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Jackson Expert On His Illnesses

"48 Hours" sat down with J. Randy Taraborrelli, the author of "Michael Jackson: The Magic & The Madness," to discuss the singer's health problems, fame, and relationship with his family.

Q: Was Michael Jackson diagnosed with a particular kind of ailment that led to the pain?

A: Michael Jackson had more physical ailments and problems than we can even list. You know, he had a bad back, he had problems with his knees - a lot of problems that were the result of dancing since he was a little kid. The burn on the back of his head that he suffered in the 1980s never really healed properly.

He was suffering from lupus disease, which was very debilitating, which I think people don't know about. And not to mention all the different plastic surgeries that he had over the years, that as he got older began to present problems as well. So this is a man who was in constant pain for a very long time.

Q: Are you aware of the report from The Sun in London about the autopsy? Is it false? An exaggeration?

A: Well, the things that were described in that report were the obvious. Obviously, we know Michael Jackson was frail. Obviously we know that he was very thin. It did appear that he was wearing a wig at times. And so, obviously there must have been a reason for that, maybe he didn't have a lot of hair. And this is all just supposition on the part of whoever fabricated this report. That they took bits and pieces of what we think is probably true, and put it together in a report that has now been proven to be totally false.

Q: Some people say he was in good shape; some people said he was frail. Was he ready to take on a 50 concert tour?

A: There've been conflicting reports as to the state of Michael Jackson's health at the time of his death. And what he was like during rehearsals for the shows that he was about to do. But my information has it that he was doing pretty well, that he looks pretty good in final photographs that were taken of him, though he is incredibly thin.

That's not unusual for Michael Jackson, he was very thin many times in his life. And I think that the question remains an open question as to whether or not he was going to be able to actually do 50 concerts. Don't forget, he hasn't performed in nine or 10 years. They were asking a lot of a guy who hasn't performed in that long, to do that many shows, at the caliber that we're used to seeing Michael Jackson.

One of the reasons why Michael Jackson hasn't performed in so many years is because he knew what the public expected. They want the Michael Jackson of his youth. The public wanted Michael to be able to do today what he was doing in the 70s and 80s. It's a lot to ask of a 50-year-old man. But he was willing to try. As to whether or not he was going to be successful, well, we'll never know.

Q: Tell me about Dr. Murray - Conrad Murray, rather, who is he?

I don't know. Dr. Conrad Murray is somebody who just came into the picture, you know, into public view recently. He is a doctor who apparently sent a letter out to his clients very recently saying that he would be leaving his practice, for what he called, "The opportunity of a lifetime."

I believe he suggested he would be long for a number of years, which makes a lot of sense, because the intention behind Michael Jackson's concerts in London, was that if they were successful, and obviously they were going to be, just based on ticket sales, the plan was to then take the concert on the road, and Michael would have been touring for a number of years, if he could get through such a tour. And the doctor was going to be going with Michael on this tour. It has to be expected that Michael always traveled with physicians whenever he toured.

Q: So what were some of the medical missteps that were taken leading up to his death, by his doctor?

A: Of course there are questions in terms of what the doctor did and did not do. And I think that those are valid questions. For instance, apparently he was giving Michael Jackson CPR on a bed instead of on a flat surface. His explanation for that is that the bed was a firm mattress, and that he felt comfortable doing CPR on that bed.

There's a question as to why he waited 30 minutes before he called 911. His explanation is that he was very busy he didn't want take time away from what he was doing frantically, you know, for his patient. And also, he didn't exactly know the address and where he was - I'm sure it was a very disoriented time. And so those are his explanations to those two questions.

Q: is it fair to say he would have been addicted to prescription medication. How would you characterize his use of medication?

A: I can tell you that at different points along the way since the 1980s, Michael has been overmedicated. I think it's safe to say that since the 1980s, Michael Jackson has been addicted to different prescriptions, off and on, at different times.

He's been under a lot of stress, under a lot of pain for a long time. And I think he began to get used to taking certain drugs in order to just get through the day. So I think it's safe to say yes, that he did have a problem.

Q: His father is not in the will, given their, you know, relationship over the years. Can you talk about that a little bit?

A: Well, Michael has gone on the record many times, and he told me many times in many interviews about his contentious relationship with Joe Jackson. It's a complicated relationship, it's difficult to explain simply. We're talking 50 years of history there. Sometimes it was very contentious, very difficult, sometimes it was more loving and more understanding.

And so I think that it would be a surprise to a lot of people if Joe Jackson actually was in the will. Michael really had conflicted feelings about his dad. I also know though that when Michael became a father, he began to sort of rethink his position on Joe, where a lot of things were concerned.

And I think he began to realize that Joe Jackson, perhaps, did a lot of the wrong things but maybe for the right reasons. And I like to think that in recent years, Michael and Joe perhaps had a meeting of the minds.

Q: At the press conference outside their homes yesterday, an odd moment was when Joe Jackson starts talking about his upcoming business ventures and a record deal. What's your reaction to that?

A: I think that you have to know Joe Jackson. You have to be a person like me who has covered this story for 30 years to understand that Joe Jackson is not a diplomatic person, he is not an appropriate person. He's not going to do the right thing.

He is a street savvy kind of a scrappy guy who made it into show business by being tough and smart and shrewd and seizing the moment. And when you're that kind of a person, sometimes a moment that you seize isn't necessarily the moment that should be seized. And that's Joe Jackson.

Those of us who've covered this story for so many decades, we know Joe Jackson. You know, we know he has a good heart, we know he loved his son, we know he loves his family. We also know he can't resist a good camera when it's in front of him. And that he's going to seize the moment. And we also know he's going to outrage people when he does that.

