Guests: Michelle Kosinski, Robert Bazell, Maureen Orth, Michelle Bernard, Ed Gordon, Al Sharpton, Robert Johnson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The death of Michael Jackson, the coroner‘s report.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The big event coming up is the statement of the coroner. So what is the story? What killed Michael Jackson? That‘s what we‘re waiting for right now, that report from the L.A. coroner‘s office. It was supposed to be released at 1:30 Pacific Daylight Time, but it‘s now been delayed until 2:30 Pacific time, a half hour from now.
Let‘s get ready for that report with Michelle Kosinski, who‘s been covering the story in Los Angeles, and NBC‘s chief health and science correspondent Bob Bazell.
I‘ve also got the Reverend Al Sharpton waiting here with me, writer Maureen Orth, who knows all about the problems of Michael Jackson, and one of the great men of entertainment history, Bob Johnson of Black Entertainment Television, who‘s the man who shared Michael Jackson‘s role in history.
We begin with the latest on the investigation and autopsy report we‘re about to get from the L.A. coroner‘s office. Michelle Kosinski is outside that office in Los Angeles. Michelle, this is a big build-up, and I‘m just wondering—last night, I heard we might get some results today. Will we get something that might lead us in a direction of possible foul play?
Well, we‘re not hearing from Michelle Kosinski right now. Can we bring in Bob Bazell? Bob?
BOB BAZELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m here.
MATTHEWS: Bob, tell me what we can expect from the coroner‘s report in a reasonable set of circumstances like a day after a death.
BAZELL: Well, it depends really how much they want to say, and that‘s something that‘s going to be completely up to the L.A. coroner, who, of course, is very experienced in dealing with celebrity deaths. That‘s not an uncommon event, unfortunately, in Los Angeles. They can say very little. And there‘s been a lot of damping down of speculation by them saying that they‘re going to wait until the toxicology reports come out, and because those are chemical analyses, they can take weeks. So they might give us very, very little when they finally do come out, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What can you tell from an initial study, if there‘s—first of all, if there‘s pharmaceuticals involved, let‘s say prescription drugs involved? Could they be discernible within the blood or urine samples within 24 hours?
BAZELL: Only if they were there in very large numbers, and I think in a case like this, they would want to be very, very careful and not make any kind of assumptions about what was in the blood. There‘s—if somebody—if there were—had been and I‘m not saying that has. Everything is speculation at this point, as you well know. If there had been foul play, if there was bruises or something like that, they could see it initially. If he had a massive heart attack, which is one possibility, that would be something that would be very obvious on the initial parts of the autopsy.
But anything that was caused by chemicals in his bloodstream or something like that, I think they would wait for a long time for a complete chemical analysis before they would make any statement.
MATTHEWS: On the cause of death, what can you tell, as a physician going through the body—you basically—doing the autopsy, what can you discern about the cause of death, if it‘s a heart condition situation?
BAZELL: Well, I‘ve been in on a lot of autopsies where people have died of heart attacks, and you can usually see the blockage where the person‘s heart—blood to the heart was cut off. So that‘s a pretty obvious one. Or if somebody has had a stroke, you can often find the blood clot in the brain or the bleeding in the brain that led to it. Those are the obvious kinds of things that people die from that you can see right away in a coroner‘s report.
If it‘s—if he died because of an electrical abnormality in the heart that was set off by something else, then there‘s no way to tell that right away. And that takes a lot more investigation.
MATTHEWS: But can you discern something that doesn‘t necessarily rule out other factors, but gives you a pretty good indication—for example, if this is a standard heart attack and it‘s a regular person, it‘s not a celebrity who‘s had this fascinating and, well, troubling past, what would be the normal procedure for a coroner‘s report like this?
BAZELL: Well, they would come out and say...
MATTHEWS: I mean, a guy dies of a heart attack, he dies of a heart attack. You move on. What‘s next?
BAZELL: ... a blockage to the heart or a stroke. Those kind of things are very simple to see. But again, they may come out and say there‘s no obvious cause of death and they have to wait until there‘s further testing done.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, thank you. Hold on there, Bob Bazell. Let‘s go to Michelle Kosinski, who‘s out in Los Angeles at the coroner‘s office right there. Michelle, there‘s a lot of anticipation here. This has been held up an hour. Do you know why?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No. That‘s one question they wouldn‘t answer, among other questions. They said it was taking longer than they originally expected but they wouldn‘t give an answer to why that would be.
Early this morning, though, when they did address the media, they said that, Don‘t expect much from what they may or may not tell us this afternoon, that they wanted to wait for the full toxicology report to be in, and they say they ordered the full spectrum of tests. They wouldn‘t list any of the substances they may or may not be looking for, but they wanted to test for any chemical that they could test for that could be in Michael Jackson‘s system.
