Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Michael Jackson's addictions at heart of wrongful death suit

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LOS ANGELES -- Michael Jackson's family and friends knew he was addicted to prescription medications; the only ones who refused to acknowledge it were the promoters of his ill-fated final comeback concerts, an attorney for the singer's mother told a jury on Monday.

Lawyer Brian Panish traced Jackson's addiction in opening statements during the trial of a wrongful death lawsuit against concert giant AEG Live, telling jurors the company ignored numerous warning signs about the singer's health in his final months.

Jackson's mother, brother Randy and sister Rebbie sat in the front row of the courtroom as Panish detailed aspects of Jackson's life.

Panish told the jury of six men and six women that it would ultimately have to decide whether Jackson's mother and his three children deserve compensation for AEG's conduct. Millions, possibly billions, of dollars are at stake, but Panish did not give a suggested damage figure.

An attorney for AEG was expected to address the panel later Monday.

Katherine Jackson sued the company in September 2010, claiming it failed to properly investigate physician Conrad Murray before allowing him to serve as Jackson's tour doctor. She is also suing on behalf of her son's three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket.

AEG denies it hired Murray, and its attorneys have said they could not have foreseen the circumstances that led to Jackson's death at age 50.

A jury previously convicted Murray of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors said he gave Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in 2011.

Panish told jurors Jackson suffered from addiction to prescription medications and Demerol at times, and the problem increased when he was keeping up a rigorous schedule.

"People who knew him believed he had a problem with prescription medication," Panish told jurors. He said the only group that claims they didn't know about Jackson's addiction issues were AEG and its executives.

Panish also detailed Murray's money problems, including an impending foreclosure and other debts. AEG also had issues as well, the lawyer told jurors, saying the company was feeling intense pressure from concert promoter Live Nation.

He said AEG saw the Jackson shows as a way to make a lot of money and better compete with Live Nation. The company was so concerned with getting Jackson to perform, "they didn't care who got lost in the wash."

Emails between AEG executives will be some of the key evidence in the case, which may last 90 trial days.

Panish displayed a March 2009 email sent before a press conference featuring Jackson, in which AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips wrote to Tim Leiweke, the former CEO of AEG'S parent company, that Jackson was drunk and refusing to address fans.

"This is the scariest thing I have ever seen," Phillips wrote. "He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it's show time. He's scared to death."

Panish said Jackson's behaviour was just one of several warning signs that the company ignored before the death.

"Michael paid the ultimate price. He died," Panish said. "Michael has taken responsibility."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 C2

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