At the same time people involved in rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s London concerts were saying he needed therapy, his business manager was asking the concert promoter for a $1 million advance for the cash-strapped singer and the chief executive of AEG Live thought Jackson might be preparing to breach his contract by not rehearsing.
There already were worries that Jackson was missing rehearsals for his 50 concerts in London, when, on June 19, 2009, six days before he died, Jackson was too weak to perform. "He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing,” tour director Kenny Ortega wrote in an email to Randy Phillips, AEG’s CEO.
The next day, Jackson’s business manager, Michael Kane, emailed Phillips, asking for the advance. AEG already had lent the singer more than $30 million for production costs on “This Is It,” settling a lawsuit in Bahrain and for rent on a Holmby Hills mansion.
Phillips replied, “This is why it is impossible to advance any $$$. He may, unfortunately be in anticipitory (sic) breach at this point.”
“And I thought it couldn’t get worse,” Kane wrote back.
“It could,” the CEO replied. “Kenny Ortega could quit.”
Kane asked, “Would a financial coming to Jesus speech help or add to his pressure?”
“It would help,” Phillips wrote back. “At this point we need to break through. I am going to call his doctor to discuss.”
The emails were shown to the jury Thursday in the wrongful death lawsuit Jackson’s mother and three children have brought against AEG Live, Phillips and Paul Gongaware, another AEG executive. The Jacksons argue that AEG negligently hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered Jackson the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol. AEG says that Jackson hired Murray and that any money the company was giving the doctor was an advance to the singer.
Questioned by Brian Panish, the Jackson family’s attorney, Phillips said he thought Jackson might be preparing to break his contract by not showing up for rehearsals.
“You felt Mr. Jackson’s not going to rehearsal ... may have placed him in breach of the contract. That’s why you wouldn’t advance him any more money?” Panish asked.
“Yes,” replied Phillips.
Phillips agreed there was a lot of money at stake on the tour, but he said he also was concerned about Jackson’s career if he pulled out.
Panish asked about the damage canceling the concerts would mean for Phillips and AEG.
“Of course. Part of it. Yes.”
After Ortega wrote him an email saying the singer should be “psychologically evaluated,” Phillips wrote back, “I am stymied on who to bring in as a therapist and how they can get through to him in such a short time.”
Phillips first testified he thought Ortega meant a physical therapist, then switched to physical or mental health therapist and then finally agreed it was a mental health professional. He said neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist was contacted.
Panish and Phillips have spent much of the CEO’s testimony parrying back and forth. Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos has told Phillips that if he didn't answer Panish’s questions, “the jury is going to get the idea you’re being evasive,” and she has told the lawyer to stop arguing with the witness. As court ended Thursday, Panish told the judge, “I didn’t argue with this witness, despite wanting to put him in his place.”
As he had with a previous AEG executive, Panish often follows Phillips’ answers by showing a different one he gave during his deposition. Thursday, Panish acknowledged to Phillips that the lawyer had misspoken. “See we all make mistakes,” Phillips told him.
“Not 50 of them under oath,” Panish shot back.