don’t know who the person was. …..

We had planned to bring Bonnie home on Friday night. They tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined. “It was her last request,” I said. “She wanted to come home and she’s coming home.”

They asked me then to look out of the door at the crowds who were waiting at my home. I realized the hopelessness of the attempt and gave it up. A car with a police escort was sent to bring me to the funeral home. We fought our way in. We had lived through so many things that none of this penetrated to our minds. We were finally past being hurt by anything. …..

We buried Clyde on Friday afternoon and Bonnie on Saturday — not together, as they had wished. Each family wanted the privilege of placing the body in its own private burial plot…..Both funerals were nightmares. Nell was unable to get within forty feet of Clyde’s grave. While the curious fought their way toward the grave side, as a last fantastic touch, aviators swooped low and dropped flowers on the bier. All of this hysteria, for and against, was enough to make one lose one’s reason and go mad laughing. But none of us cared. We were past caring. The long trail had ended. Bonnie and Clyde had sinned and suffered and paid the price. They had broken the laws of God and man, and Death had come to meet then on a morning in May

http://www.cinetropic.com/janeloisemorris/commentary/bonn%26clyde/bonnieandclyde.html

Emma Parker Escorted From Bonnie's Funeral. An Interesting Bit Of Trivia: That Is Bonnie's Sister On Her Right. Her Name? Billie Jean Parker!
Emma Parker Escorted From Bonnie’s Funeral. An Interesting Bit Of Trivia: That Is Bonnie’s Sister On Her Right. Her Name? Billie Jean Parker!

Mrs. Parker referred to the spectacle as that which “shakes one’s faith in civilized humanity.” It’s interesting that she includes among this description not only the mob-like mentality of those who gathered to gawk and rifle the corpses for souvenirs, but also even those apparent gestures of goodwill that, in her confused and grieved state of mind, simply seemed to add to the bizarre, circus-like atmosphere of her daughter’s death. The Barrows and the Parkers were not especially friends (each family, to some extent, blamed either Clyde or Bonnie for the other’s death) but, for a brief time, they were at least united in their grief and their support for each other against the media indignity and mockery that had been made of their children’s tragic deaths. Think on that one for just a minute: The morgue photos of your children’s bullet-riddled, bloodied corpses are splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in the land. Not on the back pages; no, this is front page news. This is what people are enjoying over their morning cups of coffee!

Emma Parker seemed to be under no illusions. She wasn’t begging people to change their ways, or for the media to stop, nor even making excuses for who her daughter was or the choices she made. She was simply offering an observation of a personal nightmare. In doing so, she just may have offered up one of the most insightful accounts of what the cult of celebrity truly entails.

While The Morgue Photos Were Grisly and Graphic, This Rare Pic of Bonnie's Casket Photo Shows They Did Am Excellent Job Of Covering The Damage. "She Wanted To Come Home, And I'm Bringing Her Home"-Emma Parker
While The Morgue Photos Were Grisly and Graphic, This Rare Pic of Bonnie’s Casket Photo Shows The Morticians Did Am Excellent Job Of Covering Up The Damage. “She Wanted To Come Home, And She’s Coming Home”-Emma Parker

To this day, curiosity seekers routinely pilgrimage to Las Vegas and, now, Washington, DC, to gawk at the death car. Their ambush site and graves in Dallas are tourist attractions. Photos of their ghastly, bullet-riddled corpses can be found with just a click on the internet, and are even sold as post cards in the former diner (now a museum) where they bought their last meal. It is said that a sign near the museum door warns underage visitors that they will see graphic images. Yet that doesn’t stop them from displaying those very graphic images right at the front counter.

Bonnie Parker's Grave. Some Have Said Only A Mother Could have Written This Inscription.
Bonnie Parker’s Grave. Some Have Said Only A Mother Could have Written This Inscription.

And, more or less, it doesn’t matter. Through the years, we have become so desensitized to such images that I doubt even kids find them particularly disturbing.

Which brings me to Michael Jackson. Michael was certainly hounded by the media and, both in life and death, received little respect. Yet there is a bit of a misconception among the fan community that Michael is somehow unique in this regard; that he and he alone has been singled out as a kind of celebrity scapegoat and martyr for posthumous disrespect. To that, I have to say that the answer is both yes and no. I think it is important to keep some things in perspective when we look at Michael’s celebrity status and his treatment in the media. This is by no means to excuse what the media did, and continues to do; rather, it is about accepting the fact that the situation isn’t entirely unique to Michael. The public’s morbid fascination and crass interest  in celebrity deaths is alive and thriving-and remains  both a huge and profitable business.

death issue
The public’s morbid fascination and crass interest in celebrity deaths is alive and thriving-and remains both a huge and profitable business.

