Author Archives: dbeco@comcast.net

About dbeco@comcast.net

David Comfort has published four popular nonfiction trade titles, three from Simon & Schuster, the last, in 2009, from Citadel/ Kensington. His publishing industry exposé, An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, was released by Writers Digest Books in December, 2013. Excerpts from the title appear in Pleiades, The Montreal Review, Stanford Arts Review, InDigest, Writing Disorder, Eyeshot, Glasschord, and Line Zero. Comfort is a Pushcart Fiction Prize nominee, and a finalist for the Faulkner Award, Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren, America's Best, Narrative, Glimmer Train, Helicon Nine, and Heekin Graywolf Fellowship. His current short fiction appears in The Evergreen Review, Cortland Review, The Morning News, Scholars & Rogues, and Inkwell. In the spring of 2013, Amazon/Kindle published the author's satiric novel, The Reborn Bible 2.0: The 2nd Coming Gospel of the Amerian Rapture. The climactic chapter, “The Greatest Story Never Told,” appears in the Winter, 2014 issue of Eclectica magazine. Comfort’s pop culture blogs appear regularly in The Wrap, Culture Catch, and BlogCritics.

MAG & WEB PUBLICATIONS

 

 

MAGAZINE & WEB PUBLICATIONS

 

  • “A Birther Is Born”                                                                     The Satirist

http://www.thesatirist.com/satires/birther.html

  • “Exodus Redux”                                                                        Evergreen Review

http://www.evergreenreview.com/121/exodus-redux.html

  • “White Rabbit”                                                                        Cortland Review

http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/54/comfort_f.php

  • “God’s Privates”                                                                    Scholars & Rogues

http://scholarsandrogues.com/2013/02/13/scholars-and-rogues-fiction-gods-privates-by-david-comfort-2/

  • “The Kiss”                                                                           Inkwell

http://www.inkwellmag.com/post/44294198502/vol-12-home-david-comfort-the-kiss

  • “It’s Complicated”                                                                 The Morning News

http://www.themorningnews.org/article/its-complicated

  • “Secrets of Literary Success: Luck, Suck, Pluck”                 Eyeshot

http://eyeshot.net/comfort.html

  • “Taking It in the Shorts: The Greatest Story Never Told”        Montreal Review

(New Yorker magazine exposé)

http://www.themontrealreview.com/2009/The-New-Yorker-Short-Story-of-Short-Story.php

  • “Divine Madness: A Brief History of Literary Lunacy”                Stanford Arts Rev

http://artsreview.stanford.edu/?p=9163

  • “Writer 911! Historic Tales from the Literary ER”                 Writing Disorder (Best Fiction/          Nonfiction of 2012 print anthology

http://www.thewritingdisorder.com/nonfictiontwo.html

  • “The Pen Award: Of Lit and License Plates                         InDigest

http://indigestmag.com/blog/?p=17467#.UGyi5vl26m0

  • The Dues to Pay the Muse                                            Pleiades (Spring 2013, print issue)
  • Lazaruses in the House of Literature                           Line Zero (Fall 2113, print issue)
  • Bards Behaving Badly (6 part series)          Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review (Feb. 2014 issues)

http://thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com/2014/02/04/bards-behaving-badly-by-david-comfort-part-i-paper-lion-prize-fights/

  • Save a Tree, Burn an Author: A Green History of Writer Recycling  (6 part series)                  Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review (June-July. 2014)

http://thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com/tag/david-comfort/

  • The Greatest Story Never Told                             Eclectica Journal (Winter 2014 Issue)

http://www.eclectica.org/v18n1/comfort.html

 

HONORS

2012                                 Top 10 Finalist: Narrative Fiction/ Nonfiction Award

2012                                Finalist: Red Hen short fiction competition

2005                                 Top 25 Finalist, Glimmer Train Fiction Award

2000                                 Finalist: America’s Best (short story: “Fields of Heaven”)

Finalist: Faulkner Awards for short fiction (“Treemen: the Movie”)

