Michael Jackson: 3 Years Later Have We Learned Anything From MJ’s Death?



Today, marks the 3rd anniversary of the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

On June 25th, 2009, the great singer was found unconscious at his home and rushed to a hospital.  We later learned he died from an overdose of propofol, administered by a self-hired doctor Conrad Murray. Murray has since been arrested, charged and prosecuted for the negligence and sits in jail awaiting an appeal of his sentence.

Whether you agree with the criminal prosecution of Dr. Murray or not, one thing is clear: the music and entertainment industry has to wake up and see the proliferation of drug use by artist and how we are loosing a great artist, seemingly every few months.

Michael Jackson was a drug addict.  Whitney Houston was a drug addict.

And, so was Elvis Pressley, Janis Joplin, Curt Kobain, and too many others to name.

Earlier this year, we buried Houston after she died in an LA hotel room and later traces of cocaine was discovered in her body.

She admittingly told Oprah how she battled drugs and crack cocaine for years and tried to stage an unsuccessful comeback album and tour that was met with horrible reviews by critics and fans alike.

Three years ago in September of 2009, I wrote in a Cnn.Com article, “With Michael Jackson’s death, we can reach and teach billions of the dangers of drug use. Unfortunately, he joins a long list of major artists who have seen superstar careers end by the mortal reality that drug addiction can kill you.”  (http://articles.cnn.com/2009-09-02/entertainment/walker.jackson_1_dr-conrad-murray-drug-abuse-drug-problem?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ)

While millions read the article, seemingly the music industry and its enablers didn’t read or listen to it, if they did.

That article, like this article was and is a call to action for humankind to begin the healing process and embrace the message that drug addicts belong in treatment centers, not on a stage for the world to continue to idolize, thereby perpetuating the false axiom that “celebrities are superhuman.”

Regrettably, the call went unanswered.

Rather than effecting a change to the continued veneration of clinically dependent individuals, my words instead became their own version of an old and broken record, incessantly replaying, changing only to replace a particular name, or “cause of death” for another who had fallen prey to the ever-familiar recapped scenario.

Like Jackson, Houston was a megastar.  While certain facets of her story were markedly different from that of Jackson’s, the world witnessed a staged view of a gravely familiar narrative: “music artist bigger than life, grapples with drugs for years and eventually looses the battle and his or her life.”

For the King of Pop, the demons of Jackson’s drug abuse were overshadowed by other “oddities” fans and foes chose to underscore, i.e., the legal battles, and continued allegation of child molestation charges.

However, Houston’s cocaine addiction reverberated the greater part of her entire musical career from the 1990s on up to her untimely death in February.

I even recall in a 2002 interview, Houston admitted that alcohol, marijuana and pills were consumed together with other stimulants in her attempts to battle her demons.

The “Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics” advises that cardiovascular changes induced by the combination of cocaine and alcohol causes an “increase in myocardial oxygen consumption” that may be related to an increased risk of cardiovascular toxicity.

Tellingly, on Houston’s death, the Los Angeles coroner reported a 60% occlusion in the narrowing of the arteries that, combined with cocaine use, contributed to the singer’s death by drowning.

Unfortunately, if you audit mega-celebrity responses to Houston’s death, it would seem almost clear that, as a music community, we missed the insidious message that the pattern of deaths should have taught to us.

Most all responses echoed “shock” of Houston’s death.

“Shock?”  For real?

Should the inevitable end not reign obvious at this juncture?  Other responses expressed deep regret, sorrow and empathy for the problem.

Of them all, not one response cried outrage and the not so silent killer pervading the entertainment industry: drug abuse (whether alcohol, cocaine, marijuana or painkillers abuse.)

Not one artist called for a revolution of realism, an acceptance and the underlying evil that should first be acknowledged and then confronted.

Surely they and we all know that “With these tragic deaths of arguably the King and Queen of Pop, we can reach and teach billions of the dangers of drug use.”

It appears the answer to the question of “where are we as a music community after Whitney Houston’s death?” is the same as the answer to the question of “where are we as a music community after Michael Jackson’s death? And 3rd year anniversary” – In the same place!!!

While general tone of cynicism appears to suffuse this commentary, I want on the other hand to be clear of one undeniable fact.

There is a “silent consciousness” within the entertainment industry.

But, it is not limited to just drug related deaths in the music industry.

Someone, somewhere, on the night of Houston’s death, held another dying person close and begged that friend to seek help.

They refused to help and died with traces of drugs in their system like Houston and Jackson.

Perhaps another started with the “Man in the mirror” and packed a bag to check into rehab.

Either way, as we celebrate Michael Jackson’s music today and throughout the week, I hope when the music stops, we will wake up and deal with this serious issue.

James L. Walker, Jr. is based in Atlanta, Georgia.  He is the author of This Business of Urban Music. A professor and entertainment lawyer, he can be found at www.jameslwalkeresq.com

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