At the same time, of course, there are these reports coming out from the Jackson family attorney, saying that he had been worried about Jackson, alluding to possible drug use. There was a report quoting unidentified members of the Jackson family, saying that they, too, had been worried, and also claiming, according to these certain reports, that Jackson had been getting a shot daily of a morphine-like painkiller, Demerol.
Now, again, the coroner says, That this is just standard, that we‘re doing this toxicology report, but they wanted to be sure that they‘re testing for this at the same time that police now want to talk to the personal physician that was with Jackson when this happened yesterday afternoon. That is the doctor that the family claims in these reports may have administered a drug to Jackson just before his death.
None of that, though, is confirmed by police. What police say is they want to talk to this doctor, and they also—they impounded his car yesterday, saying that it might contain medications or evidence that could lead to determining a cause of Michael Jackson‘s death, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk the powers of deduction, which are ours right now to go with, without any information here. The police are going to want to know everything they can from this coroner‘s report. Even if something‘s not released, can‘t we assume that the cops want to know? If they‘re impounding somebody‘s car, they‘re looking for evidence of foul play, obviously. They‘re looking for evidence even if no crime has been committed for sure. But don‘t the forensics have to provide the police with some indication of whether this is a criminal situation or it‘s not one?
KOSINSKI: Yes, absolutely. I mean, let‘s say...
MATTHEWS: I mean, today, not six weeks from now.
KOSINSKI: Chris, are you still talking to me?
KOSINSKI: Sorry. We‘re having a little trouble hearing out here, for obvious reasons. Yes, but—OK, here‘s what the police say. This is not a homicide investigation at this point. It‘s not a criminal investigation. It‘s a death investigation.
And you could also say theoretically—let‘s say Michael Jackson was administered a medically reasonable dose of drugs that, for some reason, you know, some medical reason that he had or a pre-existing condition, things did not go as planned. So we can‘t really jump to that conclusion that there is foul play.
However, it seems obvious in talking to police, who are looking for evidence of medication in that car and want to talk to this doctor, talking to the coroner, who wants to wait until every toxicology test result is in, that they want to know about possible drugs in this man‘s system.
And that is backed up by family members who are quoted, without being identified, and also by the family attorney, who is going on the record openly and saying he had been worried about possible drug use, that it was not good for this man.
MATTHEWS: What do we make of the fact that the police have impounded the car of the doctor?
KOSINSKI: Again, they won‘t go so far as to say that this is anything but a simple death investigation and that they want to talk to this man as part of their standard procedure. They say they‘ve talked to other people who were present in the Jackson house at the time.
But you know, why then would the doctor be unreachable for a certain period of time? That just lends itself to the speculation out there and even to just to the question of what exactly happened, and if it is true, as certain family members are being quoted, that Jackson got some dose of a possible painkiller just before his death, it leads to obvious questions.
And that‘s part of the reason why the coroner‘s office is being so sensitive about this. Maybe that‘s part of the delay, but we just don‘t know. Again, this morning, they said they might not give us much information and they wouldn‘t answer simple questions relating to the examination of Jackson‘s body they did preliminarily. In fact, they said they examined his body twice but they refused to answer questions relating to things like how much did Michael Jackson weigh? Was there any sign of illness or are any obvious sign of injury to the body? Their answer to all those questions about specifics was “no comment.”
MATTHEWS: So it could be that in a few minutes, at 5:40 East Coast time, we might be confounded with a situation where the coroner report will tell us nothing useful in terms of the cause of death, but they‘re going to be telling the police something about that to give them something to begin working with. And then the question will be, can we get something from the police?
KOSINSKI: Right. But even before the tox reports come back, keep in mind, in cases like this, they may be able to give medical details that, again, will probably fuel more speculation or more people making their own diagnoses of things. But let‘s say in doing an autopsy, someone had an enlarged heart. That could indicate several things. Let‘s say they had a heart defect. Well, that could indicate one thing. Or possibly toxicology reports could come into play later. It just—we might not know the cause of death. And the coroner really seems reluctant to deliver a cause of death until those final reports are in, but we may know some things internally and medically that they‘re willing to give us. You know, questions will remain, we think, certainly, even after this next update.
MATTHEWS: Michelle, hold on there, will you, out in Los Angeles, outside the coroner‘s office. I want to go right now, if you will, to Bob Bazell again. Bob, I want to stick with you. I mean, like everyone else, we‘re trying to connect dots, assuming we‘re going to get a big dot coming up here in a few minutes. A lawyer complains that he‘s being handled by enablers who‘ve jeopardized his health, and in fact, caused his death perhaps. We‘ve got a car of a doctor impounded. We‘ve got have a missing doctor. We‘ve had these other questions. We have a coroner‘s report coming, which has been delayed an hour.
