- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

When Michael Jackson entreated Conrad Murray to be his personal physician in 2008, the Grenada-born cardiologist — having no idea what infamy lay before him less than a year later — gave a two-word response to the King of Pop: “Can do.”

Mr. Murray recalled to The Washington Times the late singer’s pitch for him to move from Houston to California: “I just want you; I’ve been watching you.”

Though he believed himself to be vastly overqualified and had a thriving private practice, Mr. Murray accepted Jackson’s invitation to tend to him as he prepared for “This Is It,” a concert series scheduled for London’s O2 Arena — the singer’s self-described “final curtain call.” Mr. Murray was excited about the prospect of a lighter workload and promised himself to use the extra downtime to study Rosetta Stone language programs.

“The only reason why I took [the] job was [because] Michael Jackson wanted to be a doctor, not a singer,” Mr. Murray said. “He was intrigued with medical science.”

For his services, Mr. Murray was paid $150,000 a month, according to Biography.com.

The dream ended June 25, 2009, after Mr. Murray began administering an infusion of the anesthetic propofol and returned from the restroom to find his patient not breathing. Despite his efforts — as well as those of first responders — Jackson never regained consciousness and died on the way to the hospital from his Los Angeles home.

It was the final act of a much-publicized life as noteworthy for its highs as for its tabloid-feeding lows. Jackson, a star since boyhood, was just 50.

Mr. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 and served two years at a Los Angeles County jail.

“The wounds are still fresh,” Mr. Murray said of the 7-year-old incident. “It takes time to heal.”

In his new book, “This Is It!: The Secret Lives of Dr. Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson,” the former doctor attempts to set the record straight — or at least offer his own account — of how Jackson died. And how he believes he was railroaded by the courts.

“I was an innocent man unjustly accused and then incarcerated,” Mr. Murray, 63, declared to The Times, adding that he lost his life savings, his retirement, his practice. “Everything has been consumed in the process of trying to defend myself.”

Differing opinions

The official cause of Jackson’s death, Mr. Murray said, was the propofol infusion, which he said the court claimed began at 9 a.m. and went through noon, about the time the singer died.

“So that’s a three-hour infusion. That was false,” he said.

Mr. Murray said he was unaware, when he came to work for Jackson, that the singer had a substance abuse problem — one he said was abetted by Jackson’s dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein.

Jackson went frequently to Klein’s office for the narcotic Demerol.

“Was Michael taking an opioid? Yes, a narcotic. Was I aware of that? No,” Mr. Murray said. “Did he share that information with me? No.”

Mr. Murray said that in the three years he spent in Jackson’s close circle, the singer never complained to him of pain, which he chalks up to the singer’s use of Demerol — “not for pain but for a habit.” The trial records, he said, showed Jackson was administered Demerol in “unheard-of high doses” by Klein.

Though Mr. Murray, in his own words, said Jackson would leave Klein’s office “looking like a zombie” and needed help walking out of the clinic, he maintains he had no knowledge of the Demerol habit when he prescribed the propofol drip at Jackson’s home.

“He was using a substance, a narcotic, an opioid, and it was totally clandestine,” Mr. Murray said. “I had no information at all; he never shared it.”

Mr. Murray believes it was Klein’s actions as a medical provider, and not his own, that led to Jackson’s untimely death.

“Interestingly, the day Michael died they subpoenaed Dr. Klein to be a witness,” Mr. Murray said. “These are his words, as told by his staff: He said, ‘Oh, my god, before this day is over, the police are going to come over here and arrest me.’”

So why did Mr. Murray, rather than Klein, take the fall for Jackson’s death? Mr. Murray said Klein and his staff were barred by Judge Michael Pastor from attending the trial. The convicted doctor’s theory, in his own words, is that Klein would have alleged at trial that both he and Judge Pastor were part of a “gay mafia” of West Los Angeles, something Judge Pastor was anxious to avoid.

The theory seems outlandish, even paranoid, but Mr. Murray stands by it.

