LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Michael Jackson’s struggle against drug addiction was on display Monday during opening statements in his mother’s wrongful death case against concert promoter AEG Live.
Competing portraits of Jackson emerged during the first hours of the trial, with Katherine Jackson’s attorney acknowledging the pop star’s drug problems while also trying to show he was a caring son and father.
“His stirring voice, his musical genius, his creativity and his generosity and his huge heart was extinguished forever,” her lawyer, Brian Panish, said in his opening remarks.
AEG’s attorney, Marvin S. Putnam, said that while Jackson’s death was tragic, his guarded private life meant the company was unaware that he was using the powerful anesthetic propofol.
“The truth is, Michael Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said. “He made sure that no one — nobody — knew his deepest, darkest secrets.”
A jury of six men and six women will determine whether AEG should pay Jackson’s mother and three children for their losses after his 2009 death from an overdose of propofol. Millions and possibly billions of dollars in damages are at stake in the case that opened with private photos of the singer with his children and video clips of Jackson dancing.
“This case is about personal choices,” Putnam said about Jackson’s decision to be treated by physician Conrad Murray. “Also, it was about his personal responsibility. There’s no question that Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy.
“I believe the evidence will show it was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making,” Putnam said as he ended his opening statement. Testimony will begin Tuesday.
Panish said AEG created a conflict of interest for Murray and forced him to choose between a large payday and Jackson’s care. He told the jury AEG was feeling competitive pressures and wanted the Jackson tour to work at all costs.
“They didn’t care who got lost in the wash,” Panish told the jury.
Panish played a song that Jackson wrote for his three children, “You Are My Life,” and displayed a note the singer had written for his mother that brought tears to her eyes as she sat in court.
Katherine Jackson sued AEG Live in September 2010, claiming it failed to properly investigate Murray before allowing him to serve as Jackson’s 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, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death. AEG’s attorneys have said the company could not have foreseen the circumstances that led to the singer’s death at age 50.
Panish told jurors that AEG executives ignored warning signs about Jackson’s health and were motivated to push the singer and his doctor to improve their own financial fortunes.
“We’re not looking for any sympathy,” Panish said. “We’re looking for truth and justice.”
With Jackson’s mother, brother Randy and sister Rebbie seated in the front row of the courtroom, jurors were shown numerous slides and several scribbled notes.
A couple of jurors nodded when the lawyer referenced Jackson’s achievements, including successful concert tours and a Super Bowl performance.
Katherine Jackson dabbed her eyes after Panish read a note that her son wrote to her, detailing his feelings about her.
“All my success has been based on the fact that I wanted to make my mother proud,” the singer’s note said, “to win her smile of approval.”
The personal touches came after Panish spent the first half of his presentation detailing Jackson’s struggles with prescription drug abuse throughout the last half of his life.
He also showed jurors numerous emails sent between AEG executives concerning Jackson’s health and their concerns that he wouldn’t be able to perform 50 planned concerts in London.
Putnam recounted the chaotic days following Jackson’s death as investigators and the public tried to figure out how the singer died unexpectedly. He urged jurors to remember that propofol killed Jackson.
“One thing became very, very clear,” Putnam said. “While the world may not have heard of propofol, Mr. Jackson certainly had. The evidence is going to show you that he had been using that drug for years and years.”
He said jurors will hear from Jackson’s ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, who would tell them that Jackson used the anesthetic in the 1990s.
“Mr. Jackson got very, very, good at hiding his addiction,” Putnam said. “He didn’t let anyone see it. Not his staff, not his children. This was the private Michael Jackson.”
He said physician-patient confidentiality kept Jackson’s reliance on propofol from becoming publicly known.
That extended to Murray as well. “He couldn’t tell anyone about the propofol use,” Putnam said of the former cardiologist.
Panish, however, said AEG saw the Jackson shows as a way to make a lot of money and better compete with Live Nation Entertainment Inc.
He displayed a March 2009 email sent before a news 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 behaviour was just one of several warning signs the company ignored before the death.
He told the panel that they would be the ones to assign liability for Jackson’s death, but they should look at AEG’s actions and not focus on Jackson’s issues.
“Michael paid the ultimate price. He died,” Panish said. “Michael has taken responsibility.”
AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report. Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP .