Michael Jackson was an “emotionally paralyzed mess” who was “drunk and despondent” before his 2009 London press conference announcing the ill-fated “This Is It” concert residency, according to one of a series of leaked emails written by AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips to AEG President/CEO Tim Leiweke.
The confidential emails, as leaked to the Los Angeles Times, paint a picture of Jackson as unstable, out of shape and terrified of the upcoming run of 50 concerts at London’s O2 arena that were to begin in September 2009.
He died of acute Propofol poisoning June 25, a week before his scheduled departure from Los Angeles and his physican, Dr. Conrad Murray, was subsequently convicted of manslaughter in the superstar’s death. Jackson’s mother, Katherine, has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AEG.
Marvin Putnam, an attorney for AEG, contends the emails were illegally leaked by Katherine Jackson or her legal team in violation of a court order in the case and, in any event, were reported “horrendously” out of context.
AEG fired back three days after the story’s publication, filing motions in the Jackson suit demanding monetary and other sanctions against Katherine for violating the court’s order that sealed the emails – some 250 of which were obtained by the Times.
The motion also seeks evidentiary sanctions, including a prohibition on the use of any leaked document “in connection with any motion filed before the Court or at trial.”
“AEG believes the unequivocal evidence shows that Katherine Jackson and her attorneys leaked these documents to the press,” Putnam said. “The documents released to the press were given to Mrs. Jackson and her attorneys – and to no one else – confidentially in discovery and subject to a court order. Accordingly, AEG has filed a motion for sanctions against Mrs. Jackson and her counsel for this unlawful leak.”
And because nothing is ever uncomplicated where the Jackson family is concerned, CNN reported the following day that a businessman with a recently settled copyright suit against the Jackson estate has stepped up to claim responsibility for the leak – and that Katherine Jackson was falsely accused by AEG.
Howard Mann’s admission to CNN that he provided the emails contradicts AEG’s contention that only Katherine could have provided the documents to the Times. However, it isn’t clear how Mann could have obtained them or how they were relevant to a copyright case. He told CNN he got them from several sources, including MJ fans.
Jackson attorney Kevin Boyle lambasted AEG for accusing Katherine of being the source of the leak.
“AEG made these accusations against the Jackson family and their lawyers apparently without doing even the most rudimentary investigation,” Boyle told CNN. “We are further disturbed that the motion for sanctions filed by AEG was given to the press before it was served on Katherine Jackson or her counsel.”
Neither Putnam nor AEG spokesman Michael Roth responded immediately to Pollstar’s request for a response to the CNN interview.
The emails reported by the Times, taken alone, could provide potent ammo for Jackson against AEG, according to some legal observers. Some cast Phillips and Leiweke in a less than flattering light. And insurer Lloyd’s of London also has an interest, as it seeks to void a $17.5 million policy on Michael Jackson’s performance.
“If you are in the creative arts business, you are going to be involved with individuals who have a great many problems,” Putnam told the Times. “Michael Jackson was an adult and … it is supercilious to say he was unable to take care of his own affairs.”
But the leaked emails suggest that even AEG had questions about MJ’s fitness.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” Phillips emailed Leiweke from Jackson’s London hotel room prior to the March 2009 press conference. “I [am] trying to sober him up.” Leiweke reportedly responded, “Are you kidding me?”
“I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking,” Phillips replied. “He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self loathing and doubt now that it is show time.” Phillips and a Jackson manager had to help him dress for the press conference, where he reportedly left 350 reporters cooling their heels for 90 minutes.
Two months later, Lloyd’s of London agreed to insure the U.K. residency against illness or death although, while Jackson was rehearsing in L.A., it covered only accidents.
“This Is It” director Kenny Ortega called for a psychiatric intervention in one message. A production manager wrote of MJ, “He was a basket case. … Doubt is pervasive.” And Phillips wrote to Leiweke “ We have a real problem here.”
Some of the emails appear to suggest Phillips had warmed up to Murray, despite having not signed off on a contract for Jackson’s personal physician that called for him to be paid $150,000 per month to accompany MJ to London.
He wrote that Murray, “who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more,” was confident of MJ’s ability to pull off the tour. “This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig so he [is] totally unbiased and ethical.”
Yet just an hour before Jackson died in his rented Bel Air, Calif., mansion, Murray notified Lloyd’s of MJ’s refusal to authorize the release of medical records or to submit to a thorough medical exam in order to expand his insurance coverage.
A week after Jackson’s death, AEG reportedly filed its claim on the insurance policy. AEG and Jackson’s estate have long since recouped their initial financial losses and continue to make money from ventures including the concert documentary “This Is It,” which is said to have grossed more than $260 million worldwide.
“Michael’s death is a terrible tragedy, but life must go on,” Phillips reportedly emailed a colleague two months after the singer’s passing. “AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd,” adding, “I still wish he was here!”
AEG requests a hearing on its motions against Katherine Jackson take place on or around Oct. 25.