By Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb
10:16 AM EDT, May 9, 2013
A producer of Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” concert series said the singer was so gaunt, she feared he was dying, she testified in court.
Alif Sankey told a jury Wednesday in the Jackson family’s wrongful death suit against Anschutz Entertainment Group that she told the concert series’ director that Jackson should be taken to a hospital immediately.
Sankey recalled that on her way home from rehearsal one night, she pulled her car over and called Kenny Ortega, who was directing what was to be Jackson’s comeback tour. It was only days before Jackson's first concert was to take place.
“I said, 'He needs to be put in the hospital now,' ” Sankey said. “He kept listening to me because I kept going. I kept saying, ‘Michael’s dying, he’s dying.’ ”
Sankey, who was emotional and paused during her testimony, said she begged Ortega to do something.
“ 'Please, please.' I kept saying that. I asked him, ‘Why is no one seeing what I’m seeing?’ ”
Sankey testified that the previous night, Jackson had been at rehearsal for a costume fitting but was sent home because he “was not looking good or feeling good.”
Afterward, Sankey said Ortega was worried about Jackson, who mentioned God was speaking to him. Both became emotional after discussing their concern for Jackson.
“[Michael] didn’t understand why God was speaking to him. We were both crying. We were crying because he seemed — he was not speaking normally to Kenny.”
Sankey, who was under contract with AEG while preparing for the London concerts, said she wrote an email to Ortega asking to help return Michael “back into a magical life.”
“I wanted to be a part of him being encouraged, being enlightened, believing in himself, believing that we all believed in him, that he could do this,” Sankey said.
Ortega, she said, was frustrated with Jackson's absences.
Sankey testified Jackson failed to show up to rehearsals during the first week of June 2009 and the show’s choreographer told her the singer complained of soreness.
Sankey also said she noticed Jackson at one point had holes on the bottom of his dance shoes.
The producer also spoke about Jackson’s relationship with his children.
“They loved him, they loved their daddy,” she said, and spoke about sitting at a rehearsal with Paris, who kept a purse full of candy and small framed photos of her father.
Jackson himself appeared eager to perform with his children around, she said.
“He was excited to show his kids, finally, to show who he was and what he was all about,” Sankey said. “He was very happy and excited about all of that.”
Sankey first met Jackson when she danced in the video for his 1987 hit “Smooth Criminal,” in what she called the best job of her 30-year career.
“We got to see Michael’s imagination come to life,” she said. “That was my first time as a dancer, as an artist, that I was completely inspired by his craft and inspired by his attention to every detail. … It was magical to work with him, just absolutely magical and I dream still to this day that I will create on that level of magic that Michael created on. It was like living a dream.”
The Jacksons' attorney showed a clip from the singer's video "Smooth Criminal." Katherine Jackson, sitting in the front row, appeared to dab tears from her eyes with a tissue.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times