1998                                 Finalist: Heekin Fiction competition (“Gateway to the Interior”)

1996                                 Finalist: Helicon Nine Contest (story collection, Mother’s Sons)

1995                                 Finalist: America’s Best Contest. (for novel, The Contact Sport)

Finalist: Chicago Tribune Nelson  Algren Award for short fiction

1994                                 Finalist: Heekin/Graywolf Fiction Fellowship for short fiction

Honorable Mention: Belletrist Review Short Fiction Competition

Nominee: Pushcart Prize

1993                                  Top Ten Finalist: Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award

for short fiction (judges: Mona Simpson, Scott Turow)

1991                                  Winner: New England Living Magazine Fiction Contest

 

 ***

ONLINE COLUMNS / EDITORIALS (2010-2012)

THE WRAP              http://www.thewrap.com/articles/david%20comfort

-“The Man Who Murdered Jimi Hendrix”

-“Making The Case Stick Against Dr. Murray”

-“Elvis Presley: The Lonely Birthday Boy”

-“Recalling The Day John Lennon Died”

-“The Media’s Ground Zero Mosque Follies”

-“The Great Ghosts Of Rock’n’Roll”

-“Janis Joplin: Buried Alive In The Kozmic Blues”

-“The Mystery Behind Hendrix’s Death”

-“Revisiting A Legend’s Final Days” (Brian Jones)

-“The King Of Pop’s Neverland Of Truth” (Michael Jackson)

-“The King & The Cover-Ups”

-“Woodstock: A Bad Trip For The Bands”

 

CULTURE CATCH

http://culturecatch.com/music/who-murdered-jimi-hendrix

http://culturecatch.com/music/janis-joplin-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/janis-born-blues

http://culturecatch.com/music/jim-morrison-obit-editorial

http://culturecatch.com/music/john-lennon-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/john-lennon-and-immortal-9

http://culturecatch.com/music/beatles-holiday-break-up

http://culturecatch.com/music/jerry-garcia-in-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-gladys-rip

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-presely-birthday-boy

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-presley-king-christmas-past

http://culturecatch.com/music/michael-jackson-elvis-presley-cover-ups

http://culturecatch.com/music/michael-jackson-conrad-murray-trial-preview

http://culturecatch.com/music/brian-jones-drowning

http://culturecatch.com/music/heavy-metal-music-torture-gitmo-grammies

http://culturecatch.com/music/rush-limbaugh-elton-john

 

BLOG CRITICS

http://blogcritics.org/writers/david-comfort

 

  • JUST SAY NOEL: A History of Christmas, from the Nativity to the Nineties

(Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1995) (Light Reference)

*

  • THE FIRST PET HISTORY OF THE WORLD

(Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1994) (Light Reference)

*

  • FOR DOGS ONLY: How to Live with Human Beings

(Pocket / Simon & Schuster, 1989) (Humor)

***

 

MICHAEL JACKSON: KING OF POP – RIP

 

 

images

1. Michael Jackson: Under The Cover-Ups

2. Cause of Death: OD, AAD, Or AIDS?

3. Killer Thriller

4. Autopsy Turvy

5. The Last Moonwalk

6. The Price Of Superstardom

7. Fame: The Death Zone

***

1. Michael Jackson: Under The Cover-Ups

 

We all want the TRUTH. Especially when a star dies. For closure, we must know why  — the real cause. Especially more in the case of an “icon.”  “A living legend.”

Elvis, Lennon, Hendrix, Janis, Morrison, Garcia, Cobain: all were icons. But we still don’t know the truth about the deaths of three.

Now, Michael Jackson. The cover-up is just beginning. Maybe it will succeed and we will never know how and why he really died either.

The architects of cover-ups are of course those who have most to lose from the revelation of the truth – those who, intentionally or not, had a part in the death. Usually those who should have been protectors – managers, handlers, family, and/or “friends.”

But imagine now the ghost of the King of Pop looking down on this investigation himself. Would he want the real truth of his tragic demise revealed? Probably not. Because how he really died was the direct result of how he, in his gated Neverland, really lived. And, in his lifetime, he did everything he could to keep this private.

But, if not secrecy, wasn’t he at least entitled to privacy? He certainly felt so, just as did Elvis and the other stars. Throughout their careers, each loathed and resented being public property. Not unjustifiably, each felt that once they left stage their responsibility to their audience was over – that their off-stage life should be no one’s business but their own. Except the reality of a “living legend’s” life is this: to the fans, the entirety of it – on and off-stage – is a performance. And, therefore, public domain.

