NEW: Kenny Ortega described a weak and paranoid Michael Jackson six days before his death
NEW: Michael Jackson appeared revived in his last two days, Ortega testified
NEW: Michael Jackson's oldest nephew, Taj, resumes his testimony Thursday
Dr. Conrad Murray became Ortega's "lifeline" to getting Jackson to rehearsals
Kenny Ortega choked up with emotion as he read aloud an e-mail he wrote days before Michael Jackson’s death.
“He was like a lost boy,” Ortega read. “There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if we get him the help he needs.”
The director of Jackson’s comeback concerts testified for a third day Wednesday in the wrongful death trial of AEG Live, the promoter and producer of the This Is It tour.
“I’m not OK right now,” Ortega told the judge. “Can I have a second?”
Judge Yvette Palazuelos allowed Ortega to go alone into the jury room for several minutes before returning for more testimony.
It was one of several times that Ortega shed tears during testimony that described a weak and paranoid Michael Jackson six days before his death, but a revived Michael Jackson in his last two days. Jackson’s mother, who is suing AEG Live, also cried as she listened to Ortega.
The Jacksons contend that AEG Live executives hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, who admitted to police he was giving the singer nightly infusions of propofol. The coroner ruled Jackson’s June 25, 2009, death was the result of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic, which Murray said he was using to treat Jackson’s insomnia. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
AEG Live lawyers argue Jackson chose and controlled Murray, and their executives had no way of knowing about the dangerous treatments he was giving Jackson in the privacy of the entertainer’s bedroom.
But, according to testimony and e-mails, AEG Live execs put Murray in charge of Jackson’s rehearsal schedule after Ortega complained that Jackson had been missing so many rehearsals that the tour was in danger.
Jackson lawyers argued that Murray was influenced by a conflict of interest – created by his arrangement with AEG Live – to continue dangerous propofol infusions to help Jackson rest for rehearsals. He was $1 million in debt and had abandoned his medical practice two months earlier to serve as Jackson’s personal physician for the tour. If he failed to get Jackson to rehearsals, the shows might be postponed or canceled and he would be out of a job, they argue.
Ortega: “I felt that we should stop”
After a poor rehearsal on June 13, 2009, and a missed rehearsal the next day, Ortega expressed his concern in an e-mail to AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware: “Were you aware that MJ’s Doctor didn’t permit him to attend rehearsals yesterday? Are Randy and Frank (DiLeo, another Jackson manager) aware of this? Please have them stay on top of his health situation without invading MJ’s privacy. It might be a good idea to talk with his Doctor to make sure everything MJ requires is in place.”
The AEG Live executives later told him they met with Murray and put him in charge of getting Jackson to rehearsals, Ortega said. The director said he was told that if he needed to know whether Jackson was coming to a rehearsal, he should call the doctor. Ortega was given Murray’s cell phone number, which he said he programmed into his own phone.
After Jackson was a no-show for another week, Ortega had a 30-minute conversation with Murray.
“I was told he was creating the schedule and the schedule wasn’t working,” Ortega testified. “He was my lifeline, so to speak.” Ortega said he was venting his frustrations with Jackson and was “crying out.”
While Jackson showed up on June 19, “he appeared lost, cold, afraid,” Ortega said.
“I saw a Michael that frightened me, a Michael that was shivering and cold,” Ortega testified. “I thought there was something emotional going on, deeply emotional, and something physical going on. He seemed fragile.”
He persuaded Jackson not to go onstage that night because he was afraid he would hurt himself, he testified. Instead, Jackson agreed to watch the rehearsal with choreographer Travis Payne dancing his parts.
Jackson appeared paranoid and afraid, he said. “He was repeating for me not to quit or to leave him. He was afraid that I was going to quit or leave him.”
With just a dozen days left for rehearsals before the touring company moved to London for the opening, Ortega testified, he was worried “that all that we had worked for together, Michael and I – this dream, this desire – was going to fall away.”
Ortega testified that on June 19, he “felt that we should stop” the production, but he was “torn because I did not want to break Michael’s heart.”
Ortega sent a series of e-mails that night and the next morning to AEG Live executives warning that they needed professional help for Jackson.
“There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior,” Ortega wrote. “I think the very best thing we can do is get a top psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP. It’s like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not waiting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state.”