Guests: Courtney Hazlett, Kim Baldonado, Michael Eric Dyson, Carlos Diaz, Diane Dimond, Maureen Orth
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: At about 12:30 Pacific Time this afternoon, he was not breathing when paramedics arrived. They applied CPR and rather quickly determined that it was as—it was described a full alarm assignment that required his transportation in that ambulance there, it‘s the video from Hollywood.TV, the Web site suggests that vehicle contained Michael Jackson while paramedics were, no doubt, undergoing and undertaking frantic efforts to revive him.
The initial reports were that Michael Jackson had been in a coma. There is no reporting, no clarification yet as to whether or not his life functions were fully restored or partially restored before he passed away.
Now, about two hours ago in Los Angeles, at the UCLA Medical Center. A quick five, six, seven-minute drive from that address on Holmby Hills as the video, what we call amateur video but not a professional camera certainly, the video captured the departure of Michael Jackson for the UCLA Medical Center, where crowds of hundreds, perhaps now, more than 1,000. It‘s hard to say from this vantage point. But there, you see them.
Crowds have been there since news got out that Michael Jackson was at the UCLA Medical Center—first thought to be very, very ill. Then thought to be in a coma.
And now, after the corner reported earlier in the evening, about 25 minutes ago, about 7:40 Eastern Time, 4:40 Pacific Time, the coroner finally confirmed Michael Jackson died—the cause of death not yet announced, believed to be cardiac arrest—at the age of 50. He was born in August of 1958. So, he was approaching his 51st birthday that he will never see.
We‘re joined now by Michael Eric Dyson, the Georgetown University professor, the author of “Know What I Mean,” who met Michael Jackson at the funeral for Johnny Cochran and has been good enough to join us.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Give me your reaction. This is—this is clearly—I mean, we could be discussing just his music career and say he‘s one of the one of the giants walking the Earth. We could discuss just his role in pop culture and say the same thing. His role in great trials and say just the same thing. This is—this is a towering figure of our times.
DYSON: Well, there‘s no question about that. I‘ve listened to discussion in regard to Michael Jackson and comparing him, say, to the Beatles, an extraordinary group, Elvis Presley, an amazing icon. But he really did carve in the stratosphere of American popular culture and American music a unique niche, so to speak, because he was capable of joining so much of the vernacular traditions of African-American music with the most up-to-date technology to project ends of the world the forceful ambition and the edifying inspiration of African-American culture and music.
Think about it, at the age of six and seven, he already understands the genius of a Jackie Wilson. He articulates those dance movements into his own. He understands the genius of a James Brown.
But listen to this, Keith—if you asked Michael Jackson in the late ‘60s, before he was even 10 years old, who his favorite group was, it was the Delfonics, out of Philadelphia—especially the lead singer, William Hart. That‘s a piece of arcania, so to speak, a piece of musical esoterica that is not usually known by people beyond the beltway of black music, and yet, this 10-year-old prodigy is already comprehending the genius of a William Hart and uses some of those, if you will, melodic and harmonic intensities and projects them to the world.
So, yes, he did that. And he was also capable of bridging the gulf between black and white and Latino. He brought together different dimensions of religion. He brought human beings together across the access of race and class and gender.
And he was extraordinary. Remember, he was the first black artist to be played on MTV. So, he broke the racial barrier in an interesting fashion by the sheer force of his music and the velocity and the intensity of his genius, coming at us from every dimension.
He brought Fred Astair and street movement together in his own dance steps. And he also projected the larger than life persona of Sammy Davis, Jr., widely recognized as the greatest entertainer of his generation, and took it to the next level.
OLBERMANN: So, Professor Dyson, what was it about Michael Jackson, the person inside there, that led to the scenario in which dying at such a young age, draws that crowd that we‘re looking at UCLA, at the medical center, when that would not have been the case—with no offense to William Hart—but that was not, those are two totally different career .
DYSON: Oh, absolutely.
OLBERMANN: . and life paths and other than circumstance and fate and all the rest of that. What was it in Michael Jackson that drove him—what was it that brought him to this kind of life that concluded today?
DYSON: Well, obviously, it‘s the kind of openness and vulnerability that Michael Jackson had: The very shimmering voice, the transition from a child prodigy into an adult superstar. And that doesn‘t usually happen.
You‘d have to go back into musical history and find somebody like Mozart who had four or five (ph), is composing extraordinary work, Chopin and analogue to a Michael who so early understood what his life would be about and then hew to that path and stood on it for nearly what, 50 years. I mean, certainly, 45 good years of his life are spent in devotion to his music.
So, I think people felt the will to creativity. We just saw Kobe Bryant bring his enormous will to bear in the NBA Finals. Think about the person with that kind of will and drive of a Michael Jordan, of a fierce determination to be the best.
It wasn‘t simply the fact that was he had an innate genius that God gave him. It was also the ability to hone that genius. A genius who works hard at his or her craft is what Michael Jackson. And he showed us what the evidence of that could be, but also the vulnerability.
After all, Keith, he endured enormous tragedy, both at home with his own family life. He endured it as he got older and his voice began to change and his skin began to change. And he went through enormous transitions in terms of his own physical self. But through it all, I think, the grace note, if you will, was the fact that here was a man who was hugely vulnerable to the influence around him, childlike in both the edifying and the destructive senses of that word, but also, who ultimately connected to an audience so much so that he spoke to their hearts directly.
I saw him in concert, for instance, when I was a graduate student at Princeton in the ‘80s. And he an extraordinary figure who was able to touch the hearts of the people who are listening and also make him feel that he was intimately involved with them, even as he had this great huge spectacle on stage—and I think, is that vulnerability that drove people to him. Not the freakishness of what became his life in the latter part of these, you know, three or four or five, last 10 years nearly. But it was genius of the music and the resonance of their human vulnerability that, I think, ultimately, allowed him to touch hearts, and for that music to continue to be part of the landscape.
And let‘s not forget, the music after all—as you said earlier—after 10 and 20 years, when people have long since forgotten some of the, if you will, the un-digestible elements that don‘t often go with our superstars, how can we—how can we, on the one hand, acknowledge their genius but also acknowledge their frailties and fallibles. That‘s long since dismissed.
What will stand as a monument to his incredible genius will be the sheer diversity and the power of the music he made. His voice at the age of 10 was as a soulful conjuring of the ambitions of black people in America, and, indeed, human beings who suffered around the world as any might imagine. And then, as an adult, he was able to have a willed vulnerability that resonated with millions of people around the globe.
OLBERMANN: Georgetown University professor, Michael Eric Dyson, author of “Know What I Mean,” who has been good enough to spend a few moments with us, trying to put the life of Michael Jackson in perspective -
Professor, thank you very much.
DYSON: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: We‘re just advised that there will be a news conference in about seven minutes. That‘s 8:15 Eastern Time, correct me if I‘m wrong on that, 8:15 Eastern will be the news conference with the members of the Jackson family, just about six minutes.
Hence, there are some other breaking news details to fill you in on. There‘s now been a statement to one of the television outlets in Los Angeles, one of the entertainment outlets from the L.A. County Coroner‘s Office, and Frank Corral, the country coroner, that Michael Jackson died at 2:26 p.m. Pacific Time, a full cardiac arrest is the way this was described.
Let me read this. I‘m going off notes. I can read the full statement. If you just give me one second here—pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. Pacific Time, 5:26 Eastern Time. So the news held, if you will, for about 40 minutes before the first reports came out at TMZ.com and “Los Angeles Times.” NBC News confirming about two hours ago, then “The Associated Press,” and finally, the coroner‘s office.
He was in full cardiac arrest when paramedics had arrived at his residence, in Westwood, in Holmby Hills section, as we‘ve been telling you. There is—there may—we can‘t say this for certainty—there may be something for those people who are thronging around the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, California, to see, because the county coroners office, Lt. Frank Corral, is saying that there will be a transportation of the body to the coroner‘s office today and it has not yet been done.
There will also be a coroner‘s press conference tomorrow afternoon to, presumably, confirm what they are reporting right now—in full cardiac arrest and pronounced dead at 2:26 Pacific Time. And again, a news conference in about four minutes. And we will obviously carry that for you live here on MSNBC.
In the minutes before it begins, let me turn again to our entertainment correspondent and the author of “The Scoop” on MSNBC.com, Courtney Hazlett.
It was interesting, hearing Professor Dyson talk about this representation Michael Jackson meant for the African-American community, and this is something Reverend Al Sharpton touched on, too, and yes, there is—in his appearance, in his personal life, in the nature of his interactions with people—there was less and less of a generalized, I think, identification with the African-American community over the course, this 40-year span of Michael Jackson‘s life. Is that a fair statement?
COURTNEY HAZLETT, MSNBC ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I think it‘s a very fair statement to make, Keith. And I have to say, when I was listening to the professor speak and to the reverend speak, and they‘re making those points. I did say to myself, well, I know, I had let that slip my mind somewhat, just really what type of racial gap that he bridged and how influential his work was as an African-American artist, and that, you know, so many people did emulate him over the years. I think that‘s a really important distinction to make.
And another interesting point as well when we were first covering his comeback tour in London, a lot of people were questioning who would want to go spend that type of money to see that tour, travel that distance, when he might be unreliable, given his legal history and that sort of thing.
And a lot of people flooded me with comments saying, “In Europe, we viewed him differently. We‘re much more forgiving of things. We saw him first and foremost as an icon and as an artist and as a singer. That‘s really how we continue to view him to this day despite the troubled past he‘s had.”
So, I think, between those two ideas, you get a much greater sense of what he brought to the table and why we‘re remembering him like we are right now.
OLBERMANN: The business sense that Jerry Kramer referred to the man who joined us, the director of the making of the video, for the “Thriller” video, the John Landis spectacular that was one of the landmark moments of their careers, and certainly, of the concept of music video, which, I think, people still remember music videos—the idea that this was, in times, some sort of man-child, there was a very adult, very savvy businessman who knew almost at all times what was going on and tried to influence them. Is that—is that a way you‘ve seen it?
HAZLETT: Definitely the way I‘ve seen it. And that‘s the common denominator among some of the most successful celebrities, truth to be told, is that there‘s a little bit of mystique there that you don‘t quite understand who they really are as a person, but you do just love the work that they do so much.
So, I think, in the sense that we‘re remembering Michael Jackson, we love the product that he put out, we remember the “Thriller” video being such a landmark occasion—my mom is just emailing me, saying that Michael, the Jackson Five were singing songs on her first date with my dad. You know, everybody has a different thing that they remember.
And so, at the end of the day—yes, those events are important, but the fact that you don‘t know too much about this person is what kept people curious, and kept people coming back and wanting to go to those concerts and wanting to listen to “Thriller” over and over again.
OLBERMANN: And there is, of course—there‘s a consequence to that in terms of a personal life which we‘ve seen—I think, the name the jumps out to me immediately is Peter Sellers, who all those who knew him would say, “One of the most gifted artists in any field of any time,” and yet it was very difficult to ascertain who that was as a human being because there was so much performance and so much awareness of the impact to performance, and so much awareness of what the business requirements were that, eventually, it all became requirements.
Is that Michael Jackson‘s story, too? Because we seem to be getting - in reminiscing with those friends of his who have been good enough to call in—we seem to be getting two different points of view on this, that there was a very sincere, loving guy in there somewhere and yet, maybe he got lost at some point. What‘s the timeline on that, the Michael Jackson person?
HAZLETT: I think part of—I think the timeline determined when he had children, Keith. I think, the point he had children is when he realized there‘s so much more at stake when you‘re putting yourself out there. And that‘s when a lot of his more bizarre behaviors came to the forefront and that involved, literally shrouding his kids and himself every time he went in public. Wasn‘t until, if I‘m not mistaken, Keith, this year, that we saw the faces of his three kids. That‘s how protective he was.
