The head of the company promoting Michael Jackson’s ill-fated comeback concerts testified Thursday that he received conflicting and confusing information about the singer’s health days before his death.
AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips said he was concerned about information from high-level tour workers that Jackson was unable to rehearse six days before his death, but he was reassured by the pop superstar’s doctor that everything was fine.
Phillips said the “Thriller” singer appeared fine at a meeting held hours after he received a series of emails from tour personnel that Jackson’s health was deteriorating and he appeared physically incapable of preparing for his comeback shows, dubbed “This Is It.”
The reports of Jackson shivering and being unable to eat came from the tour’s director, Kenny Ortega, and production manager John “Bugzee” Hougdahl.
In an email sent June 19, 2009, Hougdahl said Jackson’s ability to perform had diminished over the previous two months. Jackson died five days later.
Phillips is testifying in a negligent hiring suit filed by Jackson’s mother against AEG Live LLC, claiming the company failed to properly investigate the doctor convicted of causing her son’s death. Her lawyers contend Phillips and other AEG executives ignored or missed warning signs about the singer’s health and pushed him to rehearse.
Phillips said he expected Jackson to rehearse, but it was not something he was contractually obligated to do. He has denied that AEG hired Conrad Murray, the former cardiologist convicted of involuntary manslaughter after administering a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol.
Murray seemed competent, Phillips said, although he acknowledged they did not discuss in detail treatments the physician was giving Jackson.
“As far as I was concerned, the only person in charge of Michael Jackson’s health was Michael Jackson,” Phillips said.
AEG denies it hired Murray as lawyers for Katherine Jackson contend. Defense attorney Marvin Putnam told the jury in opening statements that the case hinged on personal choices and that Michael Jackson hid that he was receiving propofol as a sleep aid.
Phillips said Thursday that his company doesn’t have a policy for dealing with artists who are the subject of articles that state or suggest they have a substance abuse problem.
“We’re not judgmental like that,” Phillips said. He later added, “You can’t give up on people – that’s not our job. “
Philips said throughout preparations for “This Is It,” he was not concerned about any prescription drug use. He said the singer appeared sharp and engaged at meetings with the exception of one after Jackson visited his longtime dermatologist.
On Monday, jurors were shown an email that Phillips sent expressing concern about the dermatologist’s treatment of Jackson.
“He scares us to death because he is shooting him up with something,” Phillips wrote Jackson’s business manager two days before the singer’s death.
Phillips became emotional Thursday when he described Jackson’s death, with tears appearing to well up in his eyes before his attorney quickly moved on to other topics.
The executive has been testifying for portions of seven days and will undergo additional questioning by Katherine Jackson’s attorney Friday when the trial concludes its seventh week.