LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson's family and friends knew he was addicted to prescription medications, but the only ones who refused to acknowledge it were the promoters of his ill-fated final series of comeback concerts, an attorney for the singer's mother told a jury on Monday.
Lawyer Brian Panish traced Jackson's addiction in opening statements during the trial of a wrongful death lawsuit against concert giant AEG Live, telling jurors the company ignored numerous warning signs about the singer's health in his final months.
The opening remarks included emails between AEG executives about Jackson's health. Panish also played a clip of the singer performing days before his death in June 2009.
"You're going to hear the whole story about what happened in the death of Michael Jackson," the attorney said.
Jackson's mother, brother Randy and sister Rebbie sat in the front row of the courtroom as Panish detailed aspects of Jackson's life. Jurors looked at numerous slides and several scribbled notes. A couple of jurors nodded their heads when the lawyer referenced Jackson's achievements, including successful concert tours and a Super Bowl performance.
Panish told the jury of six men and six women that it would ultimately have to decide whether Jackson's mother and his three children deserve compensation for AEG's conduct. Millions, possibly billions, of dollars are at stake, but Panish did not give a suggested damage figure in his opening remarks.
He did, however, praise Michael Jackson.
"His stirring voice, his musical genius, his creativity and his generosity and his huge heart was extinguished forever," he said.
An attorney for AEG was expected to begin addressing the panel later Monday.
Katherine Jackson sued the company in September 2010, claiming it failed to properly investigate physician Conrad Murray before allowing him to serve as Jackson's tour doctor as he prepared for his "This Is It" shows. She is also suing on behalf of her son's three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket.
AEG denies it hired Murray, and its attorneys have said they could not have foreseen the circumstances that led to Jackson's death at age 50.
A jury previously convicted Murray of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors said he gave Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in 2011. The hospital-grade anesthetic was being administered as a sleep aid.
Panish told jurors they would be putting together a puzzle, with Jackson, Murray and AEG Live as the three pieces.
He said Jackson suffered from addiction to prescription medications and Demerol at times during his life, and the problem increased when he was keeping up a rigorous schedule. Panish cited a 1984 accident that injured Jackson during a Pepsi commercial suit as causing the singer tremendous physical pain throughout his life.
"People who knew him believed he had a problem with prescription medication," Panish told jurors. He said the only group that claims they didn't know about Jackson's addiction issues were AEG and its executives.
The lawyer showed a brief clip of Jackson rehearing for the "This Is It" shows and a clip of the singer dancing in the early stages of his presentation. He also showed footage of 1999 show in Munich in which Jackson was performing when a bridge dropped 50 feet with the singer on it. Despite pain, Jackson continued performing, Panish said.
Panish said Jackson turned to Demerol to relieve his pain.
Panish also detailed Murray's money problems, including an impending foreclosure and other debts. AEG also had issues as well, the lawyer told jurors, saying the company was feeling intense pressure from concert promoter Live Nation.
He said AEG saw the Jackson shows as a way to make a lot of money and better compete with Live Nation. The company was so concerned with getting Jackson to perform, "They didn't care who got lost in the wash," Panish said
Emails between AEG executives will be some of the key evidence in the case, which may last 90 trial days.
Panish displayed a March 2009 email sent before a press conference featuring Jackson, in which AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips wrote to Tim Leiweke, the former CEO of AEG'S parent company, that Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.
"This is the scariest thing I have ever seen," Phillips wrote Leiweke. "He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it's show time. He's scared to death."
Panish said Jackson's behavior was just one of several warning signs that the company ignored before the death.
Jackson's mother and his two oldest children, Prince and Paris, are listed as possible witnesses. An AEG attorney said Monday the company intends to call Murray as a witness.
Murray did not testify at his criminal trial.
Panish attempted to steer blame away from the singer and toward AEG.
"Michael paid the ultimate price. He died," Panish said. "Michael has taken responsibility."
- Jul. 24, 2017 See all the stars at this year's Comic-Con in San Diego!