And that came from a sense of just suddenly realizing how much of himself he had given away to be this brand. And you heard people tonight say, he invented this brand, the moniker, “King of Pop.” And in doing so, you gave up so much. And as a celebrity of this stature, you can‘t really have it both ways. I think you saw here a man very torn between those two worlds.
OLBERMANN: And yet, Courtney, how do you balance that idea that he was being protective of those kids with that infamous shot of him holding the older of the two upside down by .
HAZLETT: Over the balcony.
OLBERMANN: Over the edge of the balcony? It was one of the most iconic and terrifying images of this past decade.
HAZLETT: I remember looking at that image when it came out. It‘s just an abject horror. I‘m not a parent and I know enough not to do that sort of thing, but that man-child phrase that we keep hearing branded (ph) about, I think that‘s definitely applicable in this situation. He didn‘t learn how to be an adult. He also didn‘t get the chance to be a child.
So, when you‘re Michael Jackson and you are famous, basically, from the world go, you don‘t get to learn to make the decisions and navigate the world in an appropriate way necessarily. And I think he did the best he could with the tools he had, at the same time being ripped apart by fame.
OLBERMANN: The perspective of—we talked about this a couple of times already tonight with several people—this idea of where he—where he will be when the immediacy of the last 10 years is just something in the bio. I mean, the biography of Michael Jackson that‘s written now is probably going to be balanced, I would think, about 50/50 with the fame and infamy. Is that—is that ratio, do you think, going to hold in 10, 20 years time? Or is it all going to be based on what has been left behind, this extraordinary catalog of performance?
HAZLETT: I don‘t think that‘s ratio‘s going to hold. I think it‘s an accurate ratio, you know, for six hours ago. I think, already, the pendulum is beginning to swing towards the ratio favoring the fame side of things. I think, at the end of the day, you want to remember the best about the person who you hold as a pop culture icon.
And, really, I‘ve said this before, pop culture is culture. And we want to elevate these people in a fair way, but at the same point in time, do it in a way that so that we‘re remembering the best parts of it. And so, I think, since you can also look to recent evidence, and that would be a concert series selling out in dozens of seconds, his—the desire people had to still see him and experience him, that‘s the thing, too.
It wasn‘t just passing by a video that was replaying on some obscure channel that still plays videos. It wasn‘t just hearing his songs. People wanted to actually partake in the experience that was Michael Jackson—literally, up until the day he died, and as we‘re seeing in Los Angeles, afterward. So, I think, the pendulum will continue to swing toward the fame side as time goes on.
OLBERMANN: And to update those who might just be joining us, yes, that‘s what you‘re seeing on the screen. Michael Jackson died this afternoon. The correct time according to coroner‘s office, L.A. County coroner, 2:26 Pacific Daylight Time, 5:26 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on this 25th day of June. His 51st birthday would have been in August and he was scheduled on the 13th of next month to begin a 50-day concert comeback tour. I think that‘s fair enough to use that term.
He succumbed fairly quickly to cardiac arrest, apparently, which is where the paramedics found him in a rented home in Holmby Hills, California, part of Westwood, as that scene you‘re seeing from UCLA, in front of the medical center. There‘s the home—literally, five, six minute drive from the UCLA Medical Center, where he passed away.
And the expectation is, at this hour, we‘re awaiting a news conference from members of Michael Jackson‘s family. We know that La Toya Jackson, one of his sisters, was—arrived at the hospital. We don‘t know to what degree there was any interaction between them. There‘s no evidence that Michael Jackson was conscious after he was stricken at that home. But we don‘t know who will be speaking, where; it was supposed to start five minutes ago.
Let‘s see if we can figure out what‘s going to happen in the next few minutes with Carlos Diaz of Extra Television, who joins us once again.
Carlos, what do we know about this news conference—anything?
CARLOS DIAZ, EXTRA TELEVISION: It is going to be happening in the next few minutes. I‘ve got some other news to report which is rather strange. Fans are gathering right now at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They‘re placing flowers on Michael Jackson‘s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
OLBERMANN: Oh, no.
DIAZ: But, they‘re placing flowers on the wrong Michael Jackson star. There‘s a radio talk show host named Michael Jackson and the real Michael Jackson‘s star is being covered by a red carpet, which is the red carpet for the movie “Bruno” which comes out in about two weeks. That red carpet ceremony is still going on.
So, Michael Jackson‘s star is covered right now by a red carpet. So, fans are mistakenly putting flowers on the wrong star right now at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I can tell you that the autopsy for Michael Jackson—we were shifting gears—is tomorrow. And the “L.A. Times” is reporting that he died of a massive—massive cardiac arrest and that was in a coma when they found him at his Bel Air mansion that he was renting for $100,000 a month.
OLBERMANN: Carlos, I—the only evidence I ever had to address this, and—the Michael Jackson-Michael Jackson confusion just adds a bizarre, almost macabre postscript to this day of Michael Jackson, the performer‘s sudden death. The only evidence I ever saw about Michael Jackson‘s sense of humor about himself would have been in a movie “Men in Black” where he lacerated his own reputation. He really seemed to go and have a good time, making fun of Michael Jackson.
OLBERMANN: And I‘m wondering, just to—just to speculate, whether there would have been some—if Michael Jackson had lived to see people putting flowers on the Walk of Fame star of the wrong Michael Jackson, if that would have put a smile on his face.
DIAZ: You have to wonder about that. And something else, and I kind of break for you guys right now. I saw the movie “Bruno” last night. And in the movie, “Bruno,” Bruno, who is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, interviews La Toya Jackson. And throughout the interview, he tries to get La Toya to talk like Michael Jackson. La Toya says, “No, I‘ll talk like myself.”
And then Bruno takes La Toya Jackson‘s BlackBerry and, in German, tells his assistant what Michael Jackson‘s cell phone number is. La Toya gets mad, doesn‘t get mad, she‘s kind of uncomfortable and says, “This interview is over,” and walks out.
And you have to wonder, is Universal—because they have two weeks before it comes out—are they going to try to re-cut that movie and possibly take that scene which is now kind of morbid, take out of the movie.
