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E-mails show promoter's doubts before Michael Jackson's death

By Alan Duke, CNN
September 4, 2012 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
The death in 2009 of superstar Michael Jackson, who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50, sent shockwaves around the world. The death in 2009 of superstar Michael Jackson, who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50, sent shockwaves around the world.
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Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Michael Jackson, King of Pop
Photos: Michael Jackson, King of Pop
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sunday's Los Angeles Times reveals internal e-mails from "This Is It" promoter
  • "AEG will make a fortune" despite Jackson's death, promoter says in e-mail
  • "MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent," AEG Live head writes on day of announcement
  • Randy Phillips calls Michael Jackson 'an emotionally paralyzed mess' in e-mail

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The promoter for Michael Jackson's comeback concerts expressed doubts about the star's ability to be ready for the shows but expressed confidence in the private doctor eventually convicted in Jackson's death, according to e-mails published in Sunday's Los Angeles Times.

AEG Live President Randy Phillips was responding to "This Is It" director Kenny Ortega's e-mail, which said Jackson had "strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior" and suggesting they hire a "top Psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP."

Jackson died on June 25, 2009, from what the Los Angeles County coroner ruled was an overdose of a surgical anesthetic and sedatives, drugs that Dr. Conrad Murray told police he used to help the entertainer sleep as he prepared for the concerts set to start two weeks later.

Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison last year.

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The e-mails, leaked to the newspaper, were gathered for an insurance company's lawsuit, which seeks to void a $17.5 million policy that AEG Live purchased in case Jackson was not able to perform the 50 shows scheduled for London's O2 Arena. The newspaper did not disclose the source of the leaks.

Lloyds of London contends AEG Live hid Jackson's health problems from the insurer and failed to respond to repeated requests for his medical history.

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While Phillips called Jackson's death "a terrible tragedy" in an e-mail weeks after he died, he added "but life must go on."

"AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd," Phillips wrote. In fact, AEG Live was allowed to sell Jackson tour merchandise and share in the profits from the documentary "This Is It," produced from rehearsal video.

AEG Live and its lawyer did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

The e-mails suggest AEG Live's president saw Jackson's problems first hand the day the pop star was to appear at the O2 Arena to publicly announce the shows.

"MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent," Phillips wrote in a March 5, 2009, e-mail to AEG Live's parent company, the paper reported. "I (am) trying to sober him up."

"I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking," Phillips wrote. "He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self loathing and doubt now that it is show time."

The promoter blamed London traffic when Jackson was 90 minutes late for the announcement that day.

"He's as healthy as he can be -- no health problems whatsoever," Phillips told CNN two months later to refute reports Jackson's health was threatening the concerts.

The Los Angeles Times story, however, said the e-mails indicated major doubts about Jackson's ability to perform.

"We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants," AEG Live executive Paul Gongaware e-mailed to Phillips.

Jackson's missed rehearsals in June triggered concerns in e-mails that he was slow in learning his dance routines and would have to lip-sync on stage, the newspaper reported.

"MJ is not in shape enough yet to sing this stuff live and dance at the same time," one e-mail from the show's music director read, the paper reported.

A production manager wrote: "He was a basket case. Doubt is pervasive."

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A loud warning from Ortega, who worked closely with Jackson on previous tours, came in mid-June, just over a week before his death.

"It is like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state," Ortega wrote. "I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."

Ortega testified at Murray's trial about his concerns about Jackson's frail condition and missed rehearsals. It resulted in a meeting six days before Jackson's death in which Murray assured the promoters he would have Jackson ready for rehearsals that next week.

An e-mail from Phillips after that meeting said he had confidence in Murray "who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more."

"This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig, so he (is) totally unbiased and ethical," Phillips' e-mail said.

Murray seeks new test in MJ's death

The correspondence could play a role in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson's heirs against AEG, which accuses the promoter of contributing to his death by pressuring him to prepare for the concerts despite his weak condition.

A lawyer for Jackson's mother and a spokesman for Jackson's estate declined to comment on the e-mails reported in the newspaper.

CNN's Denise Quan contributed to this report.

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