Those of us in the press corps have actually covered this story for a long time were not surprised by something like that, but I can certainly understand why other observers would, sort of, raise an eyebrow to that kind of behavior.

Q: We have come to find out, or possibly find out that, you know, Michael was not the biological father of these children. Does this complicate things in any way?

A: Just when you thought the story couldn't become more convoluted Debbie Rowe was quoted recently as saying that Michael Jackson is not the biological father of those children. And then to make things even more complex, a report today suggests that Debbie Rowe isn't the biological mother either. So we really don't know what to make of all this. All we can really know is that this promises to be a big drama in weeks and months to come if Katherine Jackson and Debbie Rowe that they want those children.

Q: What do you suppose Michael would've wanted as far as the guardianship of the children?

A: Knowing the way Michael felt about his mother, I wouldn't be surprised if Michael wanted his mom to have the kids. That wouldn't surprise me at all. I would be more surprised if Michael wanted Debbie Rowe to have the children, because he made it really clear during his lifetime that he wanted her relationship with the children, you know, to be at a minimum. And she also agreed with that. So I don't think that we're going to see Debbie in the will as being the one who's going to parent these children from this point on.

Q: Do you think Michael would at all have an issue with his father also eventually being the guardian of the children along with his mother?

A: Well, the fact of the matter is that, you know, Katherine and Joe Jackson have a long and sort of tumultuous relationship and marriage. But the bottom line is that Katherine is pretty much in charge of what goes on at home, and she takes care of the family. She is the heart and soul of the family. I think Michael would trust her with his kids.

Based on what Michael has said about Joe in the past, and based on what we know to be their relationship, I'm not really sure would feel comfortable, having Joseph raise his own children. However I don't think that will be the case at all. I think that Katherine is going to be the one, if this comes to pass, who'll be responsible.

But let's not forget Katherine Jackson is 79 years old, and these are still very young kids, so I think that provisions are going to have to be made that are a little bit wider than just the notion of Michael Jackson's 79-year-old mother taking care of his three children.

Q: Are there any concerns as far as Joe's potential for abuse? Is that still a concern?

A: With the passing of the years, Joe Jackson has mellowed. I mean, he's not the same guy in many respects that he was back in the 60s and 70s. I think that he has a lot of regret about some of the things that happened between him and Michael and him and the other boys. And I think that he's worked over the years to sort of straighten things out between all of them.

This is not a situation that is stagnant. This is something that has been going on for a long time. There've been a lot of times when Joseph has made the effort to straighten out bad feelings that his children have about him. And in some ways, I think he's been very successful at that.

So I think it's unfair to paint Joe with a quick and wide brush stroke. He's a very complicated man, and his children have had a very complex relationship with him over the years. It's not easy to describe, and it's certainly not easy for outsiders to understand.

Q: What about Michael within his family? He's a very private public persona, but is he private with his family as well?

A: Michael Jackson was such a very private person, you know, that I think it's safe to say that often his family members couldn't reach him, couldn't find him when they wanted to find him, or were unable to have access to him because he was surrounded by so many different kinds of handlers who were keeping him from them. Sometimes by his desire, and sometimes not.

I think it was frustrating for Jackson family over the years to not really be able to bring Michael under the fold the way they felt they wanted to. Katherine and Joe and the rest of their family members often tried to protect Michael from the people he had around him. Because one thing is definitely true, Michael Jackson was not the best judge of character.

He often surrounded himself with people who were doing things that were not in his best interest. And I think it's safe to say that Katherine and the children could be trusted, with a lot of Michael's heart and soul. But often, Michael wouldn't even let them in. So it's been difficult for them.

Q: Why has he been so adamant in his denial of the plastic surgeries? To deny the obvious?

A: Well, Michael Jackson was to his core, the ultimate celebrity. And celebrities don't tell the truth about plastic surgery, unless you're Cher. I'm not even quite sure that she really tells the whole truth about her plastic surgery. Celebrities don't tell the truth about their plastic surgery. Michael Jackson is not the first star to lie about plastic surgery.

That's what celebrities do, you know? And he is a celebrity, was a celebrity from the old guard years, where you try to create a mystique around who you are. You don't go public with everything that's happening in your life. And that's why Michael Jackson wasn't forthcoming about something as personal as plastic surgery.

Q: what do you suppose his ultimate enduring legacy will be? Will it be Michael Jackson the great performer, or will it be this troubled personality?

A: I think as with all icons, you get the bitter with the sweet. Look, it's the troubled personality that's responsible for a lot of the music. You can't isolate the personality from the persona. It's all part of the package. And Michael Jackson had a very difficult life, and a lot of ups and downs, a lot of challenges and he was a survivor and a great musician and a great artist, and a troubled person and a bizarre character. Dysfunctional in many ways, triumphant in other ways.

And all of it is part of the legacy of Michael Jackson. But the bottom line, I like to think, is that people will go back to the music, because the music really does still hold up. And I think that when we think of Michael Jackson in years to come, you know, we're going to think of "Thriller," we're going to think of "Billie Jean," and "Beat It," and all the great songs with the Jackson 5. That's what he would've wanted, and I think that's what we're going to do.

Michael Jackson: Picking Up the Pieces:

A Spectacle In Life & Death
The Delicate Question Of Identity
Jackson Expert On His Illnesses
Jackson's Financial Empire
Jackson's Legacy: Passing the Torch
Spike Lee's Memories
Randy Jackson On Michael's Magic
Sharpton Salutes Michael Jackson
Jackson's Fortune
A Ginuwine Fan
Tribute At the Apollo
On Stage With Michael Jackson
MTV: Michael Jackson Remembered
Complete Coverage

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