Like many politicians, superstars are reduced to living their “private” lives as masqueraders. And, with the help of the few people they think they can trust, as cover-up artists.

With every living legend, in life and in death, there are two warring camps: the star and his spin-controllers and image protectors versus the hounds and the ferrets who are fed by anonymous “Judas” insiders. The truth is usually the first casualty in this war that soon deteriorates into denials, lawsuits, and sensationalism.

So how did Michael Jackson truly live and die?

The King of Pop has been the object of three battles. The first involved his alleged molestation of children; the second, his rumored drug abuse; the third, the true nature of his health. In the search for the cause of his death, the second two issues are being hotly debated now between the spin-controllers and the deep throats.

Between the two poles, where is the truth?

 

Speculation about his death is doubly keen because, in life, Michael Jackson seemed to be less than candid about his medical history.

Regarding his radical change in appearance, he told the BBC’s Martin Rashid that he had only had two plastic surgeries. Otherwise, “I just changed!” he vehemently insisted. NBC’s Dateline medical expert and others declared, however, that fifty procedures would have been necessary for such a transformation. An actor friend of Jackson’s, Eddie Reynoza, noted: “The whole side of his face is artificial implants. He told me, ‘I can’t go out in the sun. My face would fall off.” Other insiders said that tip of the singer’s nose was prosthetic.

Then came the skin color controversy. He and his doctor insisted that he had Vitiligo, a rare, congenital skin-lightening condition. However, his maid, Blanca Francia, asserted in an affidavit that he used powerful skin lightening creams (Solaquin, Benoquin, Fore, Retin A). “He hates dark-skinned people,” added another insider, Stacy Brown.

And what of his fair-complexioned children? He told an incredulous Bashir not only that he was the sperm-donor for the third, Blanket, but that the surrogate mother had been black as well.

As for the state of his own health, in recent years Jackson had often been seen in surgical masks, in wheelchairs, and – alarmingly gaunt – being carried by bodyguards. In 2001, when his brothers tried to stage a drug intervention, he turned them away saying, “I’ll be dead in a year anyway.”

Was he aware of having a terminal condition even then?

In the mid-eighties, his doctors announced that had been diagnosed with Lupus, a serious immunological disease. Soon after his death, insiders revealed that Jackson suffered from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare lung ailment. He was injected with pulmonary protein from human blood – commonly administered to AIDS patients. In his final years, he suffered flu-like symptoms, vision loss, weight loss, hyperventilation, nausea, insomnia, mental disorientation.

In such a condition and after twelve years off-stage, the urgent question became: Could Michael Jackson ever perform again? Again, there were two diametrically opposed answers.

“I can do this,” the singer allegedly told Randy Phillips, the promoter for his “comeback” performances at London’s O2 Arena, equipped with the state-of-the-art lip-synching technology. Phillips stated that the star passed a four-hour physical for the concerts’ insurer. Would the exam have revealed drug abuse? “Absolutely,” replied the promoter.

Jackson collapsed after his second rehearsal, but endured his last at L.A.’s Staple Center. Enthused staging executive, Johnny Caswell, afterwards. “He was energetic, passionate, diligent, excited… This guy was ready to go!”

The King of Pop died 36 hours later.

He had been “terrified” of the upcoming performances, a Jackson aide told biographer, Ian Halperin: “We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but nobody believed he would end up performing.”

 

 

Now a third and climactic battle is being waged over the King of Pop, as it has over many of his iconic predecessors: the drug war.

“From my heart, I just don’t know,” Jermaine Jackson told Larry King when asked if his brother had had a problem with controlled substances.

But Michael’s friends, Uri Geller and Depak Chopra, did. And just as their own efforts to “save Michael from himself” had proved fruitless, so had those of Randy and Tito. The brothers had tried numerous times to force Michael to rehab, the last attempt shortly before his death. Didn’t they talk to Jermaine?

Another friend of the deceased, Lisa Minelli, had no illusions either. ‘When the autopsy comes, all hell’s going to break loose,” she said.

