The director of Michael Jackson’s ill-fated comeback concerts told a jury on Wednesday that he was frightened when Jackson was shivering and seemed lost at one of his final rehearsals.
The rehearsal occurred six days before Jackson died in June 2009, Kenny Ortega testified during a lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother.
“I saw a Michael that frightened me,” Ortega said, calling Jackson’s appearance “very, very troubling.”
Jackson improved somewhat as the night went on but wasn’t coherent when he arrived that day, Ortega said. The singer didn’t rehearse that night.
The director-choreographer also said Jackson had missed numerous rehearsals for his planned This Is It concerts and appeared to be under the influence of a substance on at least four occasions when he did attend the sessions.
Jackson’s state was “fairly obvious” to others involved in the production, he said.
Ortega later broke down while reading an email he sent to the CEO of concert promoter AEG Live LLC describing Jackson as a “lost boy.” The singer’s mother Katherine Jackson also appeared to cry during the court proceedings in which her son’s final days were described.
Ortega testified in the negligent hiring lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother against AEG Live.
She claims the company missed warning signs about her son’s health and failed to properly investigate the doctor later convicted of involuntary manslaughter after giving him an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.
AEG denies it hired Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray. The company also says there was no way it could have known the doctor was giving Jackson propofol as a sleep aid.
Ortega previously detailed his observations about the June 19, 2009, rehearsal during Murray’s criminal trial.
He told the civil jury that he sent the email describing Jackson’s poor condition to AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips to suggest that the singer needed professional help. He also said that based on Jackson’s condition, he didn’t believe the This Is It shows could go forward, but he hoped there would be a turnaround.
The director said he repeatedly called Murray that night, but his only concern was for Jackson’s health. Ortega and Jackson worked on two previous concert tours and had been friends for years.
“I tried the doctor who I thought would be the most natural person” to help, Ortega said. “Then I reached out AEG, Michael’s partners, to make sure they were aware of how I felt and what I saw.”
Jurors hearing the case have heard about Jackson’s inability to rehearse from other witnesses, but Ortega was the highest-ranking tour worker to testify at the civil trial and had the most direct contact with AEG executives and Jackson.
He told the jury he had to work directly with Murray to coordinate Jackson’s rehearsal schedule and that Phillips was also involved.
Ortega said it’s the only concert he’s ever worked on where he’s had to coordinate a rehearsal schedule with a performer’s doctor and concert promoter.