While I am busy working on my upcoming posts on Wade Robson and Karen Faye (both of which admittedly may take several days each) I wanted to address something that I can put up quickly, TODAY.
On Wednesday, there was very sad testimony in the Katherine Jackson vs. AEG trial from Alif Sankey, associate producer of the This Is It shows. This story was mostly buried in the (conveniently) distracting avalanche of the Wade Robson story, which (again, most conveniently) broke on the very same day. But I wanted to address this story because, as so often happens with any media reporting on Michael Jackson, I can see already that this story (and Michael’s quote) is being misinterpreted, mocked, and ridiculed all over the internet.
Even CNN’s Alan Duke, who seems overall to be one of the most fair and balanced journalists reporting on the trial, couldn’t resist the urge to paraphrase Michael’s quote so that its context takes on a meaning much different from the one I know Michael intended. (And how do I know? I know from the context and the circumstances under which the words were spoken, as stated under oath by Sankey herself. And I “know” because of what I know in general in regards to Michael’s spiritual beliefs, which were not only very similar to my own, but also are not that fundamentally different from what most Americans believe-that is, if you believe the hype that most Americans are Christians, or claim to be). Yet it’s amazing how the very views we pretend to espouse are so often twisted, mocked and ridiculed.
Before I ramble further, let’s just look at the first article I saw that broke the story, on CNN.com:
Michael Jackson days before death: ‘God keeps talking to me’By Alan Duke, CNNupdated 10:23 AM EDT, Thu May 9, 2013
Los Angeles (CNN) — Michael Jackson told his tour director days before he died he was hearing God’s voice, a producer testified Wednesday.
“God keeps talking to me,”Jackson said.
Those words spoken to Kenny Ortega and Jackson’s frail appearance were so disturbing that it caused Ortega and associate producer Alif Sankey to burst into tears at a rehearsal, Sankey said Wednesday in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother and three children.
Jackson, who was being fitted for his costumes, appeared “extremely thin” and “was not speaking normally” at the June 19, 2009, rehearsal, Sankey told jurors in a trial to determine if concert promoter AEG Live should be held liable in the pop icon’s death.
Jurors saw a photo of Jackson at the costume fitting that showed an obviously thin and gaunt man.Jackson wrongful death trial under wayMesereau: AEG arguments may backfireJackson family takes on AEG in court
Sankey testified that she and Ortega cried together after Jackson left. On her way home, Sankey stopped her car to call Ortega “because I had a very strong feeling that Michael was dying.”
“I was screaming into the phone at that point,” Sankey testified. “I said he needs to be put in the hospital now.”
Sankey became emotional as she testified about the call.
“I kept saying that ‘Michael is dying, he’s dying, he’s leaving us, he needs to be put in a hospital,'” Sankey said. “‘Please do something. Please, please.’ I kept saying that. I asked him why no one had seen what I had seen. He said he didn’t know.”
Ortega sent a series of e-mails early the next morning that resulted in a meeting at Jackson’s house between Jackson, Dr. Conrad Murray, AEG Live President Randy Phillips and Ortega.
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.
The lawsuit contends that Phillips and AEG never checked Murray out. Otherwise, they would have known he was deeply in debt and vulnerable to breaking the rules in treating Jackson to keep his job, it argues.
Jackson lawyers contend that AEG Live is liable for Jackson’s death because the company negligently hired, retained or supervised Murray — who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death.
Jackson’s last rehearsal was at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on June 24, 2009. Security camera video shown to the jury Wednesday showed him walking with a blanket wrapped around him as he passed Sankey.
“He didn’t look good,” she testified. “I asked him if he was cold, and he said ‘Yes.'”
Jackson sang two songs that last night on stage: “Thriller” and “Earth Song,” she said.
“He did it,” Sankey said. “He went through it. He wasn’t in full performance mode.”
Sankey said she was standing next to Ortega at a rehearsal the next afternoon when Randy Phillips called to tell him Jackson was dead.
“Kenny collapsed in our arms,” she said.
The lawsuit contends that AEG Live executives missed a series of red flags warning them that Jackson’s life was at risk because of Murray, who was giving him nightly infusions of the surgical anesthetic propofol to treat his insomnia.
The coroner ruled Jackson had died from an overdose of propofol in combination with several sedatives on June 25, 2009.
Murray told investigators he used the drugs to help Jackson sleep so he could be rested for rehearsals.
AEG lawyers argue Jackson, not their company, chose and supervised Murray, and that their executives had no way of knowing what the doctor was doing to Jackson in the privacy of his bedroom.
In contrast to six days of testimony mostly about Jackson’s death, jurors did hear about the pop icon’s creativity during Sankey’s testimony
“Michael’s imagination was endless,” Sankey said. “He would visualize it, and it happened. It was amazing.”
Katherine Jackson dabbed tears from her eyes as her son’s “Smooth Criminal” video was played in court.
Sankey first met Michael Jackson when she was a dancer in the 1987 video production.