Two have come and gone. But hell has not broken loose, though the star’s body was found to be riddled with injection sites. A third autopsy has been ordered by Katherine Jackson.

Why?

Is an autopsy, particularly of such a celebrity, not a carefully monitored and exhaustive scientific procedure performed by the best professionals in the field? Even if one had been incomplete or mishandled – two?

The Jackson family is demanding a third autopsy. They suspect “foul play.” By whom? Dr. Conrad Murray and/or Jackson’s other personal physicians who allegedly, at his orders, injected him with Demerol, Dilaudid Vistaril, Xanax, Zoloft, Prosac, Proilosec, and Ritalin? Or, at his orders, rendered him comatose with the Propofol, a general anesthesia for major surgery? Or could it be the foul play of his mercenary managers?

Autopsies do not reveal who. They reveal what: the drugs in the system and the pathology of the organs. On this basis they identify three things: immediate cause of death – in Jackson’s case suffocation and cardiac arrest; proximate cause – probably toxic drug interaction; and original, root cause – likely viral.

Almost certainly, the completed two autopsies have identified the three causes. Yet authorities say publication of the results will be delayed “indefinitely.” Why? Because few insiders, including the family, are likely to want them revealed until they are “doctored” so as not to compromise the star’s memory and legacy, much less royalties or insurance policies.

And, until this happens, Jackson insiders will be looking for a scapegoat on whom they will heap all the blame so that the scientific truth – the autopsy results – will be all but irrelevant, if not buried.

 

***

 

2. Cause of Death: OD, AAD, Or AIDS?

            Family friend, Stacy Brown, told current Michael Jackson biographer, Ian Halperin, that in 2001 Janet, Tito, and Randy staged a drug intervention on their famous brother. He sent them away saying, “I’ll be dead in a year anyway.”

Was Michael aware of having a terminal disease even then?

At that time, the star was indeed in desperate physical condition and taking many prescription drugs – not only pain killers, tranquilizers, and sedatives, but powerful antibiotic and anti-inflammatory cocktails. He had cancelled appearances due to “back problems,” “exhaustion,” and bouts with the “flu.”

In his last years, Elvis – the father-in-law whom he never met — had done the same. Both the King of Rock and the King of Pop had been diagnosed with Lupus, noted for such symptoms and many far more debilitating ones.

Jackson also suffered from AAD — Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare lung ailment, with emphysema-like symptoms. He was injected with pulmonary protein from human blood, a treatment usually successful, but not with him.

In addition to the flu-like symptoms, he was now often bed or wheelchair bound, suffering from vision loss, weight loss, hyperventilation, nausea, insomnia, mental disorientation.

Some of these are symptoms of Lupus, some of AAD. But all are the symptoms of advanced AIDS. Queen’s Freddy Mercury suffered from the same at the end of his life. The day before he died in 1991, Mercury confirmed long-standing rumors that he had AIDS and was homosexual.

This is not to say that Michael Jackson did in fact have AIDS. Only that his symptoms closely corresponded with those of the disease, and that a medical forensic expert would be negligent to not consider the possibility.

HIV, as is well known, is most commonly contracted sexually or through transfusion. Given his prolific surgical history, Jackson likely received a transfusion at some time. But that he was infected in this manner seems less likely than the alternative.

“He was also playing a truly dangerous game,” continues biographer, Ian Halperin (Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson). “It is clear to me that Michael was homosexual and that his taste was for young men, albeit not as young as Jordan Chandler or Gavin Arvizo [the boys Jackson was accused of molesting]…. In the course of my investigations, I spoke to two of his gay lovers, one a Hollywood waiter, the other an aspiring actor.”

Halperin goes on to say that the waiter remained friends with Jackson until the end, and that the actor provided photographs and a witness. The biographer adds: “When Jackson lived in Las Vegas, one of his closest aides told me how he would sneak off to a ‘grungy, rat-infested’ motel – often dressed as a woman to disguise his identity –‘to meet a male construction worker he had fallen in love with.’”