Years before Michael died, there had been (and still are!) an abundance of websites featuring the autopsy photos of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Tupac Shakur, and other celebrities (generally, the ones who died controversial deaths remain the most popular, and I suppose with good reason-after all, the autopsy of a cancer victim just isn’t as alluring). Just a couple of months ago, during the 50th year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, photos from Kennedy’s autopsy were splashed across newsstand tabloids everywhere.

Sometimes we do try to make a valiant effort to look away from these things. But how can we look away when they very cleverly paste such images on the very papers that we have to look at while standing in the check out lane?

JFK, Marilyn Monroe, And Tupac Shakur Are Just A Few Of The Celebs Whose Autopsy Pics Have Been Circulated For Years.
JFK, Marilyn Monroe, And Tupac Shakur Are Just A Few Of The Celebs Whose Autopsy Pics Have Been Circulated For Years.

JFK was the president of the United States, but this goes to show that no celebrity is off limits to this kind of degradation and invasion of privacy.

I can’t say that I’ve never been curious enough to look up these celebrity autopsy photos. I am not only morbidly curious by nature ( as most of us are, if we are honest with ourselves!) but have always had an interest in pathology and forensics. I am not one of those squeamish people who are bothered by seeing a dead body. But ultimately, my curiosity always ends up fighting a moral battle with what I feel is “right.” Just because celebrities are public figures, should that give us-the public-the right to this kind of intrusiveness?

With Michael, it has always felt different. I think it is because a part of me almost views him more as “family” than as just another celebrity who has died. I think that for many fans, it is the same, and perhaps that’s why it is so hard to accept any public display or discussion of his death as objectively as, perhaps, we might with other celebrities.

I Can't Truly Explain Why It Felt Different With Michael. Perhaps It Was Because, For The First Time, It Felt More Like A Family Member Had Died Than A Celebrity.
I Can’t Truly Explain Why It Felt Different With Michael. Perhaps It Was Because, For The First Time, It Felt More Like A Family Member Had Died Than A Celebrity.

All of us, for example, had known that the autopsy photos of Michael’s body existed, as well as the post mortem photos taken at the hospital. There had always been a kind of unified dread that, eventually, those photos would be leaked to the press. I will admit that sometimes, even while looking up the autopsy photos of other celebrities, I felt a secret satisfaction that Michael-so far-had not been subjected to this final indignity. It seemed he had been through enough in life. In death, he at least deserved that final bit of dignity and privacy, if not for himself and his fans, at least for his family, particularly his minor children.

A double standard? Perhaps. Fair? No. But I will address all of this in a bit. Just know for now that, yes, I was aware of my own hypocrisy.

Eventually, of course, the death photos and autopsy photos were leaked to the press during the Conrad Murray trial. Should we have been shocked when these were then plastered all over sites like TMZ, and featured on the cover of The National Enquirer? Again, yes and no.

From the perspective of the celebrity death cult, no.

From the perspective of what we know, innately, is the decent and human thing to do? Absolutely, yes. We should have been not only shocked, but morally outraged.

Okay, so now I have seen Michael dead. I have seen his body on a gurney, and naked on an autopsy table. I processed it and moved on. I am not even particularly offended by the gurney pic (unlike the autopsy pic, I find it rather beautiful in a strange way that is hard to explain; perhaps because something about it had an ethereal, almost saint-like quality). But what about his kids? I have heard that haters, among other despicable things, tweeted that autopsy pic to Paris. No doubt this sort of behavior led, at least in part, to her suicide attempt. (And I will also be addressing the recent, despicable outrage that has been perpetuated against Blanket, which has raised an altogether different issue in regards to tabloid ethics, but that is a different topic for another post).

It Seemed A Victory When This Gruesome Discovery Channel Documentary Was Canceled In 2010. But Eventually, What Goes Around, Comes Around...
It Seemed A Victory When This Gruesome Discovery Channel Documentary Was Canceled In 2010. But Eventually, What Goes Around, Comes Around…

All of this brings me to a show that will be airing in the UK on Tuesday night, “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson.” It is being promoted as a three-part series in which a “pathologist” named Dr. Richard Shepherd will supposedly examine in detail the autopsies of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Anna Nicole-Smith.

http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/uk-news/2013/12/05/diana-pathologist-presents-tv-show/

In 2010, fans and the estate of Michael Jackson successfully waged a campaign to keep a proposed documentary from airing on the Discovery channel that was to have featured a reenactment of Michael’s autopsy. It was the particularly gruesome aspect of a reenactment that really prompted me to take a stance against this proposed doc.

When I first heard of Dr. Shepherd’s program, however, my first impulse was to give it the benefit of the doubt. Mostly because I was (admittedly) suckered in by this statement from Channel 5 commissioning agent Guy Davies:

“When each of these icons died it was global news, but the public version of their lives and deaths were largely built on rumour and conjecture.

“Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist – and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them – to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.”

So when I saw fans on Twitter and elsewhere expressing disapproval of the show, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty. After all, much of Michael’s greatest vindication is in the results of that autopsy.”  Thanks to the findings of that autopsy, we know he actually did have vitiligo. We know that his organs were in incredibly good shape for a man of his age. We know that the only drugs found in his system were the ones that Murray gave him that night. We know his death was ruled a homicide, thus eliminating any crazy theories of self-induced drug overdoses.  But what do these people really mean when they speak of “the reality?”

I thought this show might actually deal in the hard facts of the autopsy, and would dispel some of the public misconceptions. But I started to have my doubts when I was sent a link to this promotional blurb:

http://www.channel5.com/shows/autopsy-michael-jacksons-last-hours/episodes/autopsy-michael-jacksons-last-hours

What are they saying? Well, here’s a start:

In the first of three hour-long documentaries, world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd investigates the death of Michael Jackson, ‘The King of Pop’. He was the biggest-selling recording artist of all time, but when he suddenly died at just 50 years old, he left $400 million in debts and more questions than answers.

The evidence revealed by his autopsy shows a severely sick man. Jackson was plagued by complications from his many plastic surgeries, suffered from two rare skin conditions and was riddled with arthritis. His lungs were severely damaged, he had an enlarged prostate, and was still suffering the effects of a horrific accident that left him partially bald.

The most startling evidence, however, uncovers the bewildering number of drugs that were coursing through his veins, bearing witness to a number of addictions that had spiralled out of control. It was Jackson’s desperate battle against insomnia, however, that would ultimately cost him his life.

The second paragraph of this blurb alone is riddled with lies. The autopsy did NOT show that Michael was a “severely sick man”-at least not until Murray began treating him. It does not reveal in any particular way that he was “plagued by his many surgeries” (in fact, his nose, contrary to popular myth, was proven to be intact). Perhaps this could be a reference to some of the scars noted, but again, there is no particular emphasis on them in the autopsy report; certainly they had no direct  bearing on his death or state of health. Now, as for the mention of  “two rare skin conditions” that could be a good thing; it means that his vitiligo will most likely be discussed. He did have arthritis (normal for a person aged fifty) but to say he was “riddled with it” would be a bit of an exaggeration, as is also the statement regarding lungs that were “severely damaged.” The “horrific accident” refers to the Pepsi commercial accident, which might be good for the layperson to know (the accident was much more serious, and had much further reaching long-term repercussions for Michael than most people realized) but then they cap it off with the lie about the “bewildering number of drugs” coursing through his veins. There is nothing remotely “bewildering” about what was found in his system other than to wonder, What was Murray thinking?
It’s hard to say, sometimes, just how balanced or fair these types of shows, ultimately, may prove to be. Often, they will toss out the most salacious bits in hopes of hooking viewers, even though the program’s actual content may serve to dispute or debunk those claims. With no way to preview the show’s contents in advance, it’s hard to say. But my doubts have been further solidified by this write up:

Channel 5 announced today new series “Autopsy: The Last Hours Of …” which will air in Quarter 1 2014.

Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith – three global celebrities who died suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically. In the wake of their passing, claims, counter claims, wild rumours and salacious theories were everywhere. But the real truth about how they died doesn’t lie in trashy biographies or internet rumours – it lies in their autopsies. These cold hard medical documents establish exactly what killed them and how and why it happened.

In this series of three one-hour films, world-renowned forensic pathologist, Dr. Richard Shepherd will navigate us through the bodies of each of these three celebrities. Dr Shepherd was forensic pathological expert for the Inquiry and Inquest into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr Dodi Al Fayed. Amongst his other work was providing the Attorney General with a review of the forensic pathological aspects of the death of Dr David Kelly and he was the forensic pathological expert for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

Dr. Shepherd says: “The fascinating thing about an autopsy is that if you know how to read it correctly, it doesn’t just tell you how a person died, it can tell you even more about how they lived. And furthermore, autopsies are non-judgmental; they are simply a scientific acquisition of facts, so in the case of a person that is well known, that objectivity can allow you to see them with fresh eyes, up close and personal and as if for the first time. The fact that they are a celebrity makes no difference at all.”

The evidence revealed by the autopsy is enhanced by interviews with those who loved and laboured with the stars each film reveals the key life decisions and events that set each of them on an inevitable path towards death. A worker at Michael Jackson’s dermatologist claims that the King of Pop was injected with massive doses of opiates several times a week in the months before he died. The ex-boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith tells how the breast augmentation that made her famous nearly destroyed her. Whitney Houston’s chauffeur recalls how the singer’s extreme drug habits almost set his car on fire.

This unique approach will investigate the life and times of each of these globally recognised icons and offer new insights into their untimely deaths.

Guy Davies, Commissioning Editor Factual, Channel 5, said: “When each of these icons died it was global news, but the public version of their lives and deaths were largely built on rumour and conjecture. Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist – and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them – to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.”

Ed Taylor, Executive Producer, Potato, added: “The lives and deaths of these three global icons are surrounded in mystery and speculation. Each of these three films reveals extraordinary facts about their lives and how their lifestyles ultimately contributed to their untimely deaths.”

http://thisistorrevieja.info/2013/12/06/channel-5-to-air-new-series-autopsy-the-last-hours-of/

First of all, what does any worker at Dr. Klein’s office have to do with how Michael died? (And anyone want to offer up any bets as to who this mystery “worker” might be? I’m guessing none other than the ever reliable Jason Pfeiffer!).  It is also quite disturbing when the last statement is all about how “their lifestyles ultimately contributed to their untimely deaths.” So on the surface, it seems this is little more than another attempt to blame the victim.

Now, let’s take this paragraph and examine what we can TRULY expect by reading between the lines (my comments in bold):

Our programmes use the hard medical facts of the actual autopsy findings – examined and interpreted by a world respected pathologist  (in other words, we will take the hard facts from the autopsy and have our “expert” pathologist put his own spin on them)and first-hand accounts by those who really knew them (i.e, the vultures and scumbags in their lives who live to sell them out) to intelligently piece together these shocking stories, and reveal the reality behind their final, desperate hours.” (we will make up whatever crap we feel like and hope you are gullible enough to buy it). 

Not to mention that when they say Dr. Shepherd will “navigate” us through the bodies of these three individuals, it sounds like they are planning a reenactment-the very thing that propelled most of us to so vehemently protest the Discovery program.

Michael's Body...We Loved It, We Adored It. But Do We Want To "Navigate" Through It With A Hack Pathologist As Our Guide? Nah Thanks, I'll Pass!
Michael’s Body…We Loved It, We Adored It. But Do We Want To “Navigate” Through It With A Hack Pathologist As Our Guide? Nah Thanks, I’ll Pass!

However, while blasting the bad taste of this show, I want to get back for a moment to my original focus. Is Michael Jackson, alone of all celebrities, singled out for these kinds of indignities? Well, obviously not. This show is planning to feature segments on Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole-Smith. It’s a bit cringe worthy and ironic (in a not funny way) when I see comments on this series that proclaim, “Only Michael Jackson gets treated this way” when there are obviously two other celebrities being featured and subjected to the same lack of respect. And it’s funny that there are no comments at all from Whitney fans or Anna Nicole fans; only MJ fans. Do they not care, or are we just a unusually touchy bunch when it comes to our Michael?

Well, consider this. Why do you think they purposely made Michael’s installment the first part of the series? Why are they using his name-first and foremost-to promote it?

There you go. Michael isn’t the only dead celebrity being sold out for sensationalism, morbid curiosity, and ratings. But I daresay, with no exaggeration, that he is by far the most profitable. And therein lies the problem. Just as his name generated guaranteed ratings and profit in life, it continues to do so in death.

It’s easy to say I can’t concern myself with what should be another fan base’s battles. But I can’t help but feel a little sad that no one seems to be similarly speaking up for Whitney and Anna Nicole, the other “victims” of this three-part series. Ultimately, we can’t abide by a double standard. If we wish to demand respect for Michael in the media, we must demand that all deceased public figures, who cannot speak for themselves, be accorded the same respect.

This Poster, Intended To Argue For The Legalization of Marijuana, Is Intended To Be Humorous. However, It Is Indicative Of A Real Problem And Common Public Misconception Of How Michael Died.  It Doesn't Appear That Shows Like "The Last Hours of Michael Jackson" Will Be Doing Anything To Dispel Those Myths.
This Poster, Intended To Argue For The Legalization of Marijuana, Is Intended To Be Humorous. However, It Is Indicative Of A Real Problem And Common Public Misconception Of How Michael Died. It Doesn’t Appear That Shows Like “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson” Will Be Doing Anything To Dispel Those Myths.

There also seems to be an unspoken assumption that celebrities who led controversial lives (or who were the subjects of media controversy, at any rate)are somehow more “open season” targets for exploitation. Ever notice it is almost always the same names that crop up over and over in these types of shows? On the one hand, you could say these are the celebrities that the public is most curious about. But then who is responsible for feeding that curiosity? Who, for that matter, is responsible for having provoked much of it?