“The public was presented a case that really did not happen,” he said. “They said I performed gross negligence because I had abandoned [Jackson] while he was under the propofol infusion.”

Anesthesiology expert Dr. Steven Shafer testified at Mr. Murray’s trial that the level of propofol in Jackson’s system was insufficient to cause apnea, or lack of breathing.

“He also stated that it takes a minimum of 1.35 micrograms per ml for 5 percent of patients to go into apnea, which is the reason he gave for the cause of Michael Jackson’s death,” Mr. Murray said of Dr. Shafer’s testimony. “He also showed that the results of the findings in the autopsy showed that there was no brain propofol level given by the coroner’s office. Zero. The reason why is because they didn’t find it. The drug did not get into Michael Jackson’s brain. So he did not die from apnea.”

Mr. Murray believes that Jackson, with his doctor out of the room visiting the toilet after the infusion had begun, “took matters into his own hands,” which ultimately led to cardiac arrest rather than respiratory failure.

“It’s like stealing the cookie from the cookie jar,” he said. “He likely rapidly administered medicines into his body, collapsed his circulation, and certainly we believe he had cardiac arrest, because propofol does not act in the bloodstream; as Dr. Shafer said, propofol acts on the brain. And it has to get to the brain for [the patient] to have died from apnea.”

Furthermore, prior to commencing the propofol infusion, Mr. Murray said, he found Jackson in an agitated condition, acting like “the most restless hamster.” He chalked this up to the pop star’s acute opioid withdrawal — once again, according to Mr. Murray, without his knowledge.

Michael Jackson was cut cold turkey [by Klein] on June 22, roughly 48 hours before he passed,” Mr. Murray said. “That’s the peak incidence of acute withdrawal from opioids. And with withdrawal, certainly it creates a state of mind and a state of potential risk where you can die. You’re not going to be rational, and you take matters into your own hands.

Michael Jackson was in withdrawal from Demerol, which led to his actions that led to his demise.”

Klein, Jackson’s dermatologist who supplied him with Demerol, died in October after a lengthy illness.

Opioid epidemic

Another pop star, Prince, died in April at his Minneapolis home as the result of accidental opioid overdose. As with Jackson, Prince “compartmentalized” his doctors to feed his drug habits, Mr. Murray believes. One doctor not knowing what drugs another doctor is prescribing for the same patient, Mr. Murray said, can lead to such tragic results.

“Unless you permit me to share my records with another doctor, I don’t have that permission,” he said, adding that perhaps the solution is to flag patients who repeatedly fill such dangerous prescriptions from different health care providers.

“Again, what was the responsibility of the doctor, whether it’s Prince or anyone else?” Mr. Murray said. “Medications are prescribed to you with directions. You sign with the pharmacist saying you understand. You sign [knowing] that there are drug interactions. You sign knowing that you should not [take them] with alcohol or on an empty stomach or with food.

“You have to follow the instructions,” Mr. Murray said. “If a doctor tells you how to take a substance but you choose to do it differently, then the patient has to bear the responsibility of the consequences.”

Whatever the ultimate cause, or causes, of Jackson’s death, he left a legacy of phenomenal entertainment and a string of extraordinarily bizarre scandals. Mr. Murray said he misses the pop star greatly. He described Jackson as a “sweet, gentle person” plagued by extreme shyness.

“He could not face anyone to discuss anything face to face,” Mr. Murray said. “He stood behind me; I was like a shield.

“I still love Michael very much. I’m sorry that Michael is not with us. But I am disappointed in Michael for not sharing with me essential history like drug addiction. He put me at false risk.”

What started as just a job for Mr. Murray ended with not only his client’s death but also the ruin of his reputation and his career. A gifted cardiologist known to few outside the medical community before going into Jackson’s employ, Mr. Murray will now forever be linked with Jackson in the history books.

“Eventually I wanted to go back to my practice, but Michael didn’t want me to do that,” Mr. Murray said. “Michael wanted me to be around him forever.”

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