Ex-Wife: Doctors Competed to Give Michael Jackson Painkillers
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Two German doctors treated Michael Jackson‘s insomnia with propofol 12 years before he died from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic, his former wife testified Wednesday.
Debbie Rowe, who is the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, is being forced to testify about the singer’s drug use by lawyers for AEG Live, the concert promoter being sued by members of Jackson’s family, who say the promoter is responsible for his death.
Doctors “would try to outbid” each other on who could give Michael Jackson “the better drug” for his pain, Rowe testified Wednesday.
Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson sat Wednesday morning in the front row of the small courtroom, where she has spent much of the past 16 weeks watching the trial.
Dr. Allen Metzger — Jackson’s general practitioner in the United States — arranged for the German anesthesiologists to infuse the singer with propofol in a Munich hotel in July 1997 after sedatives failed to help him sleep between concerts, Rowe testified.
“I think they tried it and it hadn’t worked and if he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t perform,” she testified. Jackson “was at the end of his rope; he didn’t know what else to do.”
He “felt better” after eight hours of propofol-induced sleep and decided to get a second treatment after his second Munich show, she said.
Metzger testified at the criminal trial of Dr. Conrad Murray that he was never involved in giving propofol treatments for Jackson and was not aware of the drug until much later.
Rowe, who met Jackson when she worked as a nurse in the Beverly Hills office of Dr. Arnold Klein, backed away from her previous statement at her deposition in which she said doctors also gave Jackson propofol infusions in hotels in France during the HIStory tour.
AEG Live contends that Jackson used propofol for years to treat his insomnia, including when Rowe was traveling with him in Europe in the 1990s.
The coroner ruled Jackson died on June 25, 2009, from a propofol overdose administered by Murray, who is serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
Rowe testified that Jackson underwent surgery in 1993 to repair burns suffered years earlier.
His doctors “couldn’t get a grip of the pain” and that two doctors “were having a pissing contest over who gave him the better drug.”
“Michael had a very low pain tolerance, and his fear of pain was incredible,” Rowe testified. “And I think that doctors took advantage of him that way.”
Rowe has rarely given interviews since her divorce from the pop icon, although she did testify in her former husband’s defense during his child molestation trial in 2005. Jackson was acquitted on all charges in that case.
Jackson lawyers smiled as the trial recessed for the lunch break, indicating that they believed the defense witness was actually supporting their case.
“Michael respected doctors immensely, that they went to school, that they studied and to do no harm,” Rowe said. “Unfortunately, some of the doctors decided that when Michael was in pain or something that they would try to outbid on who could give him the better drug and so he listened to those doctors.”
Rowe said many of the doctors who treated Jackson were “idiots,” including the dermatologist she worked for from 1979 until she quit in 1996 before she married Jackson.
“The only physician who ever cared for Michael as Michael was Allen Metzger,” Rowe testified.
“So Metzger continued as his doctor?” AEG Live lawyer Marvin Putnam asked.
“I don’t know, because Conrad Murray got in there and killed him,” Rowe replied — a reference to the doctor AEG Live is accused of hiring.
AEG Live executives, who were promoting and producing Jackson’s comeback concerts, had no way of knowing that Murray was infusing him with propofol each night for two months in the spring of 2009, Putnam said.
“Almost no one knew until after his death,” he said. “AEG Live certainly didn’t know about it.”
The Jackson family’s lawyers contend that the promoters ignored warning signs that Jackson’s health was deteriorating during the two months before his death. Instead of getting him to another doctor who might have saved his life, they gave Murray the responsibility of getting Jackson to rehearsals, they argue.
Michael Jackson’s mother and three of her children contend AEG Live is liable in his death because it negligently hired, retained or supervised Murray. The company’s agreement to pay Murray $150,000 a month put the doctor in a conflict of interest because he was in deep debt and could not risk losing the job by refusing Jackson’s demands for propofol, their lawyers contend.
AEG Live argues that while its executives negotiated with Murray to serve as Jackson’s physician for the “This Is It” tour, it was Jackson who chose and controlled the doctor.
One revelation from Rowe was that a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon faked doing a procedure on Jackson on two occasions, although he told the singer he had done it. Jackson complained about painful scars in his nose and went to Dr. Steven Hoefflin to inject them with collagen, she said.
“He put Michael out and didn’t do anything but put tape on him as if he had treated him,” Rowe testified. The doctor told her he did that because he could not find the scars Jackson thought were there.
Wednesday is the 69th day of testimony in the trial, which the judge told jurors would likely be given to them for deliberations in late September.
By Alan Duke