By now, you’ve almost certainly heard that Michael Jackson’s former private physician Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Over the course of the last few weeks, the court system has given us access to a number of realizations, many of which confirmed suspicions we already had about the King of Pop’s final days. And if nothing else, we learned that Murray is a physician of questionable ethics and skill. But how does this verdict, which finds Murray culpable for Jackson’s death, change the way we think about Jackson? Does it at all?
The portrait of Jackson painted in court was the one whispered about in the days following his passing back in June 2009. He was in constant physical discomfort, which is why he was seeking out the services of physicians like Murray who would give him drugs to help him sleep (most notably Propofol, the agent that ultimately killed Jackson) and to manage his pain (the jury never got to hear the testimony of Dr. Arnold Klein, who the defense claimed got Jackson addicted to Demerol in the final months of his life). It sounds like it was a life of non-stop physical suffering, without even taking into consideration his psychological and financial woes.
In fact, the trial acted as something of a counterpoint to the 2009 film Michael Jackson’s This Is It, which documented the singer’s quest to make a comeback via rehearsals for his planned London residency. That film could have easily been submitted as evidence by the prosecution, as it portrayed Jackson as a vital artist who was still able to dance and sing and made great efforts to perfect the presentation of his work. The Jackson from This Is It would have to have been the victim of a malicious act, because he was so healthy and alive. The Jackson presented in the courtroom, however, was a feeble, wilting figure, barely aware of his surroundings and unable to take care of himself.
Ultimately, Jackson’s hardcore fans (who have been lining up outside the courthouse and occasionally attempting to break in) will probably feel vindicated that a person found guilty of taking their hero from them will be punished for his crime. Did Conrad Murray contribute to Jackson’s passing? Most certainly, especially in the eyes of the court system.
But his gradual descent began perhaps decades earlier, inspired by the demands first put on him when he was a child, magnified by his commitment to the public, and possibly exacerbated by the severe burns (and subsequent encounters with painkillers) incurred on the set of a Pepsi commercial in 1984.
Jackson had plenty of issues while he was alive, and though his reputation has certainly been burnished in the wake of his untimely death, he still has the specters of child abuse, his ever-shifting appearance, and a general professional megalomania hanging over his head. But in the end, at least according to the state of California, he was a victim of involuntary manslaughter.
If anything, this trial has proven that just about everybody had a different experience with Michael Jackson, and now that he isn’t with us anymore, we’ll probably never know exactly what the real MJ was like. On the surface, this trial was about Dr. Conrad Murray, but it was also about what Michael Jackson means to people. If you want his legacy to be of a guy who lived on the shadier side of modern medicine, then he could be that guy.
If you just want him to be the remarkable artist who unleashed masterworks like Thriller, and was the tragic victim of a heinous crime, that’s possible too. Michael Jackson always belonged to other people — his parents, his siblings, his children, his hangers-on, his legions of fans — and now that we are two years past his death, he has truly become everything to everyone.
What do you think about the verdict? Do you feel vindicated? And has the trial changed your opinion about Jackson one way or another? Let us know in the comments.