Jacko’s death: who’s really bad?

In the rush to nail Jackson’s ‘killer’, everyone’s overlooking the fact that no one forced the singer to down all those pills.

Nathalie Rothschild

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So, Michael Jackson’s personal ‘feelgood doctor’, Conrad Murray, has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter. This apparently provides closure for those who have tried to make sense of the pop icon’s death in June 2009. Because for many, the idea that Jackson died a tragic, accidental death as a troubled star who was under a lot of pressure, that he was simply an afflicted man who finally dug too deep into the medicine cabinet, apparently just won’t do.

The six-week trial didn’t only lay bare intimate details of MJ’s life and death, beginning with the distribution of gruesome images of his body in a hospital gurney and a photo of his naked body at the autopsy – it also revealed that, today, the idea that tragedy sometimes strikes, for little explicable reason, has limited traction.

Among the throng of MJ fans gathered outside the Los Angeles courtroom on Monday, there was little doubt that Jackson was killed at the hands of a careless doc. ‘Guilty!’, ‘Justice 4 MJ’, ‘Dr Murder’ read some of their t-shirts and placards. They cheered loudly when the guilty verdict was read out. Murray was accused of causing the King of Pop’s death by administering a fatal dose of the anaesthetic propofol and by failing to supervise his patient properly.

Yet, with the media spotlight shining mercilessly on Dr Murray, one, apparently hard-to-accept, contributory factor in Jackson’s death was overlooked: Jackson’s own recklessness.

Yes, there was a coterie of people surrounding Jackson who helped, rather than prevented, him from accessing the drugs he took in order to keep getting up on stage as a shadow of his former moonwalking, crotch-grabbing self. And yes, it seems Murray’s judgement was lacking. For instance, during the trial, one expert on propofol reportedly said it is almost unheard of to prescribe propofol for insomnia, as Murray did for Jackson. Instead, the powerful drug is normally used before surgery.

However, no matter how childlike and strange Jackson’s world was, he was an adult who surely must have understood that combining propofol (or ‘milk’ as he nicknamed it) with a battery of other sedatives, muscle relaxants and appetite suppressants was not a brilliant way to get through life.

Yet it seems that holding Jackson accountable for his destiny is largely seen, not only as callous, but as hopelessly naive. Because, apparently, the medical profession, showbiz execs and fawning fans form a lethal concoction for celebs like Michael Jackson.

At the time of Jackson’s death, fingers of blame were pointed at his management team, who were accused of pushing him too hard to go ahead with his This Is It comeback tour; at his fans, who were said to have had too hard a time accepting that MJ just wasn’t up to it anymore; and, of course, at Murray, who was blamed for acting like little more than a drug pusher. At the end of the trial on Monday, District Attorney Steve Cooley said the guilty verdict sent a strong message to others who play the role of ‘Dr Feelgood’. At the same time, the internet was awash with conspiracy theorists pinning MJ’s death on ‘the illuminati’.

For these finger-pointers, the suggestion that Jacko played any role at all in his own demise is just wacko – as is the suggestion that the circumstances of his unconventional life make it too complicated to pin the blame for his death on one single person and one single dose of drugs.

Murray’s trial helped distil the various theories about what drove Jacko to prescription-drug addiction and, ultimately, to the grave. It helped turn Jackson’s end into a case of a greedy, heartless doctor causing an innocent, helpless pop icon’s premature death. Not since the death of Princess Diana has so much effort been spent on pinning the blame for a tragic accident on anyone and anything but the misfortune and the personal responsibility of the victim.

Just as in Princess Di’s case, the rush to nail Jacko’s ‘killer’, to find ‘closure’ and to draw a moral lesson from an accidental death suggests an unwillingness to accept that shit happens – and often for quite complicated reasons.

Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here. Follow her on Twitter @n_rothschild.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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