The still-mysterious circumstances of Michael Jackson’s death, with its attendant implications of celebrity-besotted, sycophantic enablers turning a collective blind eye to prescription drug abuse and other self-destructive behavior, put me in mind of an incident in my police career from some years ago.
I briefly worked on Los Angeles’ prosperous Westside, and I was called to a home just a stone’s throw from the one now so familiar to anyone who’s been near a television set in the past week. A home every bit as large and lavishly appointed as the one Jackson was renting at the time of his death — in that neighborhood there are few homes that aren’t.
The resident and subject of the radio call was a man of some appreciable celebrity. Not rivaling that of Michael Jackson, certainly, but he was nonetheless very well known. He was also — and remains today — considered by most to be quite eccentric, that is when compared with nearly anyone other than Michael Jackson.
The call was of a reported drug overdose, and I accompanied fire department paramedics into the home and to the man’s bedroom, where we found him lying unconscious and unresponsive atop the bed. There were various security people and other household staff present, and when the question was put to them what might have caused his condition, they merely pointed to the night tables at either side of the man’s bed. There were no less than 40 bottles of prescription medications collected there, along with several vials of various injectible medicines. I had a limited but practical knowledge of pharmacology, and I knew that an overdose of almost any of these medicines could be fatal. We knew that emergency room doctors would inquire about the medications the man was taking, so rather than take the time to examine and catalog each bottle and vial, we merely scooped them all into a trash bag which we brought to the hospital and presented to the staff as we delivered the man for treatment.
The man survived the experience and lives on still. As I said, this was some years ago, a time before 24-hour cable news and tabloid television, a time before the Internet and its malignant spawn such as TMZ.com and the like. The incident never attracted the attention of the press, an outcome all but unthinkable today. Identifying the man here, even after so many years have passed, would but serve the lurid interests of those who derive satisfaction from seeing the high and mighty brought low and desperate.
But at the time I couldn’t help but wonder how all those hired hands could have ignored what must have been obvious to them: that in consuming the types and quantities of medications he was, consumption he apparently made no effort to conceal from them, their employer was at great risk of irreparable harm and even death. The answer, I suppose, can be summed up by paraphrasing screenwriter and author William Goldman, who in Adventures in the Screen Trade, wrote of the differences between mere “actors” and “movie stars.” Movie stars are people who, from the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment they go to sleep at night, never once hear a fellow human being utter the word “no.”
Michael Jackson’s celebrity perhaps eclipsed that of any movie star one could name. One cannot help but suspect that with that very rarest level of celebrity came the flocks of retainers who, so as to maintain their positions within the comforting proximity of the star, were all too willing to acquiesce to any and all bizarre behavior.
Of which prescription drug abuse was apparently far from the worst.
I have no inside knowledge of the Michael Jackson investigation, but I suspect that in the coming days we will learn of certain parallels between his misfortune and that of the man I’ve described above. No matter how rich or famous one may become, no matter how large one’s retinue may grow, it may be wise to seek out and retain at least one person whose sole duty is to now and then stand up and say “no.”