Though, with Elton John and others, Michael was an AIDS activist, he of course never outted himself or revealed the truth of his own condition had he indeed been HIV positive. This is regrettable since such an admission, though damaging to his reputation in homophobic circles, would have provided an immense boost to awareness and treatment of the tragic condition.

In any case, the fundamental question remains: What was the real cause of Michael Jackson’s death? Pending further autopsy and toxicology results, the original stated cause goes unchallenged: Cardiac arrest. But what caused this? An overdose of Demerol or Diprivan, as alleged by many? But, even if so, why were such narcotics and anesthetics being administered?

The question brings us full circle back to the original mystery. The kind of mystery beneath which lies not just one cause, but many and not all of them physical.

And, in the end, as with the other legendary stars, though we may one day discover how the King of Pop died, it is unlikely that we will ever understand why.

 

            Whatever Michael Jackson’s disease was, it seems indisputable that it caused him excruciating pain, both physical and psychological. Thus in his final years he was ingesting Demerol, Dilaudid Vistaril, Xanax, Zoloft, Prosac, Proilosec, and Ritalin on a daily basis and at a monthly cost of $48,000. In his last days, he begged his nurse for an IV of Propofol used in general anesthesia for major surgery.

Such a superhuman habit was rivaled by only Elvis himself. Like his father-in-law, too, Michael carried his narcotics in a huge suitcase filled with pre-loaded syringes and IV bags. In spite of his consumption, he, like Elvis, suffered from insomnia and, when he managed to briefly fall asleep, he had nightmares of being murdered.

Jackson completed several hospital detoxes but afterwards soon fell off the wagon again. So, too, had Elvis, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and Kurt Cobain. Family and friends tried to get Hendrix and Morrison to detox, but failed.

Of all the stars, Jackson and Elvis were the only prescription junkies. Both had coast-to-coast Dr. Feelgoods and had the prescriptions made out in the names of employees and hangers-on.

Elvis’s main man was Dr. George Nichopoulos, aka “Needle Nick.” Nick prescribed 10,000 sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics to his patient in the last eight months of his life. Several years before, when the doctor threatened to cut off his supply, the King shot him. After Elvis’s fatal OD, Dr. Nichopoulos was tried for second-degree murder and acquitted, but lost his medical license. Elvis’s father, Vernon, tried to have him assassinated in a football stadium.

Michael’s own last personal physician was Dr. Conrad Murray. Like Dr. Nick, he tried to administer CPR to his patient. Murray’s explanation for waiting a half hour to call an ambulance was that he couldn’t find a corded phone and didn’t know the address of the house he had been living in with his patient for two weeks. Similar delays in calling the authorities occurred at the death scenes of other stars; in all these cases, narcotics were removed from the premises.

The LAPD reportedly removed prescription drugs from the trunk of Dr. Murray’s Mercedes. His Houston-based lawyer now states that Dr. Murray never injected Michael Jackson with Demerol as has been alleged, nor had he ever prescribed him narcotics. The coroner discovered pill residue in the star’s stomach and countless injection sites all over the body. Four were fresh injections to the heart.

According to ABC news, in 2002 Murray’s Houston medical clinic was closed for being what authorities called a ‘pill mill.”

In any case, the fundamental question remains: What was the real cause of Michael Jackson’s death? Pending further autopsy and toxicology results, the original stated cause goes unchallenged: Cardiac arrest. But what caused this? An overdose of Demerol, as alleged by many?

But, even if so, why were such massive doses of Demerol and other narcotics being administered? Which brings us full circle and back to the original mystery. The kind of mystery beneath which lies not just one cause, but many and not all of them physical.

So, in the end, as with the other legendary stars, we may one day discover how the King of Pop died, but it is unlikely that we will ever understand why.

 

***

3. Killer Thriller

 

Both the King of Pop, and his father-in-law, The King of Rock, wanted only one thing in the end: a good night’s sleep. For all their wealth and power, they couldn’t buy or command the simple rest most mortals take for granted. For years, the two icons had suffered insomnia and nightmares which, in the end, brought them to the dreamless Big Sleep itself.

