A year ago, the world watched as Michael Jackson balanced on the edge of a precipice. Behind the once-proclaimed King of Pop was a bleak stretch of pain and artistic decline. Ahead lay a series of 50 London concerts — a high-rolling bid to reassert his musical brilliance and re-establish control of his life.
Jackson was poised for a great leap of faith, one testing himself and those who believed in him. It was a chance to silence detractors who had mocked his increasingly clownish, artificial appearance and what appeared to be an equally artificial and veiled version of family life with the three children he was raising alone.
Harsher critics cast him as a man who used wealth and celebrity to elude justice on child molestation charges.
The elaborately staged shows set to begin last July 13 at London’s famed O2 Arena represented winner take all, or lose all, for an entertainer who’d been famous for most of his 50 years.
He was ready. The audience was ready. Then he was gone. Less than three weeks before his new life may have started on a stage filled with special effects and song, the old one ended in a cloud of drugs and unfulfilled dreams.
Outwardly, Jackson had seemed fit as he prepared for the London shows, and his autopsy found he was in relatively strong physical condition for a man his age.
But privately, he was struggling with chronic insomnia that he battled with a regular regimen of powerful drugs.
In the year since Jackson’s shockingly abrupt death on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of sedatives, a fuller picture of his last day has emerged. What follows is a comprehensive reconstruction of those final 24 hours by The Associated Press.
Exactly what happened during that time may never be known, as the only person with him was his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered a series of drugs to help his patient sleep. Murray is due to stand trial later this year on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death.
But witness accounts and court documents agree: Jackson’s final day started off like many others.
Early in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 24, Michael Jackson came down the stairs of his rented mansion and sat with his kids for what would be their last meal together.
He had a rehearsal later that night so he wanted to eat something light but sustaining. His personal chef, Kai Chase, prepared seared ahi tuna with an organic salad and a glass of carrot and orange juice.
“He smiled and put his hands together for a prayer,” Chase said. “He said, ‘Thank you, God bless you.'”
The singer, Chase recalled, looked well, seemed energized and was in a good mood.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jackson left his eight-bedroom mansion at 100 North Carolwood Drive in Holmby Hills, an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between Bel-Air and Beverly Hills.
He got into the back of a navy-blue Escalade driven by bodyguard Faheen Muhammad. His personal assistant, Michael Amir Williams, sat in the front.
They traveled downtown to the Staples Center, where Jackson and his team of musicians and dancers were in final rehearsals before heading to London. Jackson’s logistics director, Alberto Alvarez, met the Escalade and drove Jackson in a golf cart to his dressing room.
Several people recalled Jackson being in good shape that night.
“He was completely enthused,” said Dorian Holley, Jackson’s longtime vocal director and a singer for the upcoming “This Is It” shows. “It was hard to discern any difference between his energy and his physicality between then and his earlier days.”
Jackson went through several classic numbers, including “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “She’s Out of My Life.”
With an enormous monitor installed onstage, Jackson for the first time was shown video accompaniments to some of these songs, said Holley, who was standing beside Jackson during the rehearsal.
“It was eye-popping,” Holley said. “He was grinning from ear to ear.”
Tim Patterson, one of two cameramen who shot footage of the rehearsals and later helped edit it into the film “This Is It,” recalled that Jackson was especially wowed by a 3-D segment on “Thriller” where a crystal ball floats out toward the audience.
“I remember Michael reached out and grabbed it,” Patterson said. “He loved it.”
Later that night, Jackson and his dancers performed “Thriller” on stage in full costume for the first time.
“His face said it all, he loved it,” said Kriyss Grant, one of the dancers Jackson picked for the show.
Ken Ehrlich, an executive producer of the Grammys, went to the Staples Center to discuss with Jackson a Halloween special. Afterward, Ehrlich watched from the stadium floor as the rehearsal continued.
“He was really in good shape, he was very excited about the tour, very excited about getting it going,” Ehrlich said. “He certainly didn’t exhibit any signs of being tired or not being with it.”
The rehearsal ended around midnight Wednesday night with a performance of “Earth Song.” The singer hugged his dancers, thanked the crew and wished them a good night. “God bless you,” Patterson and Grant recalled him saying.
Jackson returned to Carolwood Drive, stopping briefly at its metal gate to greet a small group of fans who had gathered outside his home.
As they pulled into the driveway, the bodyguard Muhammad noticed Dr. Murray’s car parked outside the home, just as it had been many nights previously.
Jackson’s security personnel escorted him into the house and to the foot of the stairs. No one, except for Murray and Jackson’s children, was allowed upstairs.
Soon after Jackson arrived home, he started complaining of fatigue and that he needed sleep.
