By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 28, 2009
LOS ANGELES, June 27 -- Michael Jackson always had an entourage. It just never was the same one twice.
Over the years, hundreds of people --advisers, managers, accountants, spokesmen, doctors, security details, assorted characters and hangers-on -- were in his ever-changing professional retinue. Many left him in bitterness, fired by the erratic pop star, and an extraordinary number lodged legal claims against him.
With Jackson's death Thursday at age 50, investigators have turned their attention to a new figure in his life, cardiologist Conrad Murray of Las Vegas, whom Jackson called his personal physician. Murray was in Jackson's rented mansion at the time he collapsed from an apparent heart attack.
Los Angeles police have impounded Murray's car and were seeking a second interview with him Saturday to discuss the circumstances of Jackson's death. Jackson's family also said it wanted a second, private autopsy performed on the singer to answer questions about the death, including what role, if any, Murray may have played, according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who met with the family.
Jackson's idol, Elvis Presley, was surrounded by a collection of men known as "the Memphis Mafia" from the beginnings of his fame until his death. But Jackson never had a core group of protectors, fixers and enablers who stuck with him. Important figures in his musical career lasted only months before he dismissed them, only to be brought back into the fold as some new crisis arose.
"It was absolutely a revolving door," said Diane Dimond, a journalist who has covered Jackson since the early 1990s and is the author of a 2005 Jackson biography, "Be Careful Who You Love." "There were constantly new people in his life. He didn't want anyone to tell him what to do."
Apart from family members, with whom Jackson feuded on and off during his adult life, the only constant figures in his life were Bill Bray, a retired Los Angeles police officer who directed Jackson's security for about 30 years, and Bob Jones, a public relations man who had been with the Jackson family since the Jackson 5 became stars for Motown Records in the late 1960s. Jones coined the term "King of Pop," which Jackson adopted.
But Jackson had numerous falling-outs with high-profile collaborators. For years, he reportedly didn't speak to Quincy Jones, producer of Jackson's "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time.
Jackson had a similarly stormy relationship with Frank DiLeo, a veteran record-industry executive who took over as his manager in 1984 with the success of "Thriller." DiLeo, a sometime actor (he appeared as a mobster in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas"), was abruptly fired without public explanation five years later, only to return this year to manage Jackson's proposed comeback tour.
Disputes by Jackson's associates about money were common: Former business partners, managers and publicists have all sued him. Even staff members at Jackson's fantasy home, Neverland Ranch, sued for allegedly unpaid wages and publicly complained they had been mistreated.
Among the respected figures Jackson associated himself with over the years was John Branca, a high-powered entertainment attorney who helped mastermind the singer's purchase of the Beatles' music catalogue in 1985. Despite the value of that deal to Jackson -- the catalogue remains among his estate's most valuable assets -- Branca was fired and rehired several times.
Jackson was also sued in 1993 by the family of a 13-year-old youth who said Jackson had molested him. The lawsuit was settled out of court a year later, reportedly for $22 million. The charge would be echoed a decade later by law enforcement authorities in Santa Barbara County, Calif., who brought 10 felony counts for Jackson's admitted habit of sharing his bed with minors. A jury cleared Jackson of all criminal charges after a heavily publicized trial in Santa Maria, Calif., in 2005.
A subtheme of that trial was Jackson's chaotic business affairs, and it laid bare the extent of his debts and tangled finances. Prosecutors brought "financial forensic" experts to testify about Jackson's indebtedness; his defense team disputed the analyses, acknowledging that Jackson had cash-flow troubles but saying his assets would exceed his liabilities if he had to liquidate.
One member of Jackson's defense team, Brian Oxman, was forced out in the middle of the trial for reasons that were not disclosed. Oxman has been a constant presence in news reports in recent days, saying he had concerns about the singer's health.
Jesse Jackson voiced his own suspicions to the Associated Press on Saturday. "It's abnormal," he said from Chicago a day after visiting the Jackson family. "We don't know what happened. Was he injected and with what? All reasonable doubt should be addressed."