LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Jurors hearing a lawsuit against concert giant AEG Live LLC have been shown emails in which top company executives expressed fears about Michael Jackson’s health and the amount of time they had to get the singer prepared for his ill-fated series of comeback tours.
The messages were displayed Wednesday during testimony from AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware, who at one point sent his boss’ assistant a message stating the show was giving him nightmares and causing him to break out in cold sweats at night.
Gongaware testified that he was joking, but it was just one of several messages expressing concerns about Jackson’s health. Another message from Randy Phillips, the top-ranking executive at AEG Live, wrote after one of Jackson’s missed rehearsals that, “we are running out of time.
“That is my biggest fear,” Phillips wrote to Gongaware and the CEO of AEG Live’s parent company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, on June 20, 2009, five days before Jackson’s death.
Gongaware said he didn’t agree with Phillips’ assessment. “He may have said that, but I didn’t agree with that,” Gongaware testified.
His testimony came under questioning by an attorney for Jackson’s mother, who is suing AEG Live and claims it failed to properly investigate the doctor convicted of causing her son’s death. Gongaware and Phillips are also named as defendants in the case.
AEG denies that it hired former cardiologist Conrad Murray, or could have foreseen the singer’s death. The company’s defence attorneys have not yet questioned Gongaware on the stand.
The company’s defence attorney, Marvin S. Putnam, said outside court that the emails reflect the company was concerned about Jackson’s health, and expressed those concerns to Jackson’s lawyer and manager before his death.
Jurors have seen numerous emails throughout the trial, including several sent by people working on Jackson’s “This Is It” comeback shows in which they expressed concerns about Jackson’s health. Production manager John “Bugzee” Hougdahl, wrote Phillips in the last week of the singer’s life that Jackson was on a downward slide.
“I have watched him deteriorate in front of my eyes over the last 8 weeks” Hougdahl wrote.
Katherine Jackson’s attorney questioned Gongaware about whether the company put too much emphasis on the showbiz maxim, “The show must go on.”
Gongaware denied that was the case.
He told the jury that he was concerned about Jackson’s health, but that he thought “This Is It” tour director Kenny Ortega may have been overstating concerns about the singer’s wellbeing.
Phillips also expressed concerns about Ortega, writing to Gongaware’s private email address, “This guy is really starting to concern me.”
Gongaware testified Wednesday that he wasn’t sure who Phillips was referring to, and his boss may have been expressing concerns about Jackson or Murray.
Six weeks before Jackson’s death, Gongaware sent an email to an assistant for the CEO of AEG in which he urged her to, “Pray for me. “This is a nightmare. Not coincidentally, I have them now every night. Cold sweats, too. Life used to be so much fun…”
Gongaware said he was joking in the message. “I don’t have cold sweats,” he said. “I don’t have nightmares. I sleep great.”
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP