The director of Michael Jackson's ill-fated "This Is It" concert series in London broke down on the witness stand Wednesday as he read an email he wrote five days before the singer died in which he described Jackson's deteriorating physical and mental condition and suggested the performer needed to see a therapist.
The June 20, 2009, email from Kenny Ortega to Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, had been shown to the jury previously in the wrongful death case, but it never packed the emotional wallop of Ortega's reading.
“My concern is, now that we’ve brought the doctor in to the fold and have played the tough love, now or never card, is that the artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to the real emotional stuff," Ortega wrote. "He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, ranting and obsessing.
“Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it’s going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing.... Finally, it’s important for everyone to know, I believe that he really wants this. It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug.
“He’s terribly frightened it’s all going to go away. He asked me repeatedly tonight if I was going to leave him. He was practically begging for my confidence. It broke my heart. He was like a lost boy. There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if we get him the help he needs.”
As Ortega read the email out loud, he paused between words, then began to cry. He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped his eyes with a tissue. "I'm not OK right now," he said, and the judge called a 10-minute recess.
Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother, also was wiping away tears.
When Ortega returned to the courtroom, he could be overheard telling Brian Panish, the Jackson family's attorney: "It's devastating."
Katherine Jackson and Michael's three children are suing AEG Live and two of its executives, saying they negligently hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave the singer the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009. AEG says that Murray worked for Jackson and that any money the company was supposed to pay him was an advance that the singer would have had to repay.
Ortega's email came after Jackson, who had been coming to rehearsal sporadically, failed to show up several days in a row. He finally showed up in a condition that alarmed Ortega and others, less than three weeks before the first concert was scheduled in London.
"I saw a Michael that frightened me," Ortega testified.
He said Jackson, who had come to the Forum, where rehearsals were taking place, for a costume fitting, looked emaciated.
"I observed Michael like I had never seen him before, and it troubled me deeply, " Ortega said.
The director, who had worked with Jackson on his "Dangerous" tour in the early 1990s and on several other occasions, called Murray several times but never spoke to him that night.
He said there was no question Jackson needed a doctor.
“I wanted someone who was a professional to be aware that Michael had showed up in this condition,” he said.