I know this is my job to try to figure out ahead of time before something happens. What can you deduce from what we know already?
BAZELL: Well, one of the things we do know is that the doctor—there was a doctor with Michael Jackson, and there have been Web—some Web sites have given a name of a doctor, but we don‘t want to repeat it because we haven‘t confirmed it. And there have been reports that this doctor is talking to the LAPD, and that‘s very, very important because this doctor would know what was going on.
We also know Michael Jackson was in a bed when the doctor was pumping on his chest to try to revive him. So the doctor and Michael Jackson had been together. The dispatcher from the 911 tried to tell the person who made the phone call, who wasn‘t the doctor, to get the patient—who at that point, he didn‘t know who it was—onto the floor because that‘s where you should be doing manual CPR, on a hard surface, not on a bed, where you wouldn‘t be doing as much good.
So we have that information about this doctor, and I think this doctor is the key to the whole mystery right now. The LAPD will probably learn a lot more from talking to this doctor than the coroner is going to learn from the autopsy, if I were to take a guess. But we have to keep repeating we‘re taking a lot of guesses here.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, we‘re also following it fact by fact here, and that‘s what I‘m doing right now. NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski and Robert Bazell, thank you both for joining us. We‘ll be back to you, of course, in the next several minutes.
Coming up, more on Michael Jackson as we await the report from the L.A. coroner‘s office, which is coming out right now in about 18 minutes. That‘s the schedule. It‘s been delayed, which makes you wonder why. The Reverend Al Sharpton‘s going to be with us in a minute, and also “Vanity Fair‘s” Maureen Orth, who has covered a lot of the problem side of this man we just lost.
You‘re watching HARDBALL—we‘re talking about Michael Jackson and the coroner report coming out in just a quarter of an hour—here on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Maureen Orth reported on Michael Jackson for “Vanity Fair” over the course of a dozen years. She joins us right now. Maureen, thank you. I am stunned, as a person trying to learn this story, Maureen, my friend. What is this doctor‘s story? He was there at the time of the death. Now he‘s gone? Where is he? What do we know?
MAUREEN ORTH, “VANITY FAIR”: I don‘t know where he is. But Michael has always had, quote, “personal physicians” because he‘s really been fighting an addiction problem for many, many years. And his drug of choice was Demerol, and usually, that comes in an IV or you get injected with it.
And I recall that when I was doing my last story during the time of his child molestation trial, I spoke to a doctor who told me there was so much scar tissue in his rear end that he had to inject him in his toe. And that doctor happened to call me today to tell me that Michael, with Demoral, was also taking a very, very powerful anesthesia—anesthetic—sorry—called Diprovan, and he thinks—this is pure speculation. He thinks that if an overdose of Demoral was administered and he had this other stuff in his body—and I do know he was—he had an eight-hour rehearsal the night before he died.
If he was dehydrated, the doctor told me, this could have suppressed his respiratory system, which would have then strained his heart. That was his conjecture. It‘s conjecture, but certainly, the addiction to Demoral is something that‘s been known for a long time, and it‘s something that‘s created many, many problems in his life.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about Demoral, if you can. I‘m going to check with Bob Bazell later on. But what does Demoral do? Is it a high? What is it?
ORTH: It‘s an opiate. It‘s an opiate, and I think it‘s a painkiller. And I think he always—his default position was always that he got addicted after he got that bad burn when his hair caught on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial. But I defer to the medical people.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, that often happens when you take it as—well, it‘s prescribed, then you get hooked on it. Let me ask you about this second drug. Would something like that be available, even to a celebrity, without a doctor administering it? Would this doctor—well, let‘s not make any assumptions about criminality, but how do you get these drugs?
ORTH: Listen, when I was doing my last—one of my last pieces on him, he owed over $100,000 to one Beverly Hills Pharmacy. Unfortunately, for somebody of his celebrity, there are always people willing to supply, especially out there.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about what you know about his weight loss and things like that. People have talked about how he‘s getting in training to make a comeback. He‘s got these bookings over in London. Things looked promising, to an extent. He‘s working out with Lou Ferrigno, really doing hard physical workouts. But then I just heard today, like we‘re all hearing, the fact that he was down to something like 110 pounds. Even for a small guy, that‘s very light. What‘s going on with that?
ORTH: He‘s always been very conscious about his weight, and obviously, his appearance. And I don‘t know how much he weighed recently. I was told that people were worried about his physical health. But he just gave it his all for this amazing rehearsal that took eight hours, and they thought, Wow, he‘s finally come back. And then this happens. So maybe he overdid it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re a great reporter, and you cover these stories with tremendous—and I know “Vanity Fair” checks every fact. And I know how hardworking you are.
MATTHEWS: But let me run through four facts we have had in the last 24 hours.
One, his doc—his lawyer complained—and I heard this on one of the networks last night—complained that he was surrounded by enablers, who were endangering his health and may have been responsible for what happened.
What do we make of that? I will start with that baby.
ORTH: Well, Brian Oxman is not his lawyer. Brian Oxman, who made those accusations, is a friend of the other part of the Jackson family, the siblings.
And, basically, Michael did not speak very much—he—he barely spoke to the other members of his family. He used them when he needed them during his—his last trial for child molestation, but then they—they went their separate ways.
But the idea that—that he is surrounded by enablers and people who help him, that‘s absolutely nothing new. That‘s been around for years. And I would tend to believe that that would be true.
And I think it‘s also interesting that it‘s usual that, if a—if a -
if a person comes who is already dead to the—to the hospital, any doctor would sign off. So, the fact that they didn‘t sign off, which then triggered the autopsy, must mean that somebody wanted—it could mean—you have to connect the dots—you have to report it out—it could mean that, perhaps, the family didn‘t want anyone to sign off. They wanted an investigation. We just don‘t know at this point.
MATTHEWS: The normal procedure, you said, is for the doctor who is—who is attending him would be the one who would sign it.
ORTH: That‘s my understanding. Yes, well, anybody inside...
MATTHEWS: But what about this? He‘s disappeared. Well, let‘s follow the other bit of fact we have here. And it‘s more than a bit. The doctor is unreachable. His car has been impounded.
ORTH: Well—well, obviously, anybody who—who—who is in that position would be trying to go get legal counsel right now, don‘t you think?
MATTHEWS: Yes? Well, or else fessing up immediately to what happened and helping us understand this, instead of guessing about it.
ORTH: Oh, but...
MATTHEWS: Doctors tend to be on the scene. They tend to be available to answer questions.
ORTH: Well, you know, Michael Jackson has never, ever once done anything remotely conventional. So, I don‘t—I—none of this surprises me, Chris, nothing.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about your view of this—this situation. This fellow is 50 years old. That‘s not old.
This guy has been...
MATTHEWS: ... gone through the trial he went through, which you covered, the—the discoloration of these—these operations he‘s had, this cosmetic surgery, which I don‘t know what entirely the purpose was, but the result was a bit odd in many cases. You would have to say that.
What is your sense of what kind of state he‘s been in these last 10 or 15 years?
ORTH: Well, I think that, starting with the first child molestation charges that he had to pay off almost $25 million, $18 million to the boy, $2.5 million to each parent, and then some to the lawyers, I think he—once that—he was 34 years old then.
And—and, essentially, since that time, which was in 1993, he really has never come back and never had a hit record, and really has never—never done anything terribly significant, in terms of show business...
ORTH: ... that he could sustain.
So, he spent a—he‘s gone through hundreds of millions of dollars, and he has had to answer for other molestation charges. I—I—really do think behind the scenes was a—pretty much of a disaster.
MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s sad, when you look back at those pictures from the ‘80s, and what a handsome, healthy-looking...
MATTHEWS: ... incredibly talented guy he was. Why would anybody mess with...
MATTHEWS: ... with facial cosmetic surgery, when you look—when God made you that good-looking, I don‘t know. Well, you know more about this. We will learn more about it in the weeks ahead.
Let‘s wait, Maureen, and get this report from the coroner in the next couple minutes.
MATTHEWS: We will know more, perhaps.
Thank you. Hang in there, Maureen. Thanks so much for your reporting.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the Reverend Al Sharpton...
ORTH: You‘re welcome.
MATTHEWS: ... will join us, as we await for that report, as I said, which should be out in a matter of five or so minutes or so from the L.A. coroner‘s report.
We have got Michelle Kosinski out there on site—and look at—everybody is on site out there right now—to get this story that may have some big news going into the weekend.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We have got a news story coming out of the L.A. Coroner‘s Office right now. And that report was supposed to come out at 1:30 Pacific Daylight Time, 4:30 East Coast Time. It was delayed until 5:30 East Coast Time. And now it‘s been delayed until 6:30, which a reasonable person might assume to mean there‘s going to be something in that report of—of national and global interest.
Why would they be delaying the writing of a report that carried no content?
Let‘s bring in two people that knew him well, that knew Michael Jackson well, had a lot to do with his public career and certainly with his incredible entertainment career.
