A year ago, the world watched as Michael Jackson balanced on the edge of a precipice. Behind the once-proclaimed King of Pop was a bleak stretch of pain and artistic decline. Ahead lay a series of 50 London concerts -- a high-rolling bid to reassert his musical brilliance and re-establish control of his life.
Jackson was poised for a great leap of faith, one testing himself and those who believed in him. It was a chance to silence detractors who had mocked his increasingly clownish, artificial appearance and what appeared to be an equally artificial and veiled version of family life with the three children he was raising alone.
Harsher critics cast him as a man who used wealth and celebrity to elude justice on child molestation charges.
Complete Coverage: The Death of Michael Jackson
The elaborately staged shows set to begin last July 13 at London's famed O2 Arena represented winner take all, or lose all, for an entertainer who'd been famous for most of his 50 years.
He was ready. The audience was ready. Then he was gone. Less than three weeks before his new life may have started on a stage filled with special effects and song, the old one ended in a cloud of drugs and unfulfilled dreams.
Outwardly, Jackson had seemed fit as he prepared for the London shows, and his autopsy found he was in relatively strong physical condition for a man his age.
But privately, he was struggling with chronic insomnia that he battled with a regular regimen of powerful drugs.
In the year since Jackson's shockingly abrupt death on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of sedatives, a fuller picture of his last day has emerged. What follows is a comprehensive reconstruction of those final 24 hours by The Associated Press.
Exactly what happened during that time may never be known, as the only person with him was his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered a series of drugs to help his patient sleep. Murray is due to stand trial later this year on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.
But witness accounts and court documents agree: Jackson's final day started off like many others.
Early in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 24, Michael Jackson came down the stairs of his rented mansion and sat with his children for what would be their last meal together.
He had a rehearsal later that night so he wanted to eat something light but sustaining. His personal chef, Kai Chase, prepared seared ahi tuna with an organic salad and a glass of carrot and orange juice.
"He smiled and put his hands together for a prayer," Chase said. "He said, 'Thank you, God bless you.'"
The singer, Chase recalled, looked well, seemed energized and was in a good mood.
Shortly before 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jackson left his eight-bedroom mansion at 100 North Carolwood Drive in Holmby Hills, an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between Bel-Air and Beverly Hills.
He got into the back of a navy-blue Escalade driven by bodyguard Faheen Muhammad. His personal assistant, Michael Amir Williams, sat in the front.
They traveled downtown to the Staples Center, where Jackson and his team of musicians and dancers were in final rehearsals before heading to London. Jackson's logistics director, Alberto Alvarez, met the Escalade and drove Jackson in a golf cart to his dressing room.
Several people recalled Jackson being in good shape that night.
"He was completely enthused," said Dorian Holley, Jackson's longtime vocal director and a singer for the upcoming "This Is It" shows. "It was hard to discern any difference between his energy and his physicality between then and his earlier days."
Jackson went through several classic numbers, including "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," and "She's Out of My Life."
With an enormous monitor installed onstage, Jackson for the first time was shown video accompaniments to some of these songs, said Holley, who was standing beside Jackson during the rehearsal.
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