Conrad Murray trial: Kenny Ortega says Michael Jackson appeared unwell, 'lost'
Kenny Ortega, a director of what would have been Michael Jackson's "This Is It" tour, testified at Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial that the King of Pop appeared unwell and appeared "lost" and "incoherent" in the days before his death.
Murray, the former physician of the late Michael Jackson, appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse on Tuesday, September 27 to face his charge. Ortega is one of many witnesses whose testimonies will help a jury decide if the doctor, who was by the singer's bedside on the day he died, displayed "extreme gross negligence" during his treatment of him, as the prosecution claims.
NOTE: You can watch the proceedings online: OnTheRedCarpet.com is hosting a LIVE STREAM of the Conrad Murray trial.
Autopsy results have shown that Jackson died at age 50 at his Los Angeles on June 25, 2009 from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol, which he called his "milk," and other sedatives.
Murray, 58, had said he gave the singer a dose of propofol as a sleeping aid on the day he died and has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
He faces up to four years in prison and the loss of his medical license if convicted. Murray's lawyers maintain that Jackson drank propofol on his own while the doctor was away from his bedside and that the dose Murray had administered was too low to be fatal.
Days before his death, Jackson was rehearsing in Los Angeles for his sold-out, 50-venue "This Is It" tour - his first major series of concerts since 1996. Murray was paid $150,000 a month to provide medical care for Jackson while he prepared for the concerts. Jackson missed several days of rehearsal in the days before his death.
"I was expecting him each day and it became this continued absence," Ortega said. "I was only told that it was scheduling."
He said Jackson appeared unwell on June 19, at the LA Forum, one of three venues the singer had used to rehearse for the "This Is It" tour. He said he had never seen him like that before and when asked by Murray's attorney if he considered the possibility that Jackson was on drugs, Ortega said, "Yes."
"My friend wasn't right," Ortega added. "There was something going on that was deeply troubling me. He was chilled. He appeared lost. Just sort of lost and a little incoherent and although we were conversing and I did ask him a question and he did answer me. I did feel though that he was not well at all."
Jackson did not rehearse that day, Ortega said, adding: "I offered him food, which he accepted. I put a blanket around him. I rubbed his feet. Put a heater, in the room, next to him."
He said he and Jackson then watched the dancers rehearse for about two hours. He had said he had never before seen the singer appear the way he did. Jackson left early, at his suggestion. Ortega said he called Murray that evening but was unable to reach him.
Ortega said he emailed Randy Phillips, chief executive of "This Is It" tour promoter AEG Live, from his office at the facility at 2:04 a.m. in the morning of June 20, to tell him about the incident.
"My concern is, now that we brought the doctor into the fold and had played the 'Tough Love,' Now or Never' card, is that the artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to real, emotional stuff," Ortega said, reading from his email.
The director later explained that Murray had created Jackson's daily rehearsal schedule. The doctor's lawyer questioned when it was made. Ortega said he did not know.
"He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening," Ortega's email said. "He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing. Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it's going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing."
Ortega also told Phillips that a costume designer noticed Jackson had lost weight.
"As far as I can tell, there is no one taking responsibility, caring for him on a daily basis," his email read. "I believe that he really wants this. It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug. He's terribly frightened it's all going to go away. He asked me repeatedly tonight if I was going to leave him. He was practically begging for my confidence. It broke my heart. He was like a lost boy."
Ortega said after he sent his email, he was summoned to a meeting at Jackson's house later that day. He arrived and met with Murray, Phillips and Jackson's manager. The doctor confronted him during the meeting, he said. Ortega added that he was at the home for 10 minutes.
"He was upset that I didn't allow Michael to rehearse the night before and that I sent him home. He said I should stop trying to be an amateur doctor and psychologist and be the director and allow Michael's ... health to him. I said it wasn't my choice. It was Michael's request to sit out and watch the show and I felt that was a far safer place for him to be."
Ortega said Murray assured him, sternly, that "Michael was physically and emotionally capable of handling all of his responsibilities for the show."
"I was shocked," the director added. "Because Michael didn't appear to me to be physically or emotionally stable, at that moment. I said to Michael, 'Michael, please tell the doctor that's not the way it went down & that this was something we agreed on together,' and Michael said, 'Yes.' I told him I loved him. I was concerned for his health and safety. He said, I'm fine Kenny, I promise you.' He gave me a hug."
The next scheduled rehearsal took place on June 23, 2009. The performers and stage equipment moved to the Staples Center, a larger venue that resembled the O2 Arena in London, where the "This Is It" concerts were to take place.
During the proceedings, jurors were shown a video of Jackson performing the songs "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Earth Song" during his final rehearsals. Jackson's mother, Katherine, turned her head and she and the singer's sister, La Toya, cried as the video was shown.
"He entered into rehearsal full of energy, fill of desire to work, full of enthusiasm," Ortega said. It was a different Michael. I asked him if he was happy and he said he was very happy. He felt like we were accomplishing the dream."
Jackson also rehearsed on June 24, 2009 and appeared the same, he said, adding: "He asked me to thank everybody, to tell them that he loved them, the dancers, the singers, the crew. I told him that I loved him and he told me that he loved me more and I gave him a big hug and he left the building."
Ortega said the following day, on June 25, 2009, Paul Gongaware, a producer of the "This Is It" tour and co-CEO of AEG Live, told him by phone that Jackson had been taken to a hospital by ambulance. Gongaware then called him again to tell him that the singer was dead.
"It took a while for me to even feel my feet on the ground," Ortega said. "It was clear that everyone in the room was getting text messages and phone calls and that the word had spread. I called everyone to the floor ... the entire cast and we all joined in a circle and I informed them of Michael's passing."
Ortega said Jackson had decided to embark on his "This Is It" tour partially so that his children - Prince, Paris and Blanket, could watch him perform on stage. He had planned to bring them with him. They did not see their father rehearse, he said.
"He wanted to share what it is that he loved all of his life with his children," Ortega said. "He wanted to do it for his fans, who had been loyal to him, who he cared deeply about, he loved very much. He was excited that they were ... becoming big fans of his work, and now that they were of an age that they could really appreciate what it is that he did."
Ortega said Jackson had hoped to perform outside of the United Kingdom following his "This Is It" tour and also make more films, including a full-length feature of his music videos "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal."
One of the prosecutors on Tuesday played to the jury what he said was a recording of a voice message Jackson made, found on Murray's iPhone, to demonstrate the effect propofol had on him as he prepared for his "This Is It" tour in May 2009. The singer's voice is deeply slurred.
"We have to be phenomenal," Jackson is heard saying. "When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, 'I've never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I've never seen nothing like this. Go. It's amazing. He's the greatest entertainer in the world. I'm taking that money, a million children, children's hospital, the biggest in the world, Michael Jackson's Children's Hospital."
The trial is expected to last until October 28. Among the jurors, six people are white, five are Hispanic and one is African-American, the race of the doctor and of Jackson. The jurors have been ordered to ignore anything they may have seen or read about Murray, Jackson and the case in the press.Don't forget: In addition to supplying you with breaking news reports, OnTheRedCarpet.com will provide a live stream of the Conrad Murray trial.