In fact, one of the fellows here about to is—Bob Johnson was part of the history he made throughout his career, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Let‘s bring in Bob Johnson, who basically—well, he founded the national—Black Entertainment Television, BET, it‘s known as.
And the Reverend Al Sharpton is also joining with us, who knew him well.
I want to ask you, gentlemen. We‘re—we‘re sitting on top of—maybe it‘s a powder keg. I have no idea. But the L.A. coroner‘s report couldn‘t be creating more of a Hitchcock situation here, having delayed now for two hours a coroner‘s report which was anticipated already.
And the reason it‘s anticipated is, the doctor, the attending physician, is—is missing. The car the doctor had and was driving has been impounded. We have got a claim from a family relationship that these people around Michael Jackson were enabling him in this area of perhaps drug abuse, and he‘s had a history of using Demerol. And that‘s, of course, similar to morphine.
I want to get from you, Bob Johnson, your sense of what this story might lead to, or shouldn‘t even be talked about. If you think we shouldn‘t be covering this, fine.
ROBERT JOHNSON, FOUNDER, BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION: Well, Chris, I think the—the latter.
I think that, at this time, we ought to reflect on what Michael contributed through his primary, probably, reason for being on this earth, and that‘s music. I know he made a big contribution to the success of my company. We were sort of—we sort of came of age together, if you think about what Michael contributed to the music video industry that benefited both MTV and BET.
And, so, I think a lot of that stuff is going to come out, as perhaps it should, but, for now, I think the celebration ought to be about the genius of Michael Jackson.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I want you to take a minute and tell us that. I really want to give that you chance, Bob. I‘m a friend of yours. I want to hear it, because, you know, in the black community, I know your Black Entertainment Television is a force.
I know that—by the way, I have never realized how big Michael Jackson was, until the last few hours, globally. I remember being down—and you know all this—I remember being down in Mexico City covering NAFTA. And there, at this huge entertainment center down there, this—well, it was a coliseum, basically, down in Mexico City—this guy was filling the house.
JOHNSON: Well—well, look...
MATTHEWS: So, I mean, global is an understatement.
JOHNSON: Chris, Michael was so big that you really couldn‘t claim to be a cable music video network if you didn‘t have access to Michael Jackson videos.
You couldn‘t be a—you couldn‘t be a major concert promoter if you couldn‘t put on spectacles like Michael Jackson. He revolutionized what people would pay for videos. Michael would pay upwards of $6 million to $10 million for a two- or a three-minute video that would become, like, a ratings boom to cable television programming and cable networks.
It would change the way people dressed, the way they danced. The whole music industry benefited from Michael‘s genius, because the industry would have been economically depressed far longer than it was at that time, had Michael Jackson not revolutionized the way you look at music and the way music was sold.
He did the same thing in advertising. And, so, you—you can‘t discount forever the impact of Michael. He‘s in that league with Elvis. He‘s in that league with James Brown. He‘s in that league with Sinatra, Crosby, if not greater—probably so—because he just crossed over every ethnic—every boundary, global boundary...
JOHNSON: ... that you could imagine. And he made—he will be remembered forever, not for any of the negative dark sides, but for that bright side of sound.
MATTHEWS: So, the bottom line is what?
I mean, I think of Elvis Presley as the guy who brought a combination of R&B and country into the world of rock and is one of the formers who brought the white people into rock ‘n‘ roll, along with—with Buddy Holly and the others back then who were a part of that.
What would you say he did? Just in one line for the encyclopedia, what did Michael Jackson do?
JOHNSON: I think he brought the world together.
MATTHEWS: Wow. That‘s big.
Let‘s go to Reverend Sharpton, who knows about that sort of scene.
Reverend Al Sharpton, your thoughts on this, because you‘re there, and you were a friend of his, and you knew him personally.
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, I—I have known Michael since both of us were teenagers. I‘m about 3 years older than Michael. And I met him when he and the Jackson 5 started doing civil rights benefits. And I have worked with him.
I did community affairs for his Victory Tour in ‘84. I worked with him in 2002. And the only march I ever saw him go on, we marched about his control of the Beatles catalog.
But I think that Michael was even larger than a commercial success. Michael was the first African-American to really make global impact. You have got to remember, before Tiger Woods did it in sports, before Oprah did it on television, before President Obama did it in politics, Michael Jackson had white kids in Europe and Asian kids in Japan imitating him.
Can you imagine, in the early ‘80s, just 15 years after Dr. King‘s death, that white parents and Asian parents were going to the dining room table, and their kids was imitating a black kid from Gary, Indiana?
He was the one that broke through this whole pop culture, that...
