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“I just expect doctors to be ethical”: Jacksons v AEG update

By | Published on Tuesday 4 June 2013

Michael Jackson

AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware says that he didn’t feel there was any need to do a background check on Dr Conrad Murray, the doctor whose negligent treatment caused the death of Michael Jackson, because, “I just expect doctors to be ethical – the financial side of their life shouldn’t affect their medical judgment”.

Murray’s finances were in a mess when he was hired to work as Jackson’s personal medic in 2009, which, it is argued, made him prone to agree to administer unsafe treatments if and when demanded by the singer, so desperate was he to keep the job.

As much previously reported, the Jackson family are suing AEG Live, claiming that the live firm should be held liable for the actions of Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after negligently giving Michael Jackson the surgical anaesthetic propofol in a domestic setting as a cure for insomnia. The late king of pop died after overdosing on the drug at his rented LA home in 2009, just weeks before he was due to perform in London at the AEG Live-promoted ‘This Is It’ shows.

The Jackson family claim AEG hired Murray, and then put pressure on the doctor to ensure their star was able to perform, whatever it took. AEG counters that himself Jackson appointed Murray, managed the doctor on a day-to-day basis, and ultimately was paying the medic’s bills, albeit with an advance provided by the company. The live firm also says its executives had no idea about the singer’s prescription drug dependencies, or the kind of treatments Murray was providing.

The fact AEG management knew little about Murray when he was appointed as Jackson’s personal medic helps the live firm in its claims of ignorance about the doctor’s conduct prior to the death of the singer, though the Jackson family claim that the company’s failure to check up on the medic was in itself negligent.

But, speaking several days into his testimony at the Jacksons v AEG court hearing, Gongaware did not agree. He told the court that he recommended to Jackson that he appoint a London-based doctor, given that once the ‘This Is It’ venture was underway he’d be living in the UK capital, but says the singer disagreed, instead insisting Murray was the man for the job. “It wasn’t my place to say who his doctor was going to be”, Gongaware added. “It was his decision”.

For the Jackson family, Gongaware’s testimony is important – which is why he’s been subject to such detailed questioning – because the live exec had worked with Michael Jackson on past touring ventures. Therefore he, more than anyone, the Jacksons argue, should have been aware of the singer’s tendency to rely on prescription drugs to perform, and should have gone out of his way to check all was above board on the healthcare front.

But the AEG man claims to have been ignorant to much of Jackson’s prescription drug use, telling the court that he only realised the singer had an addiction to certain medications when he made a public announcement to that effect in 1993, as he abruptly ended his ‘Dangerous’ tour to enter rehab. This despite a doctor who worked on that tour claiming that Gongaware had urged him at the time to not become “a Dr Nick” – a reference to the medic accused of feeding Elvis Presley’s prescription drug addiction.

Jackson’s reliance on prescription drugs, including using propofol to induce sleep, continued during his ‘HIStory’ tour in 1996 and 1997, on which Gongaware had a more active role, Team Jackson said in court this week. But, according to CNN, Gongaware insists that he saw “no indication at all” of such activities at the time, adding “I would be certain to notice it if that was the case”.

And, he added, unlike on the Dangerous tour in 1993, health issues never hindered the show during the ‘HIStory’ venture. “He only missed one [show on that tour]. That was when Princess Diana died. He heard about the accident, went to bed, woke up, found she passed away and it affected him deeply”. Did Jackson have a personal medic on that tour? “Not that I know of”, Gongaware told the courtroom.

But, said the Jackson team, an anaesthesiologist from New York called Dr Neil Ratner has previously acknowledged that he travelled with Jackson during part of the ‘HIStory’ project, and when recalling how he had heard about the death of Diana in 1997 while on tour, Jackson himself once said in an interview, “I woke up and my doctor gave me the news”.

How, Jackson’s legal team will ask, could Gongaware not be aware of Jackson’s health and drug issues? Because, if nothing else, he was in charge of the budgets on ‘HIStory’ and would surely have seen the costs associated with the doctors the singer was using. Though, AEG’s lawyers will insist, their man did not know about Jackson’s dependencies then or in 2009, because, to quote the live firm’s lead attorney at the opening of the trial, “the truth is Mr Jackson fooled everyone – he kept those who might have helped him at a distance and no one knew his deepest, darkest secret”.

The case continues.