OLBERMANN: Carlos, we have a disturbing report to add and a much more serious one. That Brian Oxman, the Jackson family attorney, addressed the subject from UCLA Medical Center of the hospitalization of Michael Jackson today, and where family members were already converging. And at a time of this, he said that Jackson was in fine, physical condition, but that he had a very serious problem with prescription medication and that people that were surrounding him were enablers.
And he went on to say, and this is a quote, “If you think the case with Anna Nicole Smith was abuse, it‘s nothing in comparison to what we have seen taking place in Michael Jackson‘s life.”
Brian Oxman‘s name was connected to those—those months after the trials, as I recall .
OLBERMANN: . after the sexual abuse trials. That‘s an extraordinary statement to come especially in the context of an interview being conducted around the time of Michael Jackson‘s death. I would expect that since this is the first we‘re hearing of it, it will be the first you‘re hearing of it as well.
DIAZ: It is, but, you know, Keith, it is very much expected. When you have a lot of people surrounding a star like Michael Jackson, and there‘s been a lot of controversy surrounding Michael Jackson, you‘re going to come to expect statements like that. We‘ve had several eloquent statements from Quincy Jones, John Landis, Jamie Foxx talked to “Extra” just recently—just a few minutes ago about Michael Jackson, several eloquent statements.
But now, you‘re getting people coming out of the woodwork and making statements like that, which, you know, when you‘re surrounded by controversy, people make controversial statements.
OLBERMANN: Carlos Diaz of Extra, joining us again to put a little meat on the bones of what we‘ve been talking about here on the wake up Michael Jackson‘s death and in anticipating the news conference—thank you, Carlos.
Let‘s turn as we look into whether or not there‘s any merit to the statements from Mr. Oxman that I just mentioned, and also to the sudden and extraordinary story of Michael Jackson‘s demise today at the age of 50. Diane Dimond, syndicated columnist, investigative reporter, covered the Jackson criminal trial for Court TV and a colleague of mine off and on for much longer than I think either of us care to mention at the moment, has been good enough to call in.
Diane, it‘s a pleasure to talk to you. Sorry, it‘s under these circumstances.
DIANE DIMOND, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST (via telephone): Oh, thank you very much, Keith. Yes, shocking, shocking news. You know, I remember seeing him every day at the criminal trial and thinking, “How does this man survive?” He was so thin and so frail and so—seemingly in another world.
And when the testimony came about him using so many narcotic drugs found in his nightstand and whatnot, it all became clear. I think he overmedicated himself much of his life and that may have contributed to what happened to him today. He was also anorexic. And that, too, can put strain on a heart.
So, if it was a massive cardiac arrest as “The L.A. Times” just reporting—oh, not a surprise to me.
OLBERMANN: Was this—I don‘t want to call it speculation, because I think we‘re not being fair to Brian Oxman, who I know had legitimate connections into the life of Michael Jackson. Is there‘s—is this something that had been widely believed or discussed?
DIMOND: The drug use?
DIMOND: Yes. And Michael Jackson admitted that. He admitted going into rehab at one point. It took quite a bit of testimony at the trial.
But Brian Oxman would come public today is no surprise either. He actually worked on some legal issues for some of the brothers and then suddenly became attached to Michael Jackson. And at every turn, Michael Jackson would put out a statement saying, “Brian Oxman is not my lawyer, I don‘t know why he‘s talking for me.”
So, there‘s nothing ever easy when you cover Michael Jackson. It‘s not going to be easy in his desk either. There‘s going to be lawsuits over custody, there‘s going to be lawsuits over his finances, the disposition of the ranch—all sorts of things.
OLBERMANN: And I would assume the disposition of the children.
DIMOND: Yes, and you know, Keith, I‘ve really been thinking about this a lot, because Debbie Rowe, the mother of two of the children, gave up parental rights, and during the criminal trial, she came back and said, “No, no, I want them back.” And she was awarded them back.
Then at the end of the trial, my sources tell she wanted more money from Michael Jackson and signed something giving up her parental rights. Not once but twice.
DIMOND: So now, no court would give the children, I don‘t think, to her—although she‘s the biological mother. His mother, Katherine Jackson, I‘m told, is not in good health. The kids know her and love her.
But I can‘t see them being awarded to Katherine Jackson, they don‘t have any biological connection to the Jackson family. These children were not born of Michael Jackson‘s sperm. So, again, it‘s going to be very complicated. It‘s just a tragedy all the way around. He had a very fabulous life and a very tragic life all in one.
OLBERMANN: And these two things seem to be intertwined at all times.
We were discussing earlier, this idea that there were, people at that trial and as we‘re seeing some of the video, that extraordinary day when he and his documentarian got up on top of the SUV and started filming the crowd under the umbrella. There is nothing—there‘s no in-between—the only thing in between the people who utterly convinced of this man‘s greatness and innocence and those who were convinced of his evilness and guilt, the only thing that stood in between was the life of Michael Jackson.
How did he live in that tiny space between overwhelming international love and overwhelming international hate?
DIMOND: Well, as a tortured soul.
DIMOND: I think that‘s the easiest way to say it. And, you know, you see the way the children were raised—wearing masks, sneaking in and out, didn‘t go to public or even a private school. They had a tutor.
He cloistered himself, he made himself a superstar, and then he realized, “And now, I don‘t want all that attention. I must cloister myself.”
So—but the real tragedy, I think, comes from his childhood. I write in my book, “Be Careful Who You Love,” about how his father treated all the boys and took them on tour when Michael, 6, 7, 8 years old, for weeks on end and it wasn‘t pretty. I can tell you that. It was not pretty. I talked to a lot of people.
And when he finally broke free from the family—and he was in his 20s, well into his 20s, and bought Neverland Ranch—suddenly, for the first time in his life, he was free to make his own decisions. And alas, he made some pretty bad decisions.
OLBERMANN: If that life led to the description that you just gave— of the tortured soul—what was this comeback tour about and what was the what was the six-hour rehearsal sessions at the Staples Center and pushing to do two of them or do them a day, and having to be told, you‘re overdoing it, you‘re overtaxing yourself.
