In his final weeks, Jackson had been rehearsing for a 50-date comeback engagement called, forever eerily, “This Is It,” to take place at London’s O2 Arena. The concerts, what amounted to his first tour since 1997, were already sold out.
There had been questions about his health, and sightings—including ones in 2008 of Jackson in a wheelchair and wearing a surgical mask—told of a thin, frail-looking man.
And though many of those who witnessed the 50-year-old in action said he had been bringing his usual inimitable magic to the stage, a perfectionist as always and involved in every aspect of the production, there had been some disturbing moments during his final days as well.
“I saw a Michael that frightened me,” This Is It director Kenny Ortega later testified when the $1.5 billion negligence lawsuit filed by Jackson’s family against concert promoter AEG Live went to trial in 2013. The artist was, in his opinion, under the influence of a substance on at least four occasions, a state that was “fairly obvious” to others on the set, Ortega said. In an email he wrote to promoters that he read aloud in court, Ortega said of Jackson, “He was like a lost boy. There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if we get him the help he needs.”
But, according to AEG CEO Randy Phillips, a four-hour physical Jackson underwent earlier that spring with an independent doctor had turned up “no issues whatsoever.”
When Jackson first died, Ortega told the LA Times, “He was so in love with this project. When I looked into his eyes, they looked great…Michael was sincerely happy.”
AEG would counter in its defense that Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011, was pulling the strings behind the scenes. A jury later found AEG not liable in Jackson’s death.