Heart Health

26 June 2009

Michael Jackson dies

The death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson has shocked and saddened millions. He is believed to have died of cardiac arrest.

The death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson has shocked and saddened millions. He is believed to have died of cardiac arrest at a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday evening.

Emergency hospital workers tried for over an hour to resuscitate Jackson after he collapsed at home from an apparent heart attack, brother and official family spokesman Jermaine Jackson said Thursday.

The "King of Pop" is believed to have suffered "cardiac arrest" but the formal cause of death will not be known until his autopsy, Jackson said at a emotional news conference hours after his brother was confirmed dead at the age of 50.

"His personal physician who was with him at the time attempted to resuscitate my brother. As did the paramedics who transported him to Ronald Reagan UCLA medical centre," Jackson read from a prepared statement.

"Upon arriving at the hospital, at approximately 1.14 pm, a team of doctors including emergency physicians and cardiologists attempted to resuscitate him. For periods of more than one hour. They were unsuccessful," he said. "Our family requests that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time," he said. "May our love be with you, Michael, always.".

Did painkillers kill the King of Pop?
A lawyer for the family is reported to have claimed Jackson was taking prescription drugs as he battled to get into shape for his gruelling concert comeback due to get underway in London next month.

Jackson, who fought long-running battles with prescription medication throughout his career, was taking the drugs after suffering injuries during training for his comeback, attorney and spokesman Brian Oxman said.

Oxman told CNN that he had harboured concerns about Jackson's use of drugs, saying members of the star's entourage were "enablers" and comparing his case to the drug overdose death of Playboy centrefold Anna-Nicole Smith.

"This is not something that has been unexpected... because of the medications which Michael was under," Oxman said from the hospital where Jackson's family members had gathered. "The people who have surrounded him have been enabling him... if you think that the case of Anna-Nicole Smith was an abuse, it was nothing to what we have seen in Michael Jackson's life.

"I do not know the extent of the medications that he was taking but the reports we had been receiving in the family is that they were extensive," Oxman added. "When you warn people that this is what's going to happen and then it happens -- where there's smoke there's fire."

Meanwhile Jackson's former publicist Michael Levine said in an email to AFP that he was unsurprised by the death. "I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news," Levine said.

"Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. "A human simply cannot withstand this level of prolonged stress."

Jackson’s health issues always on centre stage
Plastic surgery, mysterious hospitalisations and reports of pill popping have long plagued the King of Pop. His unexpected death at age 50 during a comeback attempt stunned the world despite a history of health problems - some real and others rumoured - that have been fodder for tabloids and gossip columns speculating wildly about his woes.

In the early 1990s, Jackson's dermatologist revealed the singer had a skin disorder known as vitiligo, which leads to white patches on the skin. Over the years, Jackson underwent numerous plastic surgeries, including a nose job.

Jackson was also widely reported to be addicted to painkillers from pain he developed after he was burned while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. During his 2005 molestation trial in which he was acquitted, Jackson appeared gaunt and had recurring back problems he attributed to stress. The trial was interrupted several times by hospital visits. Jackson once even appeared late to court dressed in his pyjamas after an emergency room visit.

Last year, a celebrity biographer claimed Jackson suffered from a rare respiratory disease and was in need of a lung transplant – a claim his publicists have denied.

Chatter about Jackson's health surfaced again last month after his representatives postponed several of his London comeback shows, citing the need for more rehearsal time. A previous attempt by Jackson to relaunch his career was sidetracked amid reports of ill health and court action.

Levine said that the pressures of emotional, physical, legal, financial and spiritual dysfunction caught up with Jackson. "It's a toxic mix that nobody can withstand," he said.

Jackson died at UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles. His brother, Jermaine, told a news conference that Jackson was believed to have suffered cardiac arrest, a condition that afflicts 300 000 Americans a year.

Cardiac arrest strikes without warning. It occurs when the heart's electrical system goes haywire and the heart suddenly stops beating. It can occur after a heart attack or be caused by other heart problems.

"In the absence of details, it's hard to know if he had a cardiac arrest or if he stopped breathing," said Dr Leslie Saxon, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California. Fewer than 5% of those who suffer cardiac arrest survive, according to medical experts.

What made him so special?
Whether he was dangling his baby over a balcony, sleeping in an oxygen chamber or befriending a chimpanzee -- at times Michael Jackson appeared to revel in his nickname of "Wacko Jacko." The 50-year-old icon became a byword for eccentricity throughout his adult life as his staggering wealth allowed him to enter a lavish fantasy world where he could indulge his every whim, no matter how bizarre.

"He got to the point that he was so rich, so powerful and so famous, that he was allowed to kind of withdraw from any kind of reality," pop culture expert Robert Thompson said.

Many of the stories surrounding Jackson turned out to be untrue; some were even created by the star himself. A 1986 tale about him sleeping in an oxygen coffin and another story about him seeking to buy the bones of The Elephant Man were both fictions fed by Jackson to a hungry media.

Nevertheless, they helped build the legend of "Wacko Jacko" and came as the star was in the midst of a visible physical transformation that became a recurring topic of debate.

Jackson insisted that his increasingly pale complexion was down to a rare skin condition known as vitiligo and lupus; his detractors speculated he had undergone skin-bleaching. At the same time his features appeared to change -- thin lips, sculpted cheekbones and a narrow nose.

In 1988 he wrote in his autobiography Moonwalk that he had undergone several surgical procedures. The same year he bought the California estate that was to become "Neverland", his sprawling personal theme park crammed with video games, statues of superheroes, a mini-railway, fairground rides and a zoo.

Yet "Neverland" was to be at the centre of the child abuse allegations that bedevilled Jackson throughout his career. In 1993 a 13-year-old boy accused Jackson of abuse.

Although Jackson denied the claims, he eventually settled for 22 million dollars and when the teenage witness ceased to co-operate with police, the criminal investigation ended. The case marked the beginning of a decade of decline for Jackson -- but the wacky behaviour continued.

Later that year Jackson dangled his son from the fourth floor balcony of a hotel room in Berlin, a move that drew worldwide condemnation. Jackson later said the incident had been a terrible mistake.

More child abuse allegations in late 2003 led to his trial two years later, which typically was played out in a circus-like atmosphere that Jackson appeared to delight in. After his arraignment hearing -- where he pleaded not guilty to seven felonies after arriving 45 minutes late -- he famously clambered onto the roof of his car, clapped, stamped his feet and blew kisses to his fans.

Following his acquittal in June 2005, Jackson became a virtual recluse reportedly flitting around the world before re-settling in Los Angeles. Right up to the end, he was the subject of intense tabloid speculation, last month denying that he had skin cancer after his comeback date was postponed. – (Sapa, June 2009)

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