Sometimes it does seem like a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the media create our insatiable and often morbid curiosity, or (as the media’s most ardent defenders like to say) is it simply a mirror reflecting the worst of our own humanity? It’s sometimes hard to know the difference, and as someone who can honestly admit my own hypocrisy in this regard, I know that we continue to be as much a part of the problem as its solution. Alas, there is a reason why the gossip industry remains the multi-million dollar industry that it is. It is an industry that feeds on the gullible, and the curious.

But the words of Emma Parker stand as a testament. No matter how big (or notorious) the celebrity, there is an often overlooked human story. These people have families-parents, children, siblings-who are continuously affected by our curiosity and the industry that perpetuates it.

“All of this hysteria, for and against, was enough to make one lose one’s reason and go mad laughing. But none of us cared. We were past caring.-“Emma Parker. 

Barring any last minute miracles, I doubt protests will prevent “The Last Hours of Michael Jackson” from airing. It took action from the estate in 2010 to finally stop the Discovery program from airing, and so far I haven’t seen as much effort being generated to stop Dr. Richard Shepherd’s farce. Perhaps many, like myself, were lulled into a false sense of hope that this show might be different from the macabre freak show that had been promised by Discovery; that here we might actually have something about Michael Jackson’s autopsy that could actually prove to be informative and educational for the public.

No, not at all. It looks to be the same old, sensationalized crap. The same old lies, recycled and manufactured for everyone who didn’t bother to read the autopsy report and didn’t bother to follow the Murray trial.

But then, what should we expect? That a show about Michael’s autopsy might actually be handled with good taste and integrity?

Who are we kidding?

As the airing date for this show approaches, we should keep in mind those words uttered by Emma Parker eighty years ago:

“The state of death deserves respect in any land.”

That respect was denied her daughter. Well, some might say her daughter Bonnie made her choices, and deserved what she got. All the same, her account is difficult to read without a sense of revulsion. And yes, it can certainly shake one’s faith in civilized humanity.

Michael Jackson was not an outlaw (though I suppose one could argue that the allegations made against him branded him, at least in some eyes, as a potential criminal). What was he then? Only one of our greatest entertainers, humanitarians, and philanthropists-a musician, a dancer, a songwriter, an author, a husband, a father, a brother, a son.

Yet, despite all of the accolades and the tributes and a memorial service fit for a king, we see in many crucial ways all of the same elements and the same trappings that drove Emma Parker to write her tirade in the 1930’s. Michael’s death in many ways was treated with the same curious mixture of mob mentality and circus-like spectacle. Perhaps they didn’t rip the clothes from his body, or try to cut off parts of his body in hopes of selling them (though I’m sure some would have done so given the opportunity!) but certainly these things have all been done to him in a manner of figurative speaking. He has been dissected, probed, analyzed, and ripped apart in just about every way imaginable that a human can be.

If We Are Going To Demand Respect For Michael, We Must Demand It For Everyone. And We Must Demand It, Not Because He Was Michael Jackson, But Because He Was A Human Being First And Foremost.
If We Are Going To Demand Respect For Michael, We Must Demand It For Everyone. And We Must Demand It, Not Because He Was Michael Jackson, But Because He Was A Human Being First And Foremost.

But ultimately, if we demand respect for Michael Jackson, we cannot demand it because he is Michael Jackson, or because we love him, or because he is any more deserving than anyone else. In the end, we must do it because he was a human being, and for no other.

It’s not just what we owe to Michael. It’s what we owe to everyone. Including ourselves.

UPDATE: 1/06/2013: The estate HAS issued a statement in regard to this program:

Message from The Estate of Michael Jackson: Although it is not possible for the Estate to bring legal action to stop the broadcast of the program about the autopsy performed on Michael, the Executors want Michael’s fans to know that letters have been sent to the broadcaster and station owner expressing the Estate’s disgust at those who heartlessly work to profit from the most banal, salacious details of Michael’s death.  In part, the letter from John Branca and John McClain asks Channel 5 to show good taste and common decency by canceling Tuesday’s planned airing of Autopsy: Michael Jackson’s Last Hours.  The letter also states: “Despite Channel 5’s cynical and disingenuous promotions claiming Autopsy ‘separates fact from fiction,’ it is nothing more than another sleazy tabloid program exploiting Michael’s tragic and untimely death…..Separating ‘fact from fiction,’ the Michael Jackson his friends and family knew was a loving father, a global entertainment icon and humanitarian devoted to making the world better. His children do not deserve to see their father’s death callously exploited out of greed because a new TV series desperately wants to attract viewers.” The Executors share the fans hope that Channel 5 show the good judgment to cancel the broadcast of this distasteful program.

http://www.jackson-source.com/news/1325-message-from-the-estate-about-autopsy-michael-jackson-s-last-hours

This was the same tactic that resulted in the cancellation of the Discovery program. Will it work this time? Guess we’ll find out!

How Much Is A Human Life Worth? Two Years!

One Of My Favorite Photos Of Michael
One Of My Favorite Photos Of Michael

Two years. That is the message sent loud and clear by Conrad Murray’s release.

You can kill a person and, with a little good behavior and the luck of jail overcrowding on your side, walk scot free to enjoy your mistresses and you fine wining and dining.

You can kill the world’s most beloved entertainer, and continue to torture his kids with your delusions.

Two years later, and Conrad Murray has yet to offer one shred of remorse or to take one iota of responsibility for what he did. That still blows my mind.

Let’s revisit that historic day of Murray’s sentencing. Judge Pastor passed down the harshest sentence allowed within the law, and stated emphatically that if he could impose an even stiffer punishment, he would do it gladly.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd45ixg2PPU[/tube]

Today, Murray walks. Coming on the heels of AEG’s “victory” it seems even more of a bitter pill to swallow.

I often go back to a favorite argument that is often made by many, but bears repeating. Whatever choices Michael made; whatever mistakes he made, he paid the ultimate price.

There are still, in my estimation, far too many who owe a debt that has not yet been paid at all.

Conrad Murray hasn’t even paid a percentage of what he owes.

As for the photo I chose of Michael to accompany this article, call it pathos if you will. But there is a reason why this is one of my favorite photos. Could anything else possibly capture the essence of his innocent sweetness more?

I look at this and think on that word “Homicide.” I look on this and think: Two years is not enough. It is not nearly enough.

I look at this and feel the twinge of helplessness, and then an immense wave of apathy at the hopelessness of it all.

Too many tonight are walking, breathing, eating, drinking, laughing, making love.

Michael is inside a cold crypt in Forest Lawn. His daughter’s life is a mess.

And millions of us feel the eternal cold emptiness of a world without him.

Are we to believe two years is sufficient to pay that debt?

The law says yes. The heart says no. Never.

 

Verdict Watch

slapped-screamedIt’s down to the wire now. Once again, a Michael Jackson trial has gone to the hands of a jury to deliberate. And once again, fans and those who care will sit on pins and needles, waiting for yet another outcome that in some way, whatever the results, will become a part of the Michael Jackson legacy.

scared-to-death

In the past, the American justice system has always been in Michael’s corner. And that is exactly why the public at large is usually more than a little surprised when these verdicts come back. Because a jury’s concern is not the slanted, skewered version of events that is reported in the media, but rather, the actual evidence that is weighed in a trial. Michael was put on trial when he lived. In death, he has been put on trial, not once, but twice in relation to his own death. This is unprecedented. But it has been necessary in getting to the truth. That’s a position I will continue to stand by, regardless of those who would like to have seen all of this simply swept under the rug in the name of keeping some superficial peace.

However, there has been a marked difference in the attitudes toward this trial, as opposed to, say, Michael’s molestation trial or the Conrad Murray trial in 2011. Both of those were criminal trials, with the dramatic possibility of a prison/jail sentence for the guilty party. In 2005, the possibility of a superstar going to prison kept the world riveted (regardless of whether we were fascinated for the right or wrong reasons). In 2011, the man directly responsible for his death was found guilty and sentenced. Those who loved Michael cheered; those who hated him could only feel the chagrin of defeat and take to social media to vent about “self responsibility” and all that other nonsense.

The AEG trial has dragged on for five months. That’s about two months longer than Michael’s criminal trial, and about two months longer than Conrad Murray’s manslaughter trial. And yet, outside of the fan community, interest in this trial has been rather tepid. Most people are not aware it is happening (at least no one that I talk to). The media has, as always, conveniently ignored the most revealing aspects of this trial, and when they have mentioned it at all, have only played up the usual aspects of it-Michael the Drug Addict; Michael the Doctor Shopper, etc. I was reading one such article just yesterday, which purported to highlight the “5 Key Moments From The Michael Jackson/AEG trial.” They mentioned the billion dollars at stake; they mentioned Prince and Debbie Rowe taking the stand; they mentioned propofol (as if we didn’t already know all about that!) and the tales of Michael’s declining health in his last weeks (but slanted as such to make it appear that this was all his own doing). Not surprisingly, there was no mention of Michael being slapped by Randy Phillips; no mention of the emails that called him a “freak,” no mention of a contract that locked him into 50 shows without his consent; no mention of Dr. Cziesler’s expert testimony on how Michael Jackson just may have been the first human being in history to be subjected to 60 days of REM-less sleep, among many other revelations that were ALL more earth shattering than any of those highlighted. Granted, there have been a few ripples here and there, and for awhile back during the spring, the prosecution was swinging heavily-conveniently, right about the time that the Wade Robson story suddenly broke. But overall, when I look at the coverage as a whole and the way the majority of the public have reacted to it, one consistent pattern emerges-the picture of a concert promoter just trying to get a show on, and being pitted against a difficult and troubled,drug addicted star already on a downward spiral-one whose “greedy” family is now looking for a windfall.