What was this anticipated comeback about if it was something that he might have had mixed emotions about?
DIMOND: Well, the simple, one-word answer is money. I think money. He had mortgaged nearly everything in his life and mortgaged the way most of that incredible moneymaker, the Beatles catalog. He had his own music catalog, which was also mortgaged, so is Neverland.
So, I think it was about money. But, again, when you are born and famous and work in famous by the time you‘re 10 years old, there‘s something in you that quests after that. So, I‘m sure he missed the audiences and I‘m sure he wanted to be back on stage. That was his life.
But, I think, the bottom line, I think he needed the money and maybe he just pushed himself too hard. My sources are also telling me about these long rehearsals in an airport hangar out, near the Santa Monica Airport, day after day after day. And he was struggling. He‘s 50 years old. He was 50 years old. And it didn‘t come as easily as it used to. And when you eat maybe, maybe one meal a day, it‘s not enough.
OLBERMANN: Extraordinary, and how extraordinarily sad. It sounds as if, Diane, that this life, without Michael Jackson, between the lawsuits and the investigations and into the cause of death, everything else—the life of Michael Jackson is going to continue without Michael Jackson for a considerable period of time to come.
DIMOND: I think so. I was sitting here looking at a bank of televisions, and the enormous amount of coverage. This is really what he wanted. He wanted to get back on that stage, and be on every television in the world, and be that superstar, King of Pop. But not this way. I‘m sure this was not the way.
Although, you know, I was reminded—I reminded myself today of a quote of Michael Jackson‘s, oh, probably 15 years ago. He wrote in a—it was a magazine article interview, and he said, “I will be dead by the age of 40.”
DIMOND: Well, he was off by a decade.
OLBERMANN: Without the forecast of that, separating that for a second, there is one thing to contemplate about whether or not you can envision this, because I, having interspersed a lot of my professional career covering events related to Michael Jackson, one way or another, could you—now it‘s an academic question. Could you have envisioned him in retirement at any point?
DIMOND: After the criminal trial, he really was in retirement. And even before that, he had stopped performing. He went to the World Music Awards, and sang a few lines of We Are the World, and he was booed. And sources I know that traveled with him said he went into a tail spin. He went to a hotel in London, and shut himself there, and ordered a bunch of booze, and that was that.
He was never going back on stage again. It damaged his pride that much. You know, I have to be honest with you, this was the most complicated story I have ever covered in my journalistic career. And somehow, my life became inextricably linked with Michael Jackson. I don‘t really know why the hand of fate made it so. I got a tap on the shoulder from a news director in 1993, who said to me, the police are at Michael Jackson‘s ranch. Go figure out why.
From that point, I just followed the truth. I followed the witnesses. It was very hard for many of his fans to hear. I‘m holding my Blackberry in my hands now. You wouldn‘t believe what the fans are writing me now. That‘s how much they love him. So you‘re going to see demonstrations like outside on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and outside of the hospital, and outside his rented house, and probably outside the gates of Neverland for a long time.
OLBERMANN: Diane Dimond, and at some point, we were just minding our own business, doing the news and sports on the radio, 28 years ago. The next you know, here we are.
DIMOND: Don‘t tell anybody how long ago it was, my friend.
OLBERMANN: As I said, eight years. Diane Dimond, thanks very much. We appreciate it. Diane mentioned demonstrations outside the various locations connected to Michael Jackson. We now go to our colleague from KNBC, Kim Baldonado, what is at the last of Michael Jackson‘s home, with the scene for us there. Kim, good evening.
KIM BALDONADO, KNBC: Good evening, Keith. We are at the home that he‘s been renting here in the Bel Air area of Los Angeles. A few moments ago, several LAPD detectives went inside behind the gates you see there. Throughout the day, fans have been stopping by, just to come to the house to pay their respects. We talked to people who happened to be visiting from Georgia, who came by to bring flowers. We talked to some 20 somethings from the Los Angeles area, who drove an hour to get here. Even though they weren‘t around at Michael Jackson‘s heyday, they group up listening to his music, because their parents did or older siblings did.
The LAPD has since blocked off this street in Bel Air to the general public. So now what you‘re seeing is just media and paparazzi waiting for anyone to come out with any word here.
We have not seen any family come in or out since we have been here. We did see an employee, an assistant we were told, of Michael Jackson‘s arrive about an hour ago, left without going inside. So the scene here is just one of waiting and watching for any word that LAPD may be able to offer us at this location. Keith?
OLBERMANN: Kim, based on my experience as a reporter in Los Angeles, this is the timeless scene behind you. This might as well be out of the movie, “Sunset Boulevard.” This is one of the iconic images of Los Angeles. A great entertainment star has died, probably, in most of these stories, too young, or is in some controversial situation, and there is a crowd of ordinary people.
It‘s one of the—it‘s one of the singular things about Los Angeles, is it not?
BALDONADO: It is. And unfortunately, I‘ve been to a couple of these. And what always happens initially is that the media rushes here. People hear about it on television or on radio. General public rushes here to hear anything they can, see anything they can. And generally, it‘s not much.
If I can have my photographer pan over and show you this street that‘s blocked off here. We‘re right off Sunset Boulevard, very famous street here in Los Angeles, in the Bel Air community, very high end rent district, if you will. “L.A. Times” reporting that Michael Jackson was renting this house for upwards of 100,000 dollars a month.
He was in Los Angeles rehearsing for his upcoming concerts in London. He was rehearsing at the Staples Center, and just last month, personally picked out the dancers who would participate in his concert. He did that here in Los Angeles.
I wanted to mention some of the folks who came by here. I asked them, did any of the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson the past few years tarnish your image of him at all. Without fail, 99 percent of them said no. He was an amazing entertainer. He was a great musician. That‘s what they appreciated about him. That‘s what they are remembering today.
