LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The mother of late pop star Michael Jackson testified Friday in her wrongful death lawsuit that concert promoter AEG Live failed to get her son proper medical attention when he became sick while preparing for a comeback tour in 2009.
Katherine Jackson, 83, broke down when recalling the death of her famous son and later asked to suspend her testimony after growing distressed under cross-examination. It was the first time Jackson had taken the stand in the trial in which she and Michael’s children are suing AEG Live.
The “Thriller” singer died at age 50 in June 2009 in Los Angeles from an overdose of surgical anesthetic propofol while preparing for a series of shows in London.
The lawsuit alleges that AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray as his personal physician. Murray was caring for the singer as he rehearsed for the shows and the doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for administering the propofol that killed Jackson.
Katherine Jackson’s testimony on Friday ranged from a tearful recollection of learning her son had died to accounts of her family’s humble beginnings in a four-room house in Gary, Indiana. She described Michael as a musically inclined baby who wanted to dance with his brothers.
Under cross-examination from AEG attorney Marvin Putnam, she grew frustrated and confused and ultimately asked to stop shortly after a lunch break. She returns to the stand on Monday.
When Putnam asked why she filed the lawsuit in 2010, she responded: “I want to find out what happened to my son.”
“My son was being pressured,” she added. “He asked for his father. My son was sick. Nobody said ‘Call the doctor. What’s wrong with him?’ Nobody said that.”
When Putnam said he did have a doctor, Jackson said: “My son needed another doctor, an outside doctor, not Dr. Murray.”
Katherine Jackson’s lawyer, Brian Panish, said later that his client had slept only three hours and accused the defense counsel of trying to mock her.
“If they want to continue to attack her, bring it on,” Panish told reporters.
Michael Jackson had shown signs of physical distress as he prepared for his planned 50-date comeback concert “This Is It.” Kenny Ortega, who was to direct the shows, has said that less than a week before Jackson’s death, he turned up at rehearsals chilled, incoherent and psychologically troubled.
AEG Live has said it did not hire or supervise Murray and argues that Jackson had prescription drug and addiction problems for years before entering into any agreement with the company. AEG Live representatives have said they could not have foreseen that Murray posed a danger to Jackson.
The Jackson family matriarch has been a courtroom fixture since the trial began in late April, but said she was nervous on the stand because it was her first time testifying before a jury. She had also faithfully attended nearly all the hearings during the criminal trial of Murray.
Dressed in a purple print dress and purple jacket, Jackson told the court repeatedly that it was hard to sit there every day and listen to “to all the bad things they say about my son.”
“All I heard was that he was lazy. Mr. Jackson was sick and couldn’t rehearse,” she said.
Jackson said she was very close to her son and that she depended on him financially at the time of his death. He fixed up the family house, gave her cash, cars and other gifts. “Michael took care of me,” she told the court.
Jackson’s will named Katherine Jackson and his three children as his only beneficiaries.
Jackson said she was unaware that her son had abused medication and that “sometimes the mother is the last to know.” The family had a reunion in May 2009, and she said Michael had looked “OK.”
“Then I saw he was thinner. I didn’t notice at first because of how he was dressed. He had a jacket on,” she said.
Michael’s oldest son, Prince, 16, has already testified. The younger children Paris, 15, and 11-year-old Prince Michael II, also known as Blanket, were not expected to testify. Michael’s nephews T.J. and Taj Jackson, sons of brother Tito Jackson, have testified.
The family testimony has opened a window into Michael Jackson’s character and his final days, in which they said he was a happy family man.
The trial, which started in April and was supposed to last three months, is expected to wrap up in September.
Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Doina Chiacu