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Fans make a shrine for the late pop star Michael Jackson on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California. (LUCY NICHOLSON/LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS)
Fans make a shrine for the late pop star Michael Jackson on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California. (LUCY NICHOLSON/LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS)

A tortured star's last days Add to ...

Michael Jackson arrived in Los Angeles in late April with this three children in tow to begin rehearsals at the Staples Center for his planned string of concerts in London's 02 Arena this summer.

Southern California - in particular, the fabled Neverland Ranch near Los Olivos - had been the singer-songwriter's home turf until three years ago when legal difficulties and incessant media attention prompted his departure to, variously, Bahrain, continental Europe, Britain and Las Vegas.

The return journey was supposed to be part of a grand comeback, with Mr. Jackson rehearsing up to 10 hours at a time to ensure he could pull of the strenuous string of 50 concerts he'd agreed to start in mid-July. Instead, the return wasn't a journey into rejuvenation. It was a death trip.

Mr. Jackson's main base of operations in Los Angeles was an $18-million (U.S.), seven-bedroom mansion with a swimming pool in back located just off West Sunset Boulevard in the swank Holmby Hills neighbourhood. Rent for the property, now owned by a sportswear and apparel manufacturer but once the home of Sean Connery, was $100,000 a month.

By most accounts, Mr. Jackson would spend the day holed up there. People magazine yesterday was reporting he had hired Lou Ferrigno, the original Incredible Hulk, as his personal trainer. Sometimes he would call freinds: Deepak Chopra, doctor and spiritualist said he had a recent conversation with him about the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning Bengali poet.

His children were reportedly home schooled. Then in the evening travel by limousine to the Staples Center to work with his band, dancers, choreographers, set designers and others. He would then return to the house at 100 N. Carolwood Dr. in the early morning.

It remains unclear how well the rehearsals had been going. His manager, Frank Di Leo, and others told some reporters Thursday that Mr. Jackson had done "the best show ever" Wednesday evening. Others, however, said the artist had shown up three hours late, that he did not look well and his performance was listless.

It's also not clear what Mr. Jackson did upon returning home, in the hours before paramedics with the Los Angeles Fire Department's 71 Division were called at 12:26 p.m. PDT because a "gentleman" was reported to have stopped breathing. Tapes of the 911 call released Friday indicate that Mr. Jackson was in one of the mansion's bedrooms where he was being attended to by his "personal physician" and the unnamed assistant who made the call.

What had caused Mr. Jackson's distress? Like nature, the media abhor a vacuum and so they have proved with the Jackson saga. When facts haven't been sufficient to construct a credible narrative, speculation has happily filled the gaps.

In this case, at least one British newspaper speculated that some time before noon the physician showed up at the mansion, whereupon Mr. Jackson "allegedly received or gave himself an injection of Demerol." Shortly after this, the singer's breath became progressively shallower until it stopped altogether, prompting the doctor to start CPR.

Tales of drug abuse, particularly misuse of prescription medications, have long haunted Mr. Jackson who has been nicknamed "the Black Elvis." Indeed, Friday after the autopsy conducted by Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran (a star witness at the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial), the Los Angeles County coroner's office acknowledged Mr. Jackson had been a regular user of prescription drugs. Sometimes this was to the point of impairment, as Mr. Jackson himself admitted in a deposition in a 2007 lawsuit, the transcript of which was published Friday by the Hollywood Reporter.

But the kinds and the dosages and their impact (or lack thereof) in this instance won't be known until late July or early August. Still, at least one British newspaper felt free to write that "reports" of Mr. Jackson's "addiction" to Demerol, morphine and "up to five other prescription drugs," including Xanax, have been circulating for several years.

Regardless of cause, Mr. Jackson's distress was real. Paramedics spent close to 40 minutes trying to resuscitate him, first in his house and then in the ambulance as they attempted to transport him to hospital. Just as the red-and-orange-striped ambulance was slowly backing out of the yard, an open-air Starline bus touring Hollywood celebrity sites passed by, and one of its passengers captured the action on video-camera, footage of which was soon airing on television.

Mr. Jackson was taken to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, only about three kilometres from North Carolwood Drive. Arriving there around 1:15 p.m., emergency personnel began to work on the star. Meanwhile, word had started to circulate via cellphone and bloggers that the "gentleman" was none other than the King of Pop and he was in a "deep coma." Soon more established media such as The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times were issuing bulletins that Mr. Jackson was in some kind of trouble.

However, it was TMZ.com, the controversial celebrity gossip website, that first reported Mr. Jackson as being, in fact, dead. It did so at 2:20 p.m., less than 20 minutes after the performer had been pronounced dead. Fifty minutes after the TMZ story, The Los Angeles Times acknowledged that, yes, Michael Joseph Jackson, seventh son of Joe and Katherine Jackson, was dead at 50.

Understandably, the media have been in a frenzy ever since, and it seems unlikely to abate any time soon, certainly not before the autopsy and toxicology reports are issued. One person likely to contribute to the frenzy is a Canadian, Montreal author Ian Halperin. He made headlines late last year and early this year when in Britain's The Sun, then in the U.S. weekly In Touch, he predicted that Mr. Jackson would be dead within six months. Mr. Halperin - currently courting controversy with his recently released unauthorized biography of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté - alleged that the creator of Billie Jean and Thriller has been suffering from a rare protein disorder called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (it affects one in 2,500 Americans) for 20 years and his condition was worsening. Alpha-1, a genetic disorder, can seriously damage the lungs and liver and in some cases cause blindness. (However, cardiac arrest - the ostensible cause of Mr. Jackson's death - is not normally associated with Alpha-1, a spokesperson for the Alpha-1 Association of America said Friday, unless the person's lung capacity has declined to 15 per cent of normal). Mr. Halperin also alleged Mr. Jackson had emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Mr. Jackson's associates subsequently denied that the singer had the protein deficiency and said Mr. Halperin was fishing for "cheap publicity." Nevertheless, Mr. Halperin, who says he's spent six years researching Mr. Jackson's biography, has persisted. Late next week Montreal's Transit Press hopes to publish, in hardcover in Canada, Mr. Halperin's latest exposé, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson.

New York's Simon & Schuster reportedly has U.S. rights but calls there Friday and to its branch plant in Toronto were unsuccessful in securing confirmation. (Simon & Schuster, however, did publish, in 2004, a book Mr. Halperin co-authored, Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain.)

Mr. Halperin himself wasn't talking Friday, except to say that the timing of the book's publication shouldn't be construed as a rush job. "I timed it because I knew around this time he was a candidate to die. I'm being totally up-front about that." (His Montreal publisher also said Friday it always planned to have the book out before the concerts.) But reports are circulating that prepublication excerpting rights have been sold to at least one U.S. publication and possibly to one in Britain.

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