“We got to see Michael’s imagination come to life,” Sankey said. “That was my first time as a dancer, as an artist, that I was completely inspired by his craft and inspired by his attention to every detail. He was so detailed and he never missed a thing.”
Working with Jackson was “magical,” she said.
“I dream still to this day that I will be able to create on that level of magic that Michael created,” Sankey said. “It was like living a dream of working with an artist like that, and I will treasure it and have it in my memory forever.”
Sankey’s work as an associate producer and dancer for Jackson’s “This Is It” tour put her on the witness list in this trial.
“He shared with me that he was excited to do the show,” she said. “He was excited to show his kids, finally to show them who he was, what he was all about; he was very excited about that.”
Jurors heard about Jackson’s relationship with his three children and their love of their father. Sankey described how they would come with their father to the set each day in early June when he was filming video elements for the show.
“Paris had a purse, and inside her purse, she had all this candy in her purse she didn’t want her daddy to know about,” Sankey said. “She had these little pictures of her father in her purse that were in frames. She had, like, a lot of them. Her purse was full of candy and pictures of her daddy.”
“They loved their daddy,” she said.
The “This Is It” concert would have been “a pretty big show,” Sankey told jurors.
“It was going to be huge and it was going to be innovative, different,” she testified. “From working with Michael in my past, I knew it had to be something that no one’s ever seen. It all had to be new and pioneering.”
The next witness when court resumes Thursday morning will be Michael Jackson’s longtime hair and make up artist, Karen Faye. She was quoted in interviews after Jackson’s death saying that the pop star was in ill health weeks before he died.
Spectators in the small Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday morning included Judge Lance Ito, famous for presiding over the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. Ito was there to watch his friend, Judge Yvette Palazuelos, preside over this trial and then go to lunch with her.
The paraphrase from what Michael actually said-via Sankey’s testimony-to the opening paragraph of the article is telling, and a perfect case of media slanting for an intended effect. But there is a substantial difference between a person claiming to hear God’s physical voice, and a person who is simply stating, “God keeps talking to me.” These distinctions may seem minor, but they are of the utmost importance when making the distinction between a person suffering from genuine mental illness and delusion on the one hand, and on the other, one who is simply speaking from a deep-rooted faith that relies on an instinctive and intuitive sense of when God is “speaking” to them-which, as any deeply religious person can tell you, is not a matter of physically hearing God’s voice at all. Rather, it is simply a deep-seated, intuitive feeling of being “called”-not unlike any preacher or reverend who simply states that his occupation is a result of having answered “God’s calling.”
Why does it sound so perfectly natural and acceptable coming from those folks, but not from Michael Jackson? Just because he was an entertainer? Or because we have been so brainwashed by a cynical and (mostly) atheistic media and entertainment industry that talking to God is only for the mentally insane?
The difference between the paraphrase and Michael’s actual, quoted words-via Sankey’s testimony-makes all the difference.
Michael was never saying at any point that he was hearing the voice of God. What he said was: “God keeps talking to me.”
Sankey and Ortega, evidently, understood exactly what he meant-and which, in turn, was precisely why they were so alarmed, as well they should have been.
As per usual, the story has generated the usual media spins of Michael as someone suffering at the very least from mental delusions, and has invited the usual ignorant and trolling comments. Perhaps that would not bother me half so much, except that all of the comments, whether from haters or well-intentioned fans, seems to entertain no possibility other than the fact that Michael was “not himself” in his last days. And that is putting it kindly. “Face it, it’s a sign of mental illness,” went one of the-let’s just say-more compassionate comments.
Well, has anyone considered that just maybe God was talking to him? Is it any coincidence that, within days of making this statement, he was dead? Think on that for a moment. While that thought is simmering, let’s consider some other things.
Michael had certainly maintained a close relationship with God throughout his life. Let’s not forget, he was raised as a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Even after breaking away from the church and the JW faith, he maintained a deep spirituality that was always a bit out of kilter with the entertainment industry (for as I said, most of the entertainment industry is comprised of atheists and those who practice alternative religions).
However, I have also heard some arguments from fans that Michael’s comment was simply part of his lifelong creative partnership with God. He always said, for example, that his creative gifts came from God, and that writing a song for him was more about channeling than creativity. Someone even (half jokingly, I believe) brought up the alleged conversation between Michael and Kenny Ortega in which Ortega told him to turn off God’s voice, and Michael quipped, “I can’t-God might give all of my ideas to Prince.”
Now that was the Michael we all know and love; he was certainly well known for his outrageous sense of humor.
But this was no laughing matter, and hence the grave concerns of Sankey and Ortega. They knew that Michael was being serious this time.
But deluded? Possibly; I am certainly no medic and certainly not qualified to make a diagnosis. I wasn’t there, and I did not witness what these people saw and heard. But my gut instinct tells me that both Sankey and Ortega knew exactly what Michael’s words portended. Why do you think that, according to Sankey, her immediate reaction was to get on the phone to Ortega and scream, “Michael is dying. He’s leaving us.” Why? Because in her heart she knew exactly what those words meant.