Sadly, no matter how we slice it, that is the paradigm that has been sold to a gullible public, and the public has bought it. If the jury comes back with the decision that AEG has lost, that, unfortunately, will not shift the paradigm. As always, we will have the vocal opponents and the know-it-all analysts simply shrugging their shoulders and saying the jury got it wrong. AEG, a multi-billion dollar corporation, will be portrayed as the victims. I know, because that bit of history has already been written, and the jury’s verdict will not change that.

But getting back to what is riding on this trial’s outcome, I think there is another reason why the response beyond the fan community has been as tepid as it has. This has been a civil trial, not a criminal one, and despite the billion dollar figure allegedly at stake, there simply isn’t as much invested in this trial’s outcome for those not directly involved. To be honest, most people outside the fan community-and Michael’s own circle of family and friends- are wearied with the subject of Michael Jackson’s death-what caused it, who is responsible, etc. It is a question that has dragged on, endlessly, for four years, and it is very likely we may never have all of those answers, no matter how many trials are held and how many lawsuits come to pass.  Obviously, his fans and family want those answers. But for most of the rest of the world, the subject of Michael Jackson’s death and who is responsible has become a wearisome subject.

And unlike the other trials, there is no clearcut  victim or “bad guy” in this case, at least none so far as what the public sees. Most could at least say, “I hope they throw the book at that there Dr. Murray cause he deserves it” and even longtime Jackson bashers such as Nancy Grace were jumping on that train. But when it comes to Michael Jackson vs. A Faceless Corporate Entity, the picture becomes (conveniently, I would say) a whole lot fuzzier. Outside of the fan community-those of us who have rigorously kept up with, and followed every detail of this case-it just seems like a case of a family unwilling to accept that their son/brother/father had “issues,” and unfairly looking for a third party-a rich one, at that-to make into a scapegoat.

I know that is not true, but then, when it comes to trying to explain the whole truth of this case to those who do not know anything about it, it is enough to give me a pounding migraine. Where to even begin? Unless someone is willing to take the time to read through dozens of blogs, to go through hours’ worth of court transcripts, to spend hours’ worth of scanning contracts  etc-or-as some fans have done, to even sit through these proceedings for months on end-all one can really say is, “I’m sorry if that’s the way you feel,” and move on.

But the truth is that this is a case with the potential to have far reaching repercussions in the entertainment industry. That is one reason why I think entertainers everywhere should be shuddering in their shoes at the prospect of this verdict. If AEG emerges from this case victorious, it means in effect that a concert promoter can agree to own you, body and soul, and can drive you to your death with no repercussions. But if they lose this case, there is also going to be a major ripple effect in the way future business dealings between artists and promoters will be handled. Could AEG, the second largest concert promoter in the business, go bankrupt as a result of this case? I don’t know. But it’s a lot of money at stake, and no doubt, these are people with a lot of power in the industry. I think it is very likely that if they lose this case, there may be some attempt to blackball the Michael Jackson brand. Maybe; maybe not. But I don’t put much past these people, and I certainly don’t trust them.

It would be a nice pipe dream to think that artists everywhere would stand together and band against greedy corporations who would take advantage of them. But the reality is that artists have to eat, too. And if AEG is paying their bills, I doubt they will be willing to rock that boat. When it comes down to choosing whose back to have and whose corner to be in, they will side where their bread is buttered.

In an ideal world, the good are vindicated, and the evil punished. But that ideal world doesn’t exist except in the realm of  wishful thinking.

How do I personally feel the verdict will go? Well, I may have to eat crow in a few days, when it comes down. But I believe AEG will be held liable. To what extent, that remains to be seen. I think there will be concessions made in the amount of money they are forced to pay Katherine Jackson and the kids, but in the end, that just comes down to a matter of breaking down the dollars and cents.

Which, sadly, is what Michael’s life has come down to, regardless of what the jury decides. We know this when we have both parties pointing the finger and calling the “greed” card. The Jacksons will point at AEG and say, “They killed him for money” and AEG will point at the Jacksons and say, “And all they want now, to compensate for his loss, is money.”

Michael got it right when he sang that it’s all bout the money.

Even if there is some justice for the family and a sense of closure (and that’s if the jury decides in their favor) that is not how it will be played out in the media.