SHARPTON: ... out of that came the Tiger Woods and the others.
And I think that the social impact of what Michael did is what he will be remembered for. All of this stuff about the so-called dark side, that‘s like me dealing with allegations of Frank Sinatra‘s friends, rather than dealing with Mr. Entertainment, or what you just said about Elvis.
Look at all the allegations around Elvis.
SHARPTON: So, why are we talking about the dark side of Michael, when those that he was in the league with or beyond, we don‘t talk about their dark sides, because it really doesn‘t matter, ultimately?
MATTHEWS: Because it‘s 5:30 Friday night the day after he died, and we‘re trying to figure out why he died. That‘s why, Reverend.
SHARPTON: We are, but the reason we care about why he died is because he changed the world.
SHARPTON: It‘s not that it‘s just 5:30, Chris. It‘s 5:30 because of somebody that changed the world, somebody that found the world one way and left it another way.
So, I agree, you need to look into it. That‘s what reporters do. But the question is, why are you looking into it? Because this man had an impact that no one in his time had. So, let‘s not lose sight of why the story is important—because of the significance of the man.
SHARPTON: Did he have eccentric ways? Of course. But how do you take someone with extraordinary talent, extraordinary gifts, and ask them to live an ordinary life?
He‘s extraordinary in every way. And when you have extraordinary gifts, you fit that into an extraordinary lifestyle that may seem unusual to others, but it‘s usual to him.
Well, great. I just think you missed one in that continuum. I would
I was in the Peace Corps, coming back from the Peace Corps in 1971, early. And I was in Cairo, Egypt, Reverend. And I‘m walking down the street with my old safari jacket, beat-up-looking, with long hair.
And kids would come up to me. And do you know who they asked me about?
MATTHEWS: Well, first of all, they asked me about John Wayne, believe me or not. That‘s 1,000 years ago to you. But they asked me about Muhammad Ali. And you forgot about him.
SHARPTON: No. And I think you‘re right.
MATTHEWS: That guy was on the picture—everywhere I went in East Jerusalem...
MATTHEWS: ... there was a picture of Muhammad Ali on the wall. That guy was everywhere, too.
SHARPTON: But Muhammad Ali was there as an anti-establishment figure and as someone that defied the system and became a hero for that.
SHARPTON: Michael came as a commercial, acceptable figure.
He was not a threatening figure that rallied around an anti-war cause. So, just based on talent, not based on standing on a cause, just based on talent and innovation, Michael was the one that went that global without having a global cause launch him there.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Bob Johnson, who is an expert on culture and how blacks and whites divide the turf in American culture.
I remember there was a phrase called covering. It‘s what guys like Ricky Nelson did to Fats Domino music.
MATTHEWS: You know, “I‘m Walking,” “Blueberry Hill,” he took every one of those songs and covered them, and—and made a fortune, right?
How do you put in...
MATTHEWS: I mean, did—was Michael Jackson his own cover? Was he the guy that went over and did what the white guys used to steal the stuff and do it?
JOHNSON: Well, Michael Jackson was so unique in the way he performed that no one has ever tried to cover—you can‘t cover Michael Jackson.
And Michael Jackson would sing other people‘s songs, but no one attempted to sing Michael Jackson, because Michael was the whole package. He was everything, as Quincy Jones said. He was creativity. He was talent. He was dance. He was uniqueness.
JOHNSON: He was, you know, show—putting on a show, wardrobe. Everything was all packaged the way only Michael‘s unique creativity and genius could find. And, so, Michael will be remembered because of that, because, if you listen to his music, and the way that sound comes out, and the way the rhythms are fit into it, it was so unique and so stimulating, that it—there was nothing like it.
MATTHEWS: You know, we‘re...
JOHNSON: Probably never will be.
MATTHEWS: ... looking at it right now, Bob.
And I will tell you, you think that the—the picture has been speeded up, he‘s moving so fast. These—it‘s an electric sign. I forgot what he looked like in the old days.
Thanks, Bob. You were the guy that brought him out on BET. You cut the deals. You got him on Black Entertainment simultaneously with MTV. He broke into MTV. We‘re going to be learning these stories, people like me, in the days ahead.
Reverend Al Sharpton, I agree with everything you said. I just have a different job here than you do.
MATTHEWS: But thank you very much, the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is always welcome on this show.
It‘s good—by the way, you stay in shape, you stay healthy, because you look great.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: You‘re the great man. Thank you for coming on.
Coming up: more on the investigation into Michael Jackson‘s death.
And we have to do it. It‘s news. It‘s tonight. It‘s the night after.
