Michael Jackson & AEG: Death of a pop star

The tragic death of the King of Pop Michael Jackson has left some interesting questions in its wake.

by Stephanie Morrow
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

On June 25, 2009, the world lost the King of Pop when superstar Michael Jackson died. Dr. Conrad Murray, the doctor who was hired by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to be Jackson’s personal physician, with a salary of $150,000 a month, was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Dr. Murray was found guilty of providing Jackson with Propofol, a powerful surgical anesthetic that ultimately took the singer’s life.

This tragic tale, however, does not end with the conviction of Murray. The Los Angeles Times uncovered emails between music promoter and chief executive of concert division AEG Live, Randy Phillips, AEG President Tim Leiweke, AEG founder Phil Anschutz and others, illustrating a dark, complicated relationship between the fallen pop star and the mega-corporation.

Where exactly does the fault lie?

In 2008, AEG proposed a world tour to Jackson that would have net the singer $132 million, according to the Times. Jackson signed the multimillion dollar deal in January 2009 with the stipulation that AEG would gain control of the singer’s company if he reneged on the tour, which included a 50-show London concert run.

At the time, individuals rehearsing with Jackson for the tour voiced concerns a month before the scheduled debut in London, according to documented emails. There are 250 pages of messages illustrating the knowledge top AEG executives had of Jackson’s instability as they prepared for the series of London concerts at its 02 Arena.

Although their outward appearance projected confidence in the singer, communication within the company stated otherwise. AEG planned to announce Jackson’s tour in March at a London news conference, but when Jackson disappeared before the event, then showed up 90 minutes late, the representatives of AEG grew fearful of the singer’s capabilities.

There were numerous individuals who voiced their doubts about Jackson’s ability to perform, including emails from AEG employees calling Jackson a “basket case.” Also included were messages from the show’s director, Kenny Ortega, who told Phillips the pop star was not ready for the comeback tour.

Ortega even called for psychiatric intervention and, according to the Times, stated, "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.”

Ortega also wrote, "It is like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was, and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state." Ortega concluded, "I believe we need professional guidance in this matter."

Phillips, resisting the requests by Ortega and other emails about Jackson, wrote, “It is critical that neither you, me, or anyone around this show become amateur psychiatrists or physicians."

According to the Times, AEG Live executive, Paul Gongaware, also wrote to Phillips, "We are holding all the risk," and "We let Mikey know just what this will cost him in terms of him making money ... We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants."

Although Jackson did arrive in London for the upcoming tour, emails from Phillips to Leiweke detailed how Jackson was “scared to death,” intoxicated, and refused to leave his suite. The emails even detailed that Phillips and Jackson’s manager had to dress him for the press event.

How did AEG’s attorney Putnam respond to these emails? He stated that Phillips had exaggerated in the emails attained by the Times and Jackson’s behavior was simply a case of nerves.

Where is AEG now?

AEG filed a claim for a $17.5 million insurance policy it had on Jackson through the company Lloyd’s of London. AEG executives, including founder Phil Anschutz, had sought insurance to protect the company’s bottom line in case Jackson did not perform, according to the emails.

Now, Lloyd’s of London is asking a judge to nullify this policy because AEG attained the policy by providing false claims of Jackson’s perceived health and readiness to perform. Because the contract signed by Jackson required a medical examination in order for AEG to attain the insurance, New York Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, Dr. David Slavit, examined the star and concluded that Jackson was in “excellent condition.” And Slavit did not detail any of Jackson’s well-documented substance abuse problems. Lawyers for AEG have denied any wrongdoing.

Some time ago, AEG established plans for a $1.5 billion downtown NFL stadium to be built in Los Angeles, but numerous obstacles have now created uncertainty for this same project, including the potential sale of AEG by its parent company. Speculation now surrounds the viability of AEG and its more than a billion-dollar project, which was projected to bring back an NFL team. Given the outstanding Jackson lawsuit, those plans may now be in jeopardy as well.

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Stephanie Morrow

About the Author

Stephanie Morrow

Stephanie Morrow has been a contributor to LegalZoom since 2005 and has written about nearly all aspects of law, from ta… Read more

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