But perhaps that doesn’t matter, and it shouldn’t. I sincerely believe, just as before, that truth and justice will prevail. I pray I will not be wrong in that belief.

So what are my own feelings now that it is all winding down? I have not followed the events of this trial in as much detail as some bloggers, but I said in the beginning that would be the case. I simply do not have the time to post those kinds of continuous updates, even though I admire and am greatly indebted to those who have. But I have tried to keep up with all of the major stories to come from it, and to reflect on those testimonies that have had the most impact. As a blogger whose stats rely on just how relevant Michael Jackson is in the news, there is a part of me that, inevitably, will miss that kind of day to day excitement. That is the journalist in me, and I hope it doesn’t offend too many if I am honest in that assessment. The traffic here is always highest when the public is discussing Michael Jackson, and that’s just the way it is.

But now the dust is going to settle, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. It will mean getting back to the basics of what truly matters-Michael’s art. And, of course, all of those topics that we will continue to debate indefinitely in search of the truth, or something approximating it.

I will just say this much in regard to the verdict watch, and what it means:

IF the jury comes back with the decision that AEG is not liable (effectively meaning that KJ has lost the case) I know I am going to feel a sense of anger that justice has not been served, and that AEG got away with what they did to Michael. I won’t be happy with that decision, but I will live with it if that’s what it comes down to.

However, I also do not believe I will be feeling especially celebratory even if the verdict comes back as the equivalent of “Guilty.” Yes, it will bring some sense of closure to what has been a very long, bitter, and drawn out chapter, going all the way back to when the coroner first officially ruled Michael Jackson’s death as a “homicide.” But the verdict will still leave just as many questions unanswered, and in the end, as I have discovered long ago, people are still going to believe what they want to believe about Michael Jackson, how he died, and why he died. Meanwhile, too many with blood on their hands will still walk scot free. Murray is due to be released on October 28th, after serving less than two years. Tohme Tohme, the man directly and illegally responsible for locking Michael into that contract from hell, once again slips through the cracks.

I wish that I could say, after enduring five long months of this trial, that all of this will be erased if/when the jury comes back with the right verdict. But I know it won’t.

V-Day will be a day of anticipation, and no doubt, some reflection, whatever the jury decides. I can’t say I won’t feel a ping of deep satisfaction if AEG loses. But I don’t suspect any of those feelings will be especially long lasting, because the cynic in me knows just how much impact this verdict is going to have, either way. In the long run, not much.

You may see above that I posted images of the emails sent by Randy Phillips to Tim Leiweke, which were included as part of Panish’s closing arguments. I am sure most of you probably know that when you right click an image to save it, that image is usually identified by a file name. It just so happened that when I saved this image, the file name that came up was this: “Scared To Death.”

And the file names that accompanied the other images were just as telling: “Slapped. Screamed. Scared.”

And that, in essence, sums up the gist of this trial and everything that Michael endured in his last weeks.

I can only keep faith that the “real” judge, who sees all and knows all without the need for attorneys, witnesses or juries, will be the one who has the final say. Until then, none of the rest of it matters.

Teammichael has posted the closing arguments on Youtube. As far as I can tell, this is the correct order. I am, of course, grateful to the members of Teammichael for all of their hard work and coverage during this trial. 

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hks6cBh93HE[/tube]

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UhA8SRtyNA[/tube]

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGFY1AQZu4Q[/tube]

 UPDATE 10/05/2013: VERDICT IN! AEG NOT LIABLE (Well, not legally, anyway!):

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO_d6j8OE_4[/tube]

I’m still having a bit of trouble getting my hands around this. Did I miss something, or wasn’t the whole crux of this trial supposed to hinge on the question of who hired Murray? The jury unanimously declared that AEG had hired Murray. Yet AEG is off the hook scot-free. The jury is now claiming a convenient legal loophole: That it was not a question of whether Murray was unethical, but a question of whether he was competent to perform the job he was hired to do. WT…?

Okay, I’m done. At least, until I can digest all of this a little more.

I know I said I would live with this decision, however it came down, but I’m left with a very bitter aftertaste. This verdict now means that the idea of Michael Jackson as being responsible for his own death is now cemented for many. Much of the crucial evidence that came to light regarding AEG’s treatment of Michael will be suppressed, while instead, all we will hear about is that Katherine didn’t get her expected windfall. That, to me, is tragic. I’ve never believed this case was solely about the money. However, it did bring to light a lot of ugly truths that, nevertheless, needed to be known. For that, I am at least grateful.

But the difference is that, had the jury ruled to hold AEG liable (even if only in part) I would have felt some sense of justice and closure. As it stands now, I cannot.

Michael’s untimely death remains what it has been from the start-a tragedy involving many culpable hands, who unfortunately will never have justice served upon them. At least, not in this life.