Why did this guy die at the age of 50? We have got to find that out.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re waiting to get that coroner‘s report out of Los Angeles. What‘s fascinating about it, it was supposed to be made public at 4:30 East Coast time, and then it was delayed until 5:30, just about five minutes ago. And then it was delayed again. It‘s like an airplane trying to takeoff. There‘s something going on in the writing of that report which is holding it up. And, of course, it‘s fraught with potential.
There‘s a lot of talk about why a man would have this heart attack at this age of 50, what was going on. I want to go right now to Maureen Orth, who reported on Michael Jackson for “Vanity Fair” with some very importantly reported pieces over the years, and much commented on after you wrote them.
Maureen, what do we know from the record, just sticking to the record now, not what‘s coming out in this report, about Michael Jackson and his reliance on pharmaceuticals over the years, especially back when he got in trouble with the law?
MAUREEN ORTH, “VANITY FAIR”: Well, in 1993, when he got his first child molestation charges—and with all due respect to Reverend Sharpton, this is way more serious than, quote, eccentric ways. These are serious felonies, and this is child molestation, pedophilia. This isn‘t just acting weird.
When he was in trouble with that, he escaped to Mexico, so he didn‘t have to be questioned, and then he went from Mexico to London, and checked himself into rehab. And he was supposed to stay there for 30 days, but he only stayed I think less than a week.
So, on the record, there was an admission then of a dependence on pain killers. And over the years—anybody who watched him during his last trial in 2005, he appeared very zombie-like a lot of the days in trial. I personally saw him put little pills into his mouth. I have no idea what those pills were.
But I did talk extensively to one doctor whom he had approached to help him with narcotics. And the doctor told me he tried to give him natural stuff, and get him off the Demerol. And I think that the addiction was certainly well-known to anybody who spent any time near Michael Jackson or reporting about him.
MATTHEWS: You know, when we were growing up, you and I knew there were stars like Judy Garland, who had been raised in that sort of entertainment factory out in Los Angeles, and they were encouraged to use, we know from history, uppers, you know, amphetamines. They‘d be up and sharp for work. And then they had to get downers. And their whole life became this sort of see-saw of drugs, uppers and downers, amphetamines and barbiturates and everything. And they certainly were dependent. That was the classic story of Judy Garland.
Al Sharpton can complain, but a lot of our super stars have had this problem. What is it about the Hollywood world? Is it the enabling? Is it the pressure cooker of having to perform on the spot in front of millions of people or thousands of people? What is it that puts these people in this roller coaster world?
ORTH: I think it‘s a combination of all those things. But I think, at base, it‘s narcissism, because nobody ever denies these people anything.
And they really get to the point, particularly someone like Michael Jackson when servants were hired at Neverland, they were told that they could never look—they were never allowed to look him in the eye.
I mean, he called himself the King of Pop. He had all these sort of throne chairs in Neverland. He really wanted to be considered almost like a deity. And he absolutely had the talent. I mean, I was a big fan of his music and still am.
He had the talent. He had all the resources. He had the money. He was untouchable. So whatever he wanted, he got, whether it be illegal drugs or little boys.
MATTHEWS: But this thing about the pain killer, what do you think that‘s all about? You‘ve reported it. A lot of people obviously enjoy alcohol. A lot of people enjoy marijuana. These are facts, legal or not. And people enjoy amphetamines, uppers, if you will, and certainly cocaine was a huge problem back about 20 years ago everywhere. And we know that crack cocaine is a problem.
But what is it with pain killers? What is that about? What is Demerol all about?
ORTH: I think he really had a legitimate reason to maybe start taking it, because he really was severely burned when he filmed that Pepsi commercial and his hair caught on fire. So he really could have started for a legitimate reason taking it, and then becoming dependent on it and wanting it more and more and more. But certainly, in those early days—those days in Hollywood, when he was in his early 20s, when cocaine was at its height, it was just sort of served out.
I was reporting out there at the time. It was sort of served in sugar bowls and anybody could come take whatever they wanted. It was just very, very easily gettable.
MATTHEWS: In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was a problem here in Washington as well, I got to tell you, in the world I know pretty well. It‘s been around. And it‘s faded, thank god, in certain circles where I‘m lucky to live. Anyway, thank you, Maureen Orth, for that report. We‘ll be back to you. Be sure to watch “The Chris Matthews Show” this weekend. We‘re going to talk a bit about Michael Jackson, People‘s personal memories of him with our top group of reporters, including Dan Rather. But also we‘re going to talk about the big story developing, which is health care for everybody. This president is trying to win that battle, and he‘s trying to win it this year. Of course, this Michael Jackson story won‘t quit.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re awaiting that coroner‘s report coming out of Los Angeles at 6:30. Until then, we turn right now to the rest of HARDBALL tonight, with Michelle Bernard, who is an MSNBC political analyst, and, of course, Ed Gordon, host of “Our World” with Black Enterprise. Ed, you first—you first, Ed, because you‘re interviewed Michael Jackson. Tell us what you know that we don‘t know.
