By Corina Knoll
6:00 PM EDT, May 21, 2013
In the days before Michael Jackson’s death, AEG executives were still attempting to secure a life insurance policy on the performer who had been acting erratically at rehearsals for his comeback tour, according to testimony and emails revealed in court Tuesday.
On June 19, 2009, a production manager for “This Is It” sent an email to AEG executives Randy Phillips and Paul Gongaware that read, “MJ was sent home without stepping foot on stage. He was a basket case and [director] Kenny [Ortega] was concerned he would embarrass himself on stage or worse yet -- get hurt."
The email, whose subject line read “Trouble at the Front,” was forwarded by Phillips to then-AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke with the note, “We have a real problem here."
The emails were shown Tuesday to Shawn Trell, senior vice president and general counsel for AEG, who returned to the witness stand during the trial of the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by members of Jackson's family.
Trell testified earlier that Ortega did not have a signed contract with AEG, which was funding and promoting the concert series to be held at the 02 Arena in London. “Kenny Ortega is different,” Trell explained Monday, adding that the director was paid based on a series of emails.
But the attorney recanted that statement on Tuesday and said that Ortega did have a written contract with AEG. Trell said his memory had been “refreshed” after looking at court documents the night before.
The contract issue is key in the civil trial that pits Jackson’s mother and three children against entertainment company AEG, which stands accused of hiring and controlling Dr. Conrad Murray.
Murray is serving jail time for involuntary manslaughter after administering the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson, who died on June 25, 2009. AEG contends that the doctor was brought on the tour at Jackson’s request and that the doctor’s salary was part of the multimillion-dollar advance to the singer. Although Murray had signed a contract with the company, neither Jackson nor anyone from AEG had added their signatures.
Trell testified that AEG does not do background checks on independent contractors. He said he was unaware of issues with Jackson at rehearsals.
“I knew of no problems with Michael Jackson at all,” Trell testified.
In January 2009, insurance broker Bob Taylor wrote an email to Trell that suggested Jackson be given a full medical exam with blood and urine tests and that Jackson’s medical history be reviewed.
The two continued to exchange emails, and on June 23 Trell asked for an update on the availability of life insurance.
Around that time, according to testimony from previous witnesses, Jackson had appeared frail and gaunt at rehearsals held at the Staples Center.
And in the week leading up to Jackson’s death, those involved with the tour appeared to be contemplating damage control.
Phillips wrote an email to Gongaware on June 20, 2009 at 1:52 a.m. that said he and Leiweke were going to visit Jackson. “I am not sure what the problem is. Chemical or physiological?”
Gongaware replied: “Take the doctor with you.”
On that same day, Ortega wrote an email to Phillips about the singer: “There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior. I think the very best thing we can do is get a top psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP.”
John Branca, Jackson’s attorney, also chimed in, sending an email marked “confidential” to a handful of people, including Phillips, Gongaware and Leiweke.
“I have the right therapist/spiritual advisor/substance abuse counselor who could help (recently helped Mike Tyson get sober and paroled) do we know whether there is a substance issue involved (perhaps better discussed on the phone).”
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