It has always been said that the dying seem to know when their time is near. Certainly we see evidence of this all the time, especially among the elderly and those with lingering illnesses. But even those doomed to untimely, accidental deaths may often have a sad feeling of foreboding in the days and weeks leading up to their death. Often this takes the form of an inexplicable sadness or melancholy that they just can’t shake off. Many times, their loved ones may see the signs, but may not realize until looking back in hindsight that this is what was happening to them. For example, I had a beloved college instructor who died in a tragic car accident while I was away at graduate school. I didn’t know of her death until I came home for summer vacation. But after I learned of her death, I also learned from many of her colleagues that her behavior in the months leading up to her death had been rather strange. She had complained about teaching a course on Chaucer (an author whom she adored, and a course she normally loved to teach) and had often expressed thoughts that seemed foreign to those who knew her best. While there has been much study done on the psychology of the dying, the studies mostly apply to the terminally ill-those who know they are dying. There is, as yet, no absolute science on those whose deaths are simply imminent, whether by accident or natural causes. Yet history has taught us that, often, those who are nearing death simply know.
Being of Native American descent (and one who has actively participated in Native religions, as well as having been raised in the Christian faith) none of what Michael was saying seems at all unusual or deluded to me. Many cultures and, specifically, many religions teach that those who are dying receive warning from God. In Michael’s case, it seemed that he was being called-urgently-and had been for days, perhaps even weeks or months. That isn’t to say I believe he had a death wish, or was suicidal. I don’t believe that at all. But I think, as so many often seem to, he may have had a sense that his time was imminent.
My grandmother, who was 86 when she died of diabetes complications, went through the same process. For months on end, I sat in her hospital room while her “delusions” and conversations with relatives on “the other side” became increasingly more lucid-and chillingly real. She would call out the names of relatives whom I knew had been dead for years, often carrying on the most natural conversations with them.
How much of this was delusion, perhaps brought on by her illness and the many medications she was taking, is hard to say. I am sure at least some of it was probably brought on by the very real physical effects of a body and a brain that was shutting down. But there has also been an amazingly consistent pattern in the reports of all those who, like me, have watched someone die. The pattern never varies. Hearing “God” or the voices of loved ones who have gone before is almost universal. In general, there seems to be a consistent pattern of behavior in all of those who are not yet quite gone, but seem to already have “one foot on the other side.”
For sure, there was a good reason why Sankey felt that Michael’s words were cause for alarm. But I also can’t ignore the fact that I believe, during this time, Michael’s body was being literally “poisoned” from the treatment he was receiving from Murray. So it is very possible that he was having delusions.
It is still hard for me to know exactly where to stand on this issue. I watched This Is It again the night before last (mostly because we had lucked out and found a Blu-Ray copy incredibly cheap!). I’ve seen the movie a million times (probably no exaggeration, lol!) but this time I watched with an especially keen eye those shots of his last rehearsal, both the Thriller and Earth Song segments. Despite all the reports to the contrary, Michael looked fine to me in those segments. In fact, he looked BETTER-as in healthier and more like his old self-than in many of the segments filmed from earlier rehearsals. Perhaps it was simply the Ed Hardy clothes (which masked the gaunt thinness so apparent in other scenes) or the fact that his dancing in the Thriller segment was so flawlessly “spot on” but it was, as always, hard for me to envision that this was a man who would be dead within twenty-four hours. He did look very thin in some scenes (for example, the scenes where he is wearing the shoulder pad jacket-a horrible wardrobe choice that certainly accentuated his gauntness) but not unusually thin for Michael. He was, in fact, actually the same weight as in his Thriller video. But it’s 2009, over a quarter of a century later, and at 50 Michael simply no longer had the frame of a 25-year-old dancer’s body. The autopsy lists his weight at 136 pounds-thin, yes. But gaunt, no.
Michael Rehearsing Thriller On June 24th, 2009 (Segment From 2:42 Forward). He Had Less Than 24 Hrs To Live:
Yes, he looked as healthy and able the night before as any time ever in his career. And yet…we know how the story ends.
Perhaps, as some are testifying, he was at least in part deluded-the result of a body being slowly poisoned by toxins he was being administered at this point on a nightly basis. But then again, it’s also very possible that, just maybe, he was really being called home. Hence my rather sarcastic title, simply because I am tired of reading all the mockery. Like I said, one fact for sure is one we can’t ignore-within days, he was indeed home with God.
Coincidence? Save it for the cynics and the atheists. I prefer to believe that God, who sees all and knows all, said this child of mine has endured enough. It’s time to call him home.
Was Michael hearing voices in his head-or truly heeding the call of God? We can’t know, for whatever the truth is, it is between Michael and God.
But perhaps all the more reason to cease mocking what we can’t, or don’t, or refuse to understand.
There are simply too many unexplained things in this world for us to feel so smugly-with our technology and our innovations and our psychology and our science- that we have all the answers.