ED GORDON, HOST “OUR WORLD”: Well, I think one of the things that we know about this man is he was shrouded in mystery throughout his adult life. I‘m watching the coverage over the last few days and what I do know that I think we all should know is most of the folks who are up here talking and bemoaning the fact that he‘s gone, but also trying to tell us what happened behind closed doors, even before his death, just don‘t know.
There‘s been a lot of speculation around Michael Jackson‘s life prior to his death. And certainly it‘s running rampant now.
MATTHEWS: What can you tell us that‘s not a mystery to you?
GORDON: I don‘t claim to have known Michael Jackson. I sat with him on a number of occasions. I think that there was a great degree of naivete in this man. I think he was very child-like. I do think that there was a certain innocence. In terms of the court of public opinion, when you sat with him, you tended to believe that he was telling the truth and probably didn‘t do the horrible things that he was accused of doing.
But, you know, your better sense, as you stepped away from it, may have told you something else. Either he was telling the god‘s honest truth and shame on those who didn‘t believe him, or he was a hell of an actor, Chris, one or the other.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Michelle on that thought. The cultural phenomenon which I‘m waking up to is the enormity. If you‘d asked me a week ago, Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson, I‘d say Stevie Wonder is in the same league. I like Stevie Wonder more than I like most other singers. Apparently, the global impact of the man we just lost was total around the world. It‘s been said in the last few hours he was the most well-known human being. Michelle?
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And I absolutely can see that. I can remember as a child, young girls, myself included, cutting out his picture out of “Jet Magazine.” This is when he was a little boy and he had the big Afro and his early music. Like taping it to the headboard and dreaming that you would marry Michael Jackson when you got older. Looking at the “Thriller” video. I think it was the 25th anniversary of Motown, with so much pride at what he had accomplished.
I think I heard somebody on the air say last night that he was our Jackie Robinson in the music industry. You couldn‘t help but have pride for him.
But there are people who I think always felt, myself included, that he was so incredibly talented, but there was always something very, very sad about Michael Jackson. I think you saw it when you noticed that he went from brown to literally almost looking white, the things that happened with his nose, the hair. You know, it was as if the whole world got to watch, unfortunately, him have a major identity crisis.
I know I believe he said that it was—the dyeing of the skin was because of vitiligo (ph). A lot of people in the black community kept thinking, what on Earth could have happened in his childhood, and are we looking at someone that just—that has a lot of issues related to the fact that he was a black man? I mean, on all sides it is just very, very, very sad.
MATTHEWS: Yes, and he seemed to have—I noticed he had this affinity for older iconic stars, like Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, and even Greta Garbo. I read in a book he was desperate to meet her. She‘s a much younger woman, of course. But the idea of having sort of—what was it that appealed? Did he find something in there, eternal influence on our culture, that he wanted to identify with? These are people that their names will never disappear in our culture. I guess there‘s something about the iconic, loving the iconic, I don‘t know.
GORDON: Chris, you know, there was a sense from Michael Jackson very early on, and certainly as he grew, to understand that he had the ability, the dynamic, to become a part of that icon legacy that we have held to only a few, quite frankly. You talk about Stevie Wonder. I love Stevie Wonder. I love Marvin Gaye.
But when you talk about true iconic figures that go even above the norm of an icon, the Beatles, Elvis; Michael Jackson is in that conversation, and possibly, just by virtue of the fact that, as you suggested, he was known in every corner of the world, he may be top on the list.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I‘ll say it again, I was in Mexico City doing a story on NAFTA, and I couldn‘t believe in a country that‘s not rich, packed stadium with people paying tons of money. I remember the cheap ticket was 75 bucks to see this guy. He could do that in stadiums all over the world. You‘re right, it‘s something we‘re all learning and we‘ve learned it too late.
He‘s gone. We‘re trying to figure out why. This is HARDBALL. It‘s great to have my friends on tonight. Ed Gordon, thank you, sir. I‘m learning something from everybody in a different way. Michelle Bernard, as always, thank you very much for being on tonight. Have a nice weekend. It‘s a strange weekend for all of us. Don‘t go anywhere. We‘re waiting for the report from the L.A. coroner‘s office. It‘s been delayed two hours, which makes you think there‘s something they‘re writing, that they‘re trying to get right.
We‘ll be back with another live edition of HARDBALL tonight at 7:00 Eastern. We‘ll have the report by then. Up next, “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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