Although, we did talk to a 12-year-old, Keith, who actually choked up and got tears in his eyes when we talked to him. He said the first thing he thought of when he heard Michael Jackson had passed away was—he said, I have heard the things that he allegedly did with children. And I hope that he had time to say I‘m sorry. His mother told us later that he told his mom that he was very concerned and hopeful that Michael Jackson would go to heaven, and had hoped that he had reconciled with a higher power before this happened.
So very shocking. Fifty is not old, very shocking. We had not heard of any illness, of course erratic behavior over the years. But I think that‘s what makes it even more difficult for people coming here to pay their respects, is that it was so sudden.
OLBERMANN: Kim Baldonado of KNBC in Los Angeles, just off Sunset Boulevard. Great thanks for the word picture, and the visual ones as well, Kim.
We are awaiting a news conference from the members of the Jackson family. As usual with these things, and given the human equation, the scheduled start time of quarter past this hour has long since passed, nearly 25 minutes ago. When this takes place, we will bring it to you. We will make no promises that it is imminent.
We will repeat this extraordinary story that Carlos Diaz mentioned from “Extra.” My apologies, Carlos. That there were—the Michael Jackson star on the Walk of Fame, which is one of the—frankly, having been an Angelino for about seven years, one of the least impressive things about Los Angeles is that Walk of Fame. It‘s just a bunch of star-shaped plaques basically in the ground. And you know what happens on city streets with things in the ground. Michael Jackson‘s star was covered up. It‘s near Grumman‘s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was covered up for the red carpet of the premier of the Sacha Cohen movie “Bruno.”
It was covered up by the red carpet and Michael Jackson‘s star was not accessible to fans, so they have been putting flowers on the star of the other Michael Jackson, a British native and talk show host of many years in Los Angeles, and syndicated nationally for a while, local news in Los Angeles.
Just a moment of celebrity and the ironies of fame, that the fans of Michael Jackson—that‘s the real Michael Jackson Walk of Fame star, with the late mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles on the left. Johnny Grant, the former radio personality, who is the unofficial mayor of Hollywood, the unveiling of that. You can see Michael Jackson, based on when that video was taken, that‘s some date ago in the 1980s.
The real Michael Jackson and the real Michael Jackson star on the Walk of Fame, and that‘s not where the flowers are being put. The red carpet will be gone in the morning. We‘ll have official Michael Jackson Walk of Fame flowers. The real scene, at the moment, is outside still—outside the UCLA Medical Center, in Westwood, California, where certainly hundreds of people have been. Can‘t tell if it‘s all the same ones who have been there fore two hours. But they‘ve been there for more than two hours, pushing three now, since the news came that Michael Jackson had been transported from a home in Bel Air to UCLA Medical Center, apparently in full cardiac arrest, not wakening, not being revived, and being declared dead at 2:26 PM Pacific time, 5:26 Eastern, three hours and 15 minutes ago.
Tony Potts of “Access Hollywood” has been good enough to stay with us with more perspective. As we hearken back to the trial and the entire scene of Michael Jackson‘s home, Tony, just reflect for us and put that moment together with this one.
POTTS: What‘s interesting for me today, Keith, as we heard this, and the rumors that he‘s being transported, I was thinking about how we often talk about six degrees of separation in this business and the world. There were no degrees of separation for Michael Jackson. It seemed like he touched literally everybody, whether they knew him, worked with, had a brush with him, what have you.
My connection to him is the trial in Santa Maria, California, about two hours north of here, being in that court room day after day, and seeing him come on. I remember the day the verdict was announced, that his mother and his father and Janet sat in front of me. I was in row four. They were in row three, seeing Michael walk in. Diane Dimond spoke to that earlier, about how Michael seemed extremely medicated. I looked at him, and he just seemed like a zombie walking up.
I remember during that trial, Keith, going to Neverland Ranch and walking in. It was like another world, like Michael wanted it. There were school kids there during this trial that—Michael was on trial for alleged molestation of a young boy. I thought, wow, how—what a juxtaposition to see this, and these kids were so excited to see him. It was set up to where there was a bridge that went over to a certain part where Michael was supposed to be. The kids were cordoned off.
Michael, as it was planned, came over the bridge to where it was cordoned off, said hi to the kids. The kids screamed. As Michael ran away and looked back, he said come on, and they lowered the red rope, and the kids went after him. He went under a statue and went into a car and waved goodbye. I remember the whole day was left for the kids to go on carnival rides. There was popcorn and free food. It was just a weird juxtaposition.
Take that, about two years after that, I‘m on a helicopter, we‘re going there to see what Neverland Ranch is about, because we hear that Michael Jackson owed 24.5 million, was in foreclosure. To see that the tents for some of the big tops were ripped, and there were weeds everywhere, and the pool has green algae in it. It was interesting to see what happened from that moment when Michael was on trial, and he was found not-guilty, to see that Neverland Ranch was, indeed, in disrepair.
It goes to the dream that Michael Jackson probably had. I remember seeing that from the helicopter, going back and remember how Michael seemed to be as a kid. To see him, not a care in the world, on that day during the trial, when he was surrounded by the children at Neverland Ranch.
So it‘s a weird juxtaposition for me.
I‘ll tell you one quick story, too. During the trial—it went on, as you know, forever. One day, I needed to use the restroom. I excused myself early, and went to the restroom. I didn‘t know there was a recess called about two minutes later. I‘m in there by myself, and there was a man that comes in behind me. He was with the Nation of Islam. If you do remember, they escorted Michael for a time in the trial.
I looked over my shoulder and he said, Mr. Jackson wants to use the restroom. I said, quite frankly, I can‘t stop now. So we continued. I went to wash my hands, because we are men—I went to wash my hands, and they went to escort me out a little bit. And Michael was standing there. I said, how are you doing. In a light voice, he said, well, I can‘t answer anything. I said, no, as a human being. He said, I‘m holding up. He did look thin.
Remember, when he was booked, I think it said he was 5‘10, 110 pounds, something like that, so very thin.
But the thing I want to tell you, Keith, is that when I walked out of that bathroom, there were people waiting to use the bathroom. And do you know who the person who was first in line to use the bathroom, who could not get in? It was his father. So that speaks volumes about what happened with Michael Jackson and his childhood. That will always be in my mind, Keith.
