explainer

"He's stopped breathing." The complicated story of Michael Jackson's death.

“I need an ambulance as soon as possible, sir. I have a… we have a gentleman here that needs help. And he’s stopped breathing.”

It was 12:21 p.m. PST on June 25, 2009, when one of Michael Jackson‘s security guards phoned emergency services. The ‘King of Pop’ was lying unconscious in bed at his rented Los Angeles mansion, just hours after returning from rehearsals for his This Is It tour.

Panic gripped the household. Earlier, Jackson’s children, Paris, 11, and Prince, 12, had walked into the bedroom as their father’s personal physician, Dr Conrad Murray, attempted to revive him. “Daddy!” Paris cried, before being quickly shepherded away.

Paramedics arrived within minutes of the call, and the singer was rushed to nearby Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

By 2:44 p.m., tabloid website TMZ broke one of the biggest stories of the decade: “We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50.”

Video by HBO

In the decade since that day, the complicated story of Michael Jackson’s death has been told through news reports, documentaries and a televised court case against Conrad Murray, who was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Here’s what’s been uncovered about what unfolded.

Michael Jackson’s final hours.

Hours before his death, Michael Jackson was dancing. The singer was preparing for his major farewell concerts in the UK, due to open at the 02 Arena on July 13, 2009. It would have been his first tour in 12 years. Jackson had kept a low profile since being acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005, and was reportedly in financial difficulty.

The This Is It tour was a comeback of sorts, and the pressure was weighing on him.

When he returned from rehearsals after 1 a.m. on June 25, Murray gave him a saline drip for hydration and Valium to help him sleep. It didn’t work. Over the next nine hours, the doctor administered multiple doses of sleeping pills lorazepam and midazolam. At 10:50 a.m. he agreed to a restless Jackson’s request for “milk”, which referred to propofol — a milky white hypnotic drug used for general anaesthesia during surgery.

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“Just make me sleep, no matter what,” he told Murray, according to court testimony. “I can’t function without sleep… I have to cancel concerts.”

Michael Jackson fell unconscious in bed. Image: Los Angeles Police Department/Getty.

Murray testified during his 2013 trial that he administered 25mg of the drug via an IV drip, and that once Jackson fell asleep, he checked his heart rate and oxygen saturation were normal, then went to the bathroom. Two minutes later, he returned to find Jackson had stopped breathing.

Security guard, Alberto Alvarez, later told the court that he was the first person to enter the bedroom after Murray raised the alarm. Alvarez claimed that the physician ordered him to stash "a handful of vials" and an IV bag into a brown bag before calling 911.

Paramedics who arrived at the scene didn't recognise Jackson. One testified that he first assumed the unconscious, underweight man was a terminally ill patient, after seeing his condition and the IV stand beside the bed.

The room itself was a mess, littered with rubbish and medical paraphernalia, including several oxygen cylinders, syringes, pill bottles and vials of medicine. Investigators found plastic bags containing latex gloves, empty saline bags and tubes of cream.

A number of bizarre objects were also documented. A bloodied white shirt hanging in the wardrobe. A life-size porcelain baby doll on the bed (pictured above), and a number of advertising images featuring babies and toddlers arranged on a chest of drawers.

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Hand-written notes were also taped to the walls, mirrors and doors; “I don’t know if they were lyrics or thoughts," Detective Orlando Martinez told the new documentary, Killing Michael Jackson. "Some of them seemed like poems."  Police photographs show one note that read, "Discipline with love, no violence ever".

Michael Jackson's bedroom. Image: Los Angeles Police Department.

Michael Jackson's cause of death.

When the news of Jackson's death broke, it arrived into people's pockets — one of the first major stories of the smartphone era. People around the world thumbed from site to site, in their scramble to find out what had happened. Twitter, the Los Angeles Times, TMZ, Wikipedia and AOL Instant Messenger all experienced crashes due to traffic volume, CNN reported at the time.

But it took two months before fans got answers.

On August 28, 2009, the Los Angeles County Coroner issued a statement in which it announced that Jackson's death had been declared a homicide. The cause of death was established as "acute propofol intoxication", with benzodiazepine identified as a contributing cause.

"The drugs propofol and lorazepam were found to be the primary drugs responsible for Mr. Jackson's death," the statement read, according to The Los Angeles Times. "Other drugs detected were: midazolam, diazepam, lidocaine and ephedrine."

Conrad Murray's arrest and trial.

Dr Conrad Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter in February 2010.

At the trial, which began in Los Angeles on September 27, 2011, prosecutors argued Murray's negligence had led to his death; negligence that included leaving the room as the propofol was pumped into his veins via the IV.

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But Murray's defence team argued that during those two minutes the doctor was in the bathroom, Jackson had self-administered an additional dose of the drug that, with the lorazepam he'd already been given, "created a perfect storm in his body that ultimately killed him".

michael jackson death
Conrad Murray was charged in February 2010. Image: Getty.

Murray testified that he'd been giving Jackson propofol every day for two months prior to his death to treat his insomnia, but had attempted to wean him off it over the previous three days.

"I didn't want to hurt him, he was my friend, didn't want MJ to fail, I cared about his writing and his producing, I tried to wean him off, MJ was a bit restless, but it was working," he told the court.

After eight hours of deliberation, a jury found Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty of four years in prison, but was released due to prison overcrowding and good behaviour on October 28, 2013, after serving just two years.

Since his release, Murray has continued to maintain his innocence.

“I did not kill Michael Jackson. He was a drug addict,” Murray told The Mail on Sunday after his release from prison.

“Michael Jackson accidentally killed Michael Jackson.”

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