- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

The focus of pop star Michael Jackson’s death turned to drugs as investigators expanded their search into the medications he was taking and the doctor who may have administered them, while his grieving family planned his funeral and sought answers as to the cause of his passing.

A police source told ABC News that Mr. Jackson, 50, had a significant addiction to the painkiller OxyContin, and the family’s attorney also said publicly that drugs had been a big part of his life since the 1980s, according to published reports.

Sources told People.com that Mr. Jackson’s family had staged a formal intervention for his prescription drug abuse while he was living in Las Vegas in 2006. Mr. Jackson reportedly was angered by their attempts to get him to acknowledge his problem and seek help. On CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Friday, Dr. Deepak Chopra, an author and one-time meditation mentor of the singer, said he, too, had warned Mr. Jackson about his abuse of medications and said the friends had a strained relationship because of his concern.

In an interview Saturday with the Associated Press, Dr. Chopra said Mr. Jackson had asked him for painkillers in 2005 during the singer’s stay with him after his sexual molestation trial. Dr. Chopra refused the request, but told the AP that Mr. Jackson’s nanny had repeatedly contacted him with worries about the entertainer’s drug use, adding that she had seen numerous doctors coming to Mr. Jackson’s residences over the past four years.

While rumors of Mr. Jackson’s drug use had long been discussed in the music community, some of those who had entered his diverse circle of friends - which included actress Elizabeth Taylor, performer Uri Geller and British child acting star Mark Lester, who served as godfather to Mr. Jackson’s three children - publicly downplayed his problems. Close associates often brushed off criticism of Mr. Jackson’s increasingly strange adulthood and odd, nomadic lifestyle as a product of a prying media.

No doubt sensing his increasing emotional fragility and financial woes, they sought to honor his considerable success as a music artist and dismiss his weaknesses, despite his freakishly changing appearance and odd attempts to protect his children’s identities by covering their heads with scarves in public. He also frequently appeared in public wearing a mask.

Some artists, including singers Liza Minnelli and Usher, appearing on CNN, argued that now was not the time to detangle Mr. Jackson’s personal problems, even as it was clear that an investigation was focused on the suspected role of drugs in his death. The cause initially was described as cardiac arrest.

“All of us who knew him well really know what he was like,” said Miss Minnelli, who dubbed Mr. Jackson “a splendid man.”

“I’m sure that now the accolades are going, and I’m sure when the autopsy comes, all hell’s going to break loose,” Miss Minnelli told CBS’ “The Early Show.”

An official from the Los Angeles coroner’s office on Friday said there were no outward signs of trauma to Mr. Jackson’s body and ruled out foul play as a cause of death.

Tributes and personal eulogies continued across the country and around the world. A crowd formed outside the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit on Saturday afternoon, and a memorial outside his modest childhood home in Gary, Ind., was overflowing.

Meanwhile, police were preparing to sit down for a longer interview with Mr. Jackson’s personal physician. Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist, was said to have been at Mr. Jackson’s side when he could not be revived at his Holmby Hills mansion in Los Angeles on Thursday. Dr. Murray reportedly retained legal counsel Saturday as the police inquiry continued. He was not described as a suspect.

The entertainment news Web site TMZ.com, which was first with the news of Mr. Jackson’s death, reported Saturday afternoon that a second autopsy sought by his family was under way. Mr. Jackson’s body was moved late Friday from the Los Angeles coroner’s office to an undisclosed mortuary after an initial autopsy conducted by the county failed to determine the cause of death. Results of toxicology tests on tissue samples could take weeks, the coroner’s office said.

A death photo, showing Mr. Jackson on a gurney with an oxygen mask on his face, has been published on the Internet as memorabilia sales continued to climb on sites such as eBay. While some television and radio networks planned tribute programming, Mr. Jackson’s songs soared into the Top 10 in sales on the Internet music site iTunes.

As the grim speculation continued worldwide and tributes from his fans poured in, more people with close ties to Mr. Jackson spoke out with stories of what they described as his tortured existence, battling inner demons from his childhood, which was consumed with work as he and his singing brothers formed the Jackson 5 and captured the fancy of Motown and the nation.

Mr. Jackson’s former wife Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of music icon Elvis Presley, wrote candidly on her blog that she tried in vain to save Mr. Jackson from himself. She also wrote that he told her in a conversation that he feared he would die like her father, something she dismissed, but which now seems eerily prescient in the wake of what may be a similar drug abuse.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, longtime pop music critic Robert Hilburn, who had interviewed the singer many times over the past three decades, described him in emotional tones: “Michael struck me as one of the most fragile and lonely people I’ve ever met. His heart may have finally stopped beating Thursday afternoon, but it had been broken long ago.”

Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, appearing on a Friday segment of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” offered harsh words for Mr. Jackson, whom she had written about several times.

“He had a terrific drug problem, starting when he checked himself into rehab to escape molestation charges in ‘94,” she said, also noting that he appeared “zombielike” during his 2005 trial on those charges, of which he was acquitted.

“He was surrounded by sycophants. He isolated himself so much, but honestly I think a lot of that isolation was self-imposed so he could play with little boys and do whatever he wants,” she said in one of the most stinging assessments of Mr. Jackson’s life.

“As big a genius [as] he was with music, he was also that big a failure as a human being, in my opinion,” she said.

As movers took Mr. Jackson’s possessions from his rented mansion Saturday afternoon, the Jackson family met at their Encino, Calif., compound to discuss details on services.

The Rev. Al Sharpton planned to meet with the family Sunday as they consider a series of simultaneous global celebrations and other ideas to commemorate the life of the “King of Pop,” the AP reported.

Mr. Sharpton, a longtime family friend, said he had spoken with Jackie and Jermaine Jackson, and that they asked him to meet with the entire family to discuss how best to remember their brother.

The London newspaper the Sun reported that Mr. Jackson had been taking a “cocktail” of medications that included Vicodin, Dilaudid, Soma, Xanax, Zoloft and Paxil, as well as Prilosec.

Police cautioned, however, that it was far too early in their investigation to speculate or confirm what role, if any, these medications had in his death.

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