LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The top executive of concert promoter AEG Live acknowledged yesterday that he was “baffled” because of mixed signals he received about the singer’s health just days before his death.
Brandon Phillips, president and CEO of the company, said “This Is It” tour director Kenny Ortega gave a gloomy assessment of Jackson’s ability to go forward after the entertainer came down with severe chills and other problems on June 19, 2009. But the singer’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was upbeat, Phillips said.
“I was completely baffled as to what the issue could have been at the time,” said Phillips. He told jurors several times under questioning by AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam that the different outlooks concerning Jackson’s ability to rehearse left him “confused.”
Phillips said he had a phone conversation with Murray about 14 hours after getting Ortega’s assessment in an email.
“He was so calm on the phone .. it was very believable,” Phillips – in his seventh day of testimony — said under questioning by AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam.
The singer’s 83-year-old mother, Katherine Jackson, filed her negligence/wrongful death suit against the promoter in September 2010 on behalf of herself and her late son’s three children, alleging that AEG Live hired Dr. Conrad Murray to care for the singer and failed to supervise him properly. Phillips is also a defendant.
AEG Live attorneys maintain that Jackson hired Murray in 2006 as his personal physician and chose him to be his doctor during 50 concert dates at London’s O2 Arena as part of an independent contractor arrangement.
Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s drug overdose death and sentenced to four years in jail. The doctor gave propofol as a sleep aid to the singer, who died in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009, while rehearsing for the sold-out tour.
Phillips said that on June 20, 2009, he met with Jackson, Murray and Ortega at the singer’s home to discuss the director’s concerns about the entertainer’s missed rehearsals. Phillips said he listened and said little as Murray and Jackson spoke bluntly to Ortega.
“He (Murray) said (Ortega) needed to leave Michael Jackson’s health in his hands and worry about getting the show finished,” Phillips said.
Jackson explained to Ortega why rehearsals were not as important as the director thought, Phillips said.
“I have muscle memory and I don’t have to be at rehearsals every time,” Jackson told Ortega, according to Phillips. “You build the house and when you’re done I’ll put the door up and paint it.”
Phillips said Ortega was “a bit stunned” by Murray’s aggressiveness, but did not challenge his opinions.
One June 24, 2009 — the day before Jackson died — the singer gave a near flawless performance during rehearsals at the Staples Center, Phillips said. The singer, Ortega and choreographer Travis Payne gave each other a “communal hug,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that just before leaving the arena about midnight, Jackson approached him.
“He came over and said, ‘You got me this far, I can take it from here,”‘ Phillips said.
The witness said the comment made him feel “like a million dollars.”
Phillips said he did not see Jackson again until the next day as Murray and other physicians tried to revive him on a gurney at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He said he was waiting outside the room with Frank Dileo, one of Jackson’s managers, when a head nurse delivered the bad news.
“I’m sorry to tell you Mr. Jackson passed away,” the nurse said, according to Phillips.
His voice breaking, Phillips said, “Frank collapsed, so I had to grab him and we were devastated.”
Murray was “hysterical,” Phillips testified.
Just before yesterday’s proceedings ended, Jackson family attorney Brian Panish resumed his tense exchanges with Phillips. Panish asked Phillips repeatedly under cross-examination if he accused the lawyer of following him and having him photographed while Phillips met with Tohme Tohme, another former Jackson manager, at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge after Jackson’s death.
“You’ll say anything, won’t you?,” Panish asked Phillips.
“That’s outrageous,” Phillips replied.