Among stressed-out stars, narcotic abuse has been epidemic for years. Barbiturates and/or heroin helped kill Hendrix, Morrison, Janis, Elvis, Cobain, Garcia, and many others. Even if they failed to induce sleep, these drugs alone could induce a sweet, womblike oblivion, delivering a star briefly from the crushing pressures of being “a living legend.” For this reason, heroin in particular has become the most popular chemotherapy for super-celebrity.

Addicts say that a heroin high is as close as you can get to death, without actually dying. But Michael Jackson found an elixir which brought him even closer: Propofol. According to experts, this general anesthesia does not induce sleep, but a coma. The waking life of the King of Pop had become so unbearable that he wanted more than sleep: he wanted suspended animation.

This was not a recent development. During his 1993 Dangerous tour, Jackson traveled with an anesthesiologist who, according to insiders, “brought him down” at night, and “brought him back” the next day. The star became a sort of pharmaceutical Lazarus. He grew all the more dependent on anesthesia when his worst nightmare materialized: he was charged with child molestation.

Canceling the Dangerous tour, he retreated to a London detox clinic with friend and rehab veteran, Elizabeth Taylor. But the valium IV here was not enough to rescue the hypersensitive Michael from his terror of being found guilty, professionally ruined and personally disgraced. While lying sleepless in the hospital bed, his own break-out song may have echoed nightmarishly in his mind:

You’re fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight. There’s no escapin the jaws of the alien this time –This is the end of your life.

Said one of his assistants: “In therapy, he began to see that he was his own worst enemy.” His old Bad song had particular resonance for him now. I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways. After detox, he settled out of court with his accuser, Jordan Chandler, for $22 million, returned to Neverland and, indeed, sought to change his ways.

 

 

But, twelve years later, his obsessed prosecutor, DA Tom Sneddon, charged Michael yet again. Though eventually acquitted, the star was devastated and irreparably wounded. And he became even more dangerously addicted to narcotic sleep aids and propofol.

Family and friends tried drug interventions. Michael excommunicated them. Doctors and nurses refused to give him more. Michael fired them.

His father-in-law, Elvis, had been even more incorrigible. When his doctors refused to prescribe more of what he called his Vitamin E, the King jumped up on a pool table, air-conditioned the ceiling with his .38, and declared, “I’ll buy the goddamed drugstore if I have to. I’m going to get what I want. People have to realize either they’re for me or against me!” When his own bodyguards refused to dose him, he told them: “I’m in charge here and if anyone wants to say different, then I may get hurt but somebody is going to die.” When his own step-brother, David Stanley, told him he was confiscating his stash, the King put a gun to his head and said, “No, you’re not.”

Other stars were just as stubborn. Said Jerry Garcia’s detox acupuncturist, Yen-wei Chong: “In ancient China, you know which kind of patient is the most difficult to treat? The Emperor.”

Long before the Doors’ Jim Morrison fatally ODed in Paris, his producer, Paul Rothchild, said of his suicidal drinking and doping: “Everybody tried to stop him. He was unstoppable!”

The same went for Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, and many others.

So, like his predecessors, the King of Pop refused to take no for an answer. On the fatal night, Dr. Conrad Murray, in an attempt to wean his patient off the propofol, gave him only a half dose. But soon he was forced to administer six additional sedatives. By that morning, the still sleepless star was reportedly “begging” for his “milk” – the propofol. Murray gave in. Jackson died.

But fans continue to ask HOW? WHY? Expressing a common sentiment, Leonard Pitts recently wrote What Michael Jackson Needed Most: A Dr. No.  “That’s Michael Jackson’s ineffable tragedy,” the columnist concluded. “He died of an overdose of yes.”

But didn’t Michael — like Elvis, and so many other stars – fire many Dr. No’s during his years of addiction? And, had Murray said no, wouldn’t he have simply been replaced by another Dr. Yes? Just as some choose “death by cop”, others choose “death by doctor” suicide. By most accounts, Michael – devastated by the past trials, and terrified by the future “comeback” concerts – had no interest in continuing to live. He just wanted to sleep at last and forever.

Who then is responsible for his end? His unwitting accomplice? Or the man in the mirror who, tragically, could not change his ways?

 

 

 

***

4. Autopsy Turvy

 

John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley. The autopsies of such legends, one would expect, should have been the most painstaