- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

The world still buzzed 24 hours after the sudden death of Michael Jackson, clinging to his music, puzzling over his lifestyle and mourning the loss of a very distinctive cultural icon.

Many also wondered what killed him.

They will have to wait. Los Angeles County coroner spokesman Craig Harvey said late Friday that an autopsy had been completed on Mr. Jackson’s body, but determining the cause of death will require further neuropathology and pulmonary tests. It could take four to six weeks.

The singer had not been physically harmed, Mr. Harvey said. The autopsy revealed no evidence of external trauma to Mr. Jackson’s body or “foul play associated with his death.” Mr. Harvey also said that Mr. Jackson was taking some unspecified prescription medications.

The mainstream press and celebrity gossip Web sites spent the day chasing rumors and ginning up drama.

Transcripts of the 911 tapes featuring the frantic reactions of those who were with Mr. Jackson in his last moments were released to the public Friday, revealing that a mysterious “personal physician” had been administering CPR as the 50-year-old performer lay on his bed.

“He’s not breathing,” cried a male voice.

The physician in question has since been identified by a number of news organizations as Houston cardiologist Dr. Conrad Robert Murray. His silver-colored BMW was towed from the Jackson residence by the Los Angeles Police Department and impounded in the hours after the singer’s death. Police speculated that it could contain evidence or clues as to what killed Mr. Jackson.

Anecdotal reports from gossip and entertainment sources indicated Mr. Jackson died from an injection of Demerol, a powerful, addictive painkiller similar to morphine. According to the AOL-owned Web site TMZ.com, the star received a daily injection of Demerol to help him deal with old dance injuries.

Lt. Gregg Strunk, head of the LAPD’s homicide investigation unit, downplayed the rumors, saying that claims of a drug overdose “are coming from outside the investigation.”

A police spokeswoman later confirmed that Dr. Murray had been briefly questioned by detectives, according to Radar.com, though she did not reveal the nature of the conversation. Government records show Dr. Murray holds licenses to practice in California, Nevada and Texas, the Associated Press reported. He was licensed in 2001 in Hawaii, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether that license is current.

State regulators had no records of any disciplinary actions against him, the AP reported. Other records show he has had financial trouble. Dr. Murray filed for bankruptcy in California in 1992, when he was listed as living in Loma Linda, where he had done graduate work at Loma Linda University. He had several tax liens filed against him in California and Arizona between 1993 and 2003, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the very idea that Mr. Jackson is dead continued to drive emotional reactions among celebrities and fans alike.

Lisa Marie Presley revealed Friday on her personal blog that the man she married over a decade ago once feared he would “end up like Elvis” - his own father-in-law.

“He knew what he knew and that was kind of that,” Miss Presley wrote of Mr. Jackson, who was her spouse for 20 months.

“I desperately hope that he can be relieved from his pain, pressure and turmoil now. He deserves to be free from all of that and I hope he is in a better place or will be,” she said.

Fans in Tokyo, London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles continued to spontaneously sing Mr. Jackson’s songs or moonwalk the streets Friday, lining sidewalks with votive candles and flowers. They encircled his star on Hollywood Boulevard. Crowds jammed the modest streets of Gary, Ind., Mr. Jackson’s hometown. Instant retrospectives, tributes and accolades to his music and dancing multiplied on radio and TV.

Celebrities raced to their publicists and Twitter accounts to offer condolences. Posthumously, Mr. Jackson’s hits occupied all top-10 positions at such online music sources as iTunes - a first.

President Obama called Mr. Jackson a “music icon” whose life had “sad and tragic” aspects, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. Mr. Obama also sent his condolences to the Jackson family.

Congress observed a moment of silence to honor the man who died just weeks before he was to attempt a major showbiz comeback.

“I come to the floor today on behalf of a generation to thank God for living in his era,” Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. said of the performer.

“His heart couldn’t get any bigger,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Even as the heartbreak and hullaballoo of public mourning continued, the serious business of determining the cause of the “King of Pop’s” death had begun.

The Los Angeles coroner’s office announced that Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaranan performed the autopsy, which some say lasted about three hours. Dr. Sathyavagiswaranan also served as a medical witness during the O.J. Simpson civil case.

Already, some media analysts have predicted that clandestine photos of the procedure will immediately surface in the media - just as the image of Mr. Jackson lying dead in an ambulance was revealed by Entertainment Tonight before the news of his death was made public.

“I won’t be surprised to see autopsy photos. There are no limits now,” said S. Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University.

The death photo also brought out cybercriminals.

Two software vendors were quick to warn consumers not to open any e-mails advertising a clandestine look at Mr. Jackson in death, or risk infecting their computers with harmful viruses, or “malware.” Similar e-mails peddling pictures of actress Farrah Fawcett, who died Thursday, also appeared.

“History tells us propagators of spam and malicious code will inevitably attempt to play on the public’s emotions and curiosity around these events and attempt to use them to exploit computer users,” said David Cowings, manager at Symantec Security Response.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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