OLBERMANN: How extraordinary. You could not script stuff like this, as you could not script the flowers at the wrong Michael Jackson star on the Walk of Fame today. It‘s impossible. Yet, there it is. That‘s his life. This life has been impossible. And there it is, right up through the day today.
POTTS: You also hear the story of the dogs who chase cars, and when they finally catch the car, what do they do with it? Michael Jackson kind of got fame, and maybe cultivated it a lot in the ‘80s, to a certain extent. Now he got there and it‘s like, now what?
He was, as you mentioned earlier—there was that small little space where he existed between the fame and his personal life. Where did he really exist? Did he ever find out really who he was during that time?
One of the things I think that‘s interesting about today is that when we started to hear this at “Access Hollywood,” we were putting together a special tribute show, of course, for Farrah Fawcett, who died earlier this morning. We thought no, it can‘t be true. Then we heard it was cardiac arrest, which is different than a heart attack. I‘m no doctor, but I do know that cardiac is more electrical. I know a heart attack is more plumbing, so to speak.
When you have a cardiac, we thought, wow, this is very serious. And to go on the viral world now, which we‘re all in, Keith, with Facebook, Twitter, what have you; I started getting Tweets from people, is this true, is this not? My daughter, who is 15 years old, was at dance today and Twittered me right away. Is it true that Michael has passed. She‘s a big a fan. She‘s only 15, but she‘s a dancer.
It was interesting to see how the viral affect of this, not only here in the United States, Keith, but around the world. As you know, Twitter is not just here. Facebook‘s not just here. It has gone around the world. I‘ve had people from Australia Twitter me. England, they‘re asleep right now, but they‘ll wake up this morning shortly to this news. It‘s starting to him them as well.
Twitter, it jumped the shark today a little bit early on. But in the end, it really did help get the message out, and fans now, for the first time, I think, you see them gathering on screen, but they can also gather now through the viral world of Facebook and Twitter. People have been Facebooking me as well, talking about it today.
It‘s a real interesting, different I think—for the first time for us in Hollywood, a major star like this passing. Imagine if we had viral and Twitter and Facebook and MySpace when Elvis had passed away.
OLBERMANN: And the old fashioned way, the old luddite ways, the telephone‘s ringing off the hook here from—just by mentioning it. It‘s the same story; everyone who works at the makeup and hair department in this building checked in the makeup and hair department to find out, is it true? Is he gone? Is he sick? Is there a chance of recovery?
So the point of this moving in non-broadcast ways, let‘s put it that way, not just the viral stuff, but the more traditional phone tree stuff, is well taken. Tony Potts of “Access Hollywood,” with some extraordinary side lights on the life of Michael Jackson. Thank you, Tony.
POTTS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tony asked a great question: did Michael Jackson ever find that life that he was looking for? Let‘s turn to an old friend, Maureen Orth, who is with us in the DC bureau, of “Vanity Fair.” A pleasure to talk with you, my friend.
MAUREEN ORTH, “VANITY FAIR”: Thanks.
OLBERMANN: Did he? Did he ever find the life he wanted?
ORTH: I don‘t think so. Michael Jackson gave a lecture at Oxford in 2001, in which he said childhood was supposed to be the wondrous time in your life. I never had that childhood. He grew up on the stage. He was a superstar at a very young age. His family whipped him into being the money-maker for them. He resented it terribly.
He really did become very much addicted to fame. It became grotesque at a certain point. He was so extremely talented that nobody ever told him no. And he was surrounded by enablers. And the charges that I followed from 1994 until 2005, the allegations of pedophilia against him, I believe were very much probably more true than not.
And he had—he battled drugs. He had alcohol problems. He gave—it came out in the trial testimony that he called white wine Jesus Juice and red wine Jesus blood, and he gave it to teenagers. He really was a very, very sad person, who had been given great, great, extreme talent.
But in the end, the life he led was grotesque.
OLBERMANN: I‘ve often heard this used about athletes, about politicians, about anyone who has excelled in any field that requires a part of you to become permanently public. People say, if only they could have somehow separated out these bad parts of the personality, these compulsive or addictive or abusive parts of the personality that has eventually come up to end or dismantle part of the public career; is that possible? With your experience of people like Michael Jackson, not that there was crowds and crowds of them—but there are many people that who fall under this broad category of enormous talent and enormous mistakes, and enormous controversy, everything writ large. Is there any separating or are all these things so interweaved that you might not be able to say which is cause and which is affect, but it‘s all part of one bundle?
ORTH: What happens, I think, is at a certain point, you‘ve been told you‘re a genius so many time, and you are a genius musically, and you are not really allowed to grow up and mature in a normal way. Narcissism takes over. I remember one time in Neverland, there was a black velvet painting and Michael Jackson, I think he had commissioned it. And it was Michael Jackson, Mohamed Ali, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ. That‘s kind of how he viewed himself, in that pantheon.
So he was always surrounded by enablers, people who wanted to get close to him, close to his talent, close to his money. I don‘t think it is at all surprising that we‘re not hearing this statement come out. I‘m sure there is amazing behind the scenes craziness going on right now, because I think chaos followed Michael wherever he went. And I‘m sure that this is one of those chaotic moments.
What is going to happen to the children? Everybody, all the creditors are going to be in line for the money. I‘m sure this story is going to go on with a lot of craziness.
OLBERMANN: Yes, if there is money, or if it hasn‘t already disappeared—
ORTH: There is still—I think he still owned about 25 percent of his catalog. Sony was taking it little by little, piece by piece. But there is potential problems in the future because of his extraordinary music for many years to come. There‘s plenty to fight over.
OLBERMANN: The warm remembrances of Michael Jackson, as a person, by other people in entertainment that we‘ve been getting since the news of first his hospitalization, then his passing came through; they seem to be ad odds with this worldwide reputation of the man we saw on trial, particularly in 2005, and the extraordinary stories about how he was abused, as he viewed it, when they had him in the men‘s room at the airport, and all the extraordinary stories that came with that trial.
