LOS ANGELES, CA – Michael Jackson told his tour director days before he died he was hearing God’s voice, a producer testified Wednesday.
“God keeps talking to me,”Jackson said.
Those words spoken to Kenny Ortega and Jackson’s frail appearance were so disturbing that it caused Ortega and associate producer Alif Sankey to burst into tears at a rehearsal, Sankey said Wednesday in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother and three children.
Jackson, who was being fitted for his costumes, appeared “extremely thin” and “was not speaking normally” at the June 19, 2009, rehearsal, Sankey told jurors in a trial to determine if concert promoter AEG Live should be held liable in the pop icon’s death.
Jurors saw a photo of Jackson at the costume fitting that showed an obviously thin and gaunt man.
Sankey testified that she and Ortega cried together after Jackson left. On her way home, Sankey stopped her car to call Ortega “because I had a very strong feeling that Michael was dying.”
“I was screaming into the phone at that point,” Sankey testified. “I said he needs to be put in the hospital now.”
Sankey became emotional as she testified about the call.
“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.”
Ortega sent a series of e-mails early the next morning that resulted in a meeting at Jackson’s house between Jackson, Dr. Conrad Murray, AEG Live President Randy Phillips and Ortega.
An e-mail from Phillips after that meeting said 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.
The lawsuit contends that Phillips and AEG never checked Murray out. Otherwise, they would have known he was deeply in debt and vulnerable to breaking the rules in treating Jackson to keep his job, it argues.
Jackson lawyers contend that AEG Live is liable for Jackson’s death because the company negligently hired, retained or supervised Murray — who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death.
Jackson’s last rehearsal was at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on June 24, 2009. Security camera video shown to the jury Wednesday showed him walking with a blanket wrapped around him as he passed Sankey.
“He didn’t look good,” she testified. “I asked him if he was cold, and he said ‘Yes.'”
Jackson sang two songs that last night on stage: “Thriller” and “Earth Song,” she said.
“He did it,” Sankey said. “He went through it. He wasn’t in full performance mode.”
Sankey said she was standing next to Ortega at a rehearsal the next afternoon when Randy Phillips called to tell him Jackson was dead.
“Kenny collapsed in our arms,” she said.
The lawsuit contends that AEG Live executives missed a series of red flags warning them that Jackson’s life was at risk because of Murray, who was giving him nightly infusions of the surgical anesthetic propofol to treat his insomnia.
The coroner ruled Jackson had died from an overdose of propofol in combination with several sedatives on June 25, 2009.
Murray told investigators he used the drugs to help Jackson sleep so he could be rested for rehearsals.
AEG lawyers argue Jackson, not their company, chose and supervised Murray, and that their executives had no way of knowing what the doctor was doing to Jackson in the privacy of his bedroom.
In contrast to six days of testimony mostly about Jackson’s death, jurors did hear about the pop icon’s creativity during Sankey’s testimony
“Michael’s imagination was endless,” Sankey said. “He would visualize it, and it happened. It was amazing.”
Katherine Jackson dabbed tears from her eyes as her son’s “Smooth Criminal” video was played in court.
Sankey first met Michael Jackson when she was a dancer in the 1987 video production.
“We got to see Michael’s imagination come to life,” Sankey said. “That was my first time as a dancer, as an artist, that I was completely inspired by his craft and inspired by his attention to every detail. He was so detailed and he never missed a thing.”
Working with Jackson was “magical,” she said.
“I dream still to this day that I will be able to create on that level of magic that Michael created,” Sankey said. “It was like living a dream of working with an artist like that, and I will treasure it and have it in my memory forever.”
Sankey’s work as an associate producer and dancer for Jackson’s “This Is It” tour put her on the witness list in this trial.
“He shared with me that he was excited to do the show,” she said. “He was excited to show his kids, finally to show them who he was, what he was all about; he was very excited about that.”
Jurors heard about Jackson’s relationship with his three children and their love of their father. Sankey described how they would come with their father to the set each day in early June when he was filming video elements for the show.
“Paris had a purse, and inside her purse, she had all this candy in her purse she didn’t want her daddy to know about,” Sankey said. “She had these little pictures of her father in her purse that were in frames. She had, like, a lot of them. Her purse was full of candy and pictures of her daddy.”
“They loved their daddy,” she said.
The “This Is It” concert would have been “a pretty big show,” Sankey told jurors.
“It was going to be huge and it was going to be innovative, different,” she testified. “From working with Michael in my past, I knew it had to be something that no one’s ever seen. It all had to be new and pioneering.”
The next witness when court resumes Thursday morning will be Michael Jackson’s longtime hair and make up artist, Karen Faye. She was quoted in interviews after Jackson’s death saying that the pop star was in ill health weeks before he died.
Spectators in the small Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday morning included Judge Lance Ito, famous for presiding over the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. Ito was there to watch his friend, Judge Yvette Palazuelos, preside over this trial and then go to lunch with her.
By Alan Duke
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