The star had become skeletal, and some thought he was anorexic
"Unmasked" by Ian Halperin is a sympathetic portrait of Michael Jackson that explores Jackson’s prescription drug use, ties to Scientology, multiple plastic surgeries, skin bleaching, sexual identity and the lineage of his three children. In this excerpt, Halperin writes about Jackson's waning health in the months leading up to his death.
Before long, however, 10 concerts had turned into 50 and the potential revenues had skyrocketed. But those who knew Jackson best knew he was in no shape to perform 10 shows, let alone 50. “We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen,” said one aide. “I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but literally nobody believed he would end up performing.” Their doubts were underscored when Jackson collapsed during only his second rehearsal. “Collapse might be overstating it,” said the aide. “He needed medical attention and couldn’t go on. Not sure what caused it.”
Meanwhile, everybody around him noticed that Jackson had lost an astonishing amount of weight in the months leading up to the London concerts. His medical team even believed he had become anorexic. “He goes days at a time hardly eating a thing and at one point his doctor was asking people around him if he had been throwing up after meals,” one staff member told me in May. “He suspected bulimia but when we said he hardly eats any meals, the doc thought it’s probably anorexia nervosa. He seemed alarmed and at one point said, ‘People die from that all the time. You’ve got to get him to eat.’” Indeed, one of the known consequences of anorexia is cardiac arrest. This is what killed another iconic pop singer, Karen Carpenter, who admitted to suffering from anorexia shortly before her death in 1983
After spotting him leave one of his rehearsals, Fox News reported that “Michael Jackson’s skeletal physique is so bad that he might not be able to moonwalk anymore.”
“I never saw anybody weigh him, but he couldn’t have weighed more than [100 pounds] in the last month,” says one member of his L.A. staff who saw him every day. At Jackson’s official height of five foot ten inches, that represents a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 14.3 which, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, may indicate anorexia. The normal BMI for somebody Jackson’s height is between 18.5 and 24.9, meaning Jackson is at least 25% under the normal weight for a healthy male. Anything over 15% falls within the category of a potential anorexic. Although eating disorders such as anorexia are much more prevalent in women and girls than men, according to the association, as many as one million men suffer from the disease, which, curiously, is twice as prevalent in gay men. By any definition, Jackson’s rapid weight loss clearly indicated something was wrong.
For the first time, those in Jackson’s inner circle began to urge him to cancel the shows, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“There was just too much money at stake,” recalls one aide. “The people who had his ear told him he would be a laughingstock if he cancelled. They had to have known he was in no shape to go on, he was so frail, he kept canceling rehearsals. We wondered if somebody was going to cash in whether or not he performed. It just didn’t make any sense. I know his family was concerned, especially his brother Jermaine, but Michael was kept very isolated during those last weeks.”
One of Jackson’s closest friends claimed a month before Jackson died that Michael told his daughter Paris he only had weeks to live. “He called her into his room and told her not to get mad at him if he didn’t make it to Father’s Day. He had a premonition that his days were numbered. He felt extremely ill. Unfortunately, no one wanted to help him. His closest advisers tried to control him with medication, drugs and false hopes. They wanted to make sure he didn’t bail on the O2 gigs and that they would not be paid the money Jackson owed them.”
The friend said that Jackson spent the final months of his life writing extensively. He thinks it was a long farewell, and not that Jackson simply wanted to write to his fans. “He’d hole himself up in his room for hours, sometimes days and not move,” the source said. “I asked him if he was writing a novel. He replied ‘just some thoughts on my journey on this earth. I want to leave something to my children.’” This alarmed the friend. “After he told me that, I was concerned Michael was suicidal and that he was writing a long note to say farewell. His emotions during his last few weeks were completely erratic; I had never seen him more depressed. He knew he could not comeback because of his failing health and that he wouldn’t be able to pay all his debts. He told me three times that he felt like dying. At first I thought he was joking. Michael always liked to play the victim and convince people he was terminally ill. This time he was serious, he seemed to be convinced that he was dying. I wish I had taken him more seriously and tried to get him help. Unfortunately, Michael was like the boy who cried wolf — anytime he complained there was always doubt about his authenticity. He had spent years and years fooling people.”
Although the financial details of his arrangement with AEG won’t fully emerge until the estate is settled in 2010 and beyond, most of Jackson’s long-time inner circle suspect that the people who had the most to benefit from the London concert were those associated with the complex web of businesses associated with Tohme, including the giant real estate firm Colony Capital LLC. Colony Capital had saved Neverland from foreclosure more than a year earlier by purchasing a $23.5 million credit note in a deal brokered by Tohme. Somehow this action allowed Jackson to retain his prized estate.
On May 20, 2009 concert organizers suddenly announced that the first London concerts had been delayed for five days while the remainder have been pushed back until March 2010. At the time, they denied that the postponements were health-related, explaining that they needed more time to mount the complex technical production, though skepticism immediately erupted among ticketholders. Their doubts were well placed.