That question won’t be answered for several more weeks, as a Los Angeles coroner yesterday said more tests would be needed to determine the cause of death, even after a three-hour autopsy.
This development followed widespread international media reports that Los Angeles police were to question a cardiologist, Dr Conrad Robert Murray, who was with Jackson at the time of his sudden death on Thursday, about what prescription drugs he had administered to the superstar. Several news outlets reported the doctor gave Jackson an injection of the painkiller, Demerol about an hour before he stopped breathing at his rented home in Los Angeles.
Yesterday, Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey said determining the cause of Jackson’s death will require further neuropathology and pulmonary tests that will take four to six weeks.
Harvey said there were no signs of foul play or trauma to the body during the three-hour autopsy. He also said Jackson was taking some unspecified prescription medications.
Harvey said the police department requested a security hold on the investigation which limited how much the coroner’s office can say about the case. He said the death became a coroner’s case because there was no doctor to sign the death certificate.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter spoke with Jackson’s family and his body would be released to them once they selected a mortuary.
However, Associated Press reported that a person with knowledge of the case said Jackson, who was with Dr Murray when he collapsed at his rented home in Los Angeles, appeared to have suffered a heart attack.
The person, who was not authorised to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said Jackson suffered a heart attack, which is a blocking of the arteries that deprives the heart of adequate blood. That can lead to cardiac arrest, an interruption of the normal heartbeat.
Jackson’s brother Jermaine had said on Thursday that it was believed the pop singer went into cardiac arrest.
The possibility of a heart attack could be a key clue as to why Jackson had Dr Murray at his home while he went through vigorous training for a series of concerts that had been scheduled for the coming weeks in London.
Heart attacks can indicate a long-term problem, such as heart disease. It would not necessarily rule out another factor, such as drug use, however.
Police yesterday seized the car of Dr Murray, who practices in California, Nevada and Texas, and said they believed the car may contain drugs or other evidence. One celebrity website said the BMW towed away by police from outside Jackson’s home belonged to the doctor’s sister, Susan Rush.
The move followed claims before he died Jackson was given an injection of a painkiller which can cause cardiac arrest.
Dr Murray was said to have tried to revive Jackson, then disappeared for several hours.
It was reported that the singer had been using the drug, Demerol, as he battled to be fit for his first London show next month. The heart specialist had been living at Jackson’s rented house in Los Angeles.
The emergency 911 call from Jackson’s home said a personal doctor was trying to revive him. The caller, a young man, said: “He’s pumping his chest but he’s not responding to CPR or anything.”
Asked if anyone had seen what happened, the caller replied: “Just the doctor, the doctor’s been the only one here.”
Celebrity website TMZ quoted a close relative of Jackson as saying he was receiving a daily injection of Demerol and the dose was “too much”.
The relative said the singer was injected at 11.30 am on Thursday. The 911 call was made less than an hour later, at 12.21pm. As the police inquiry was launched an inner circle of “enablers” was blamed for Jackson’s death.
Long-time family lawyer Brian Oxman accused personal physicians, businessmen and media agents of helping the singer abuse prescription drugs to prepare for his gruelling 50-concert London comeback. He said they had pushed him too hard physically.
Oxman said: “This was something which I feared and something I warned about. This is a case of abuse of medication, unless there is another cause I don’t know about.
“This family has been trying for months and months and months to take care of Michael Jackson. The people surrounding him have been enabling him.
“I do not know the extent of the medications that he was taking but the reports we have been receiving in the family is that they were extensive. I have told people in no uncertain terms that if I woke up one day and Michael was dead I would not be silent.”
The new mystery over Jackson’s sudden death came as Debbie Rowe, the mother of two of his three children, vowed to fight “tooth and nail” for custody against the singer’s mother Katherine; and creditors began staking their claims to what remains of Jackson’s fortune.
Thousands of British fans were left unsure whether they will get refunds for the London shows as the promoter faces a ?500 million payout.
Fans gathered at makeshift shrines around the world while tributes to Jackson were led by Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg and Madonna.
Sources: Associated Press, The Daily Mail (AP)