That affection that people claim he engendered in people with whom he worked, to what degree can you testify from profiling him in the stories that you wrote of and about him? To what degree can you tell us, how true is that perception that he was a beloved figure within entertainment?
ORTH: Well, I think that‘s true. I think people were in absolute awe of his talent. And you had to be in awe of his talent. The way he moved, the way he sang, the way he danced, the songs, they‘re for the ages. There‘s nobody can take away his talent. That is something that some people will probably care to reflect on and remember.
OLBERMANN: Maureen, forgive me. I have to interrupt you. There is a Los Angeles Police Department press conference. Let‘s go to that right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- read into anything as it relates to my team being here. Just the fact that all of you being here caused the chief to decide that we should handle this investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us the nature?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve got nothing else for you guys.
OLBERMANN: A news conference at which Los Angeles police officials told us nothing. It is not the first time that has happened, and it will not be the last. Is Maureen still with us in the Washington bureau?
ORTH: Yes, I am.
OLBERMANN: We interrupted for no good reason, and we‘re getting to something there, I think, about Michael Jackson‘s life and whether or not - what people‘s perception of him was in that industry of his.
ORTH: I think what I said was that people were in utter awe of his talent, as they should have been. That‘s something you cannot take away from him. He really, really was an absolute ground breaker, pardon the pun, with the Moon Walk. But he really had an extraordinary charisma on the stage, and people adored watching him and loved his music. And they‘ll continue to love it.
That‘s not to say there was a different—there wasn‘t a different person off stage, and a very sad, addicted, frail person off stage.
OLBERMANN: I‘ve asked everybody who had contact with him to try to assess this. We know that he was working personally, in terms of fitness training, with Lou Ferrigno from the Hulk movies, the great body builder and athlete, to get himself back into some sort of physical condition to, as a nearly 51-year-old man, go on this extraordinary comeback tour, for which he was practicing six hours a day, rehearsing at the Staple Center and other venues throughout southern California, to the point where we were told earlier that he was actually told to back off, that he was over-doing it, that he was over-taxing himself, over-practicing.
What was this comeback tour all about? What do you think it meant to him?
ORTH: Well, the comeback tour first has to be about money, because he was always having terrible, terrible problems with money and debt. And he would attach himself to various sheikhs and billionaires in different parts of the world, where he still had a measure of a claim. He was very big in Poland, for example, or in parts of the Middle East. So he would find very rich people in these more out of the way places, and sort of live off of them for a while, until they got tired of it, or until the concerts didn‘t materialize or whatever. And then he would be thrown out and they would go on and there would be more lawsuits.
This is a person who lived in constant chaos, and probably kept a whole retinue of lawyers all the time working. So the amount of money that came in, the amount of money that came out was extraordinary.
Having said that, of course Michael wanted to be revered. He wanted to be considered a god. At one point, he had some man going around the world trying to find places where he could get lifetime achievement awards. That was one of his favorite things, was to appear in different parts of the world with a lifetime achievement award.
So he needed—he had an ego that need to be fed. But he really didn‘t like entertaining anymore. And, of course, his family for years—his brothers begged him, please, please come out with us. Do another concert tour with us. And they would constantly announce that this was about to happen, which, of course, it never happened. He didn‘t really want anything to do with his family.
I remember that his parents were very loyally sitting in the front row of the trial in 2005 most days. And different various relatives would come in and come out. As soon as that not guilty verdict came down, boy, he disappeared. He went in one direction. They went in another. And I don‘t think they could get him on the phone.
OLBERMANN: This expectation that we heard about earlier, I know many people who lasted well longer than their predictions about early mortality. But the story that he was convinced that he would not live to see 40 or much beyond; is that true to your knowledge? What was his sort of life view about his own durability as a human being?
ORTH: He loved being a—he want to be considered like a movie goddess, a movie god. He always—his greatest disappointment in life was not becoming a great movie star. That‘s something he wanted very, very much. Those sort of early screen idols were the people that he most loved. I mean, actresses as well as actors. And of course, he cherished his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, and she would show up and he would give her a jewel. And that was the quid pro quo, it appeared to be.
And I think that that was his great disappointment, not being a great king of the silver screen. I think he wanted to be a legend. I think that he would love what‘s going on right now. This would be the way he would really want to be gone out, that every cable channel, every TV, everybody is on him right now. This would be the way he would want it to be.
OLBERMANN: I can understand that. That‘s true of so many performers who never got close to him, in terms of success. I‘m wondering, is that what he wanted when the trial was going on? It was true then too.
ORTH: While the trial was going on, he was trying to figure a way to get out. Remember, the time he appeared in his pajamas, because they couldn‘t get him to go in the car really. Everybody was wondering whether he was really going to show up or not, and he finally showed up in his pajama bottoms.
He hated it. He hated not being in control. He was used to being in control. He was used to having people—he would say jump, they jumped. And he completely isolated his children. He was able to get away with raising them in a way that I don‘t think anybody else in America probably raises their kids.
So he had pretty tight control. As I said before, he was always told he was a genius. So he basically believed he could do anything he wanted. He would spend a lot of time alone, where he did not have to account for his time. So when these allegations of pedophilia came down, because people didn‘t know where he was or what he was doing in all the hours of the day—he might be with these little boys. People just let him alone.
OLBERMANN: Maureen Orth, who profiled Michael Jackson for “Vanity Fair,” among so many other great assignments, we thank you very much for your perspective tonight. And just so you know, we all think of you all the time here. Thanks, Maureen.
ORTH: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s just sum up what we know. We are waiting for a news conference. It has not yet occurred. The Jackson family is to address the media. That was scheduled for 45 minutes ago. It will happen when it happens. When it does, we will bring it to you live as part of our continuing coverage of the death of Michael Jackson on MSNBC.
This is Keith Olbermann at MSNBC headquarters in New York. At 2:26 P.M. Pacific daylight time this afternoon, Michael Jackson, perhaps the most controversial figure in entertainment of the 20th and early 21st centuries, was declared dead by the county coroner of Los Angeles County, California.
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