Murray, according to a police affidavit, was concerned Jackson was addicted to propofol, a powerful anesthetic normally used only in medical settings with special equipment on hand. He told police he was trying to wean Jackson from propofol and had not given him the drug for two nights.
At around 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 25, he again tried this approach, giving Jackson a 10-milligram Valium tablet. The anti-anxiety medication had no immediate effect and about a half hour later, the doctor gave 2 milligrams of lorazepam, another medication from the same family as Valium, administered through a saline drip.
When Jackson remained awake, Murray administered a 2-milligram dose of midazolam, another sedative, at 3 a.m., then another 2 milligrams of lorazepam at 5 a.m.
By 7:30 a.m., Jackson remained awake. Murray told police he injected another 2 milligrams of midazolam into Jackson’s drip.
Still, Jackson could not sleep.
He lay restlessly on the white sheets of his renaissance-style double bed with a curlicued headboard. Beside him, investigators would later find a porcelain doll in the likeness of a little blond boy. Several oxygen bottles were by the door and on the night stand beside the bed was a stack of DVDs, including children’s films.
Authorities would also note how untidy and warm Jackson’s living quarters were. Jackson kept his inner sanctum fully heated, even though it was early summer in Los Angeles.
After experiencing a sleepless night, Murray said Jackson made repeated demands for propofol, a white liquid drug he sometimes would refer to as his “milk.” Around 10:40 a.m. Thursday, Murray said he gave in to Jackson’s demands and pushed 25 milligrams of the substance into Jackson’s drip.
The chronology comes from a June 27 police interview with Murray, though the doctor’s lawyer, Ed Chernoff, has contested investigators’ interpretation of events. Chernoff declined to comment for this story.
Murray remained with the sedated singer for about 10 minutes, then left for the bathroom, the affidavit stated. Less than two minutes later, Murray returned — and found Jackson not breathing.
Phone logs show Murray made at least three calls between 11:18 and 11:51 a.m. — to his Las Vegas clinic, a patient, and a friend.
When Murray discovered Jackson was not breathing, he called the personal assistant Williams and at 12:13 left a message saying, “Call me right away, call me right away,” according to a statement obtained by AP. Williams called back and Murray said: “Get here right away, Mr. Jackson had a bad reaction. He had a bad reaction.”
Williams called Muhammad, then Alvarez, who was located in a security trailer outside the house. Alvarez told investigators he rushed upstairs and entered a bedroom to find the singer lying on a bed with his arms outstretched and his eyes and mouth open.
At his side, Murray was administering CPR with one hand.
“Alberto, Alberto, come quickly,” Murray said, according to the statement. “He had a reaction, he had a bad reaction.”
In a proposed contract with concert promoter AEG, Murray had asked for a heart resuscitation machine and a nurse as a condition of treating Jackson. Neither was in place when the singer died.
Two of Jackson’s children, Prince and Paris, came in the room, crying as they saw Murray trying to save their father. They were quickly escorted outside.
Alvarez told investigators that Murray asked him to pick up a few vials with rubber tops and put them in a bag. It was only after these bottles had been cleared that Murray told Alvarez to call 911.
“I need an ambulance as soon as possible,” Alvarez told a dispatcher. “We have a gentleman here that needs help and he’s not breathing.”
They put Jackson on the floor, then Muhammad rushed into the room and began helping with chest compressions while Murray attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
By 12:27 p.m. on Thursday, paramedics had arrived. They later wrote Jackson was not breathing and had no pulse at 12:29 p.m.
However, Murray stated he could feel a weak pulse in Jackson’s upper thigh area, Alvarez and Muhammad said. No one else felt it.
A paramedic report stated that emergency responders tried two rounds of resuscitation attempts and were ready to discontinue treatment, but Murray said he would take responsibility and insisted resuscitation be continued in the ambulance.
The stricken star was taken the short distance to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center at 1:07 p.m., when doctors tried a range of resuscitation techniques, including the insertion of a balloon pump designed to move blood around his body.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m.
After the death was called, Murray started crying, Williams told investigators.
He told the Jackson children that their father had passed away, then asked to return to the house.
“Is there any way I can go home, or be taken to the house,” the doctor said, according to Alvarez’s statement. “I want to get my car, and I’m hungry.”
Williams said he didn’t think it was a good idea for Murray to return to the house. He spoke to Muhammad and they concocted a story that police had taken all the keys to the vehicles.
Murray indicated he would take a cab, and Williams said he saw him leave the hospital through a side door.
Williams told Muhammad to call security at the home and make sure no one got into the house.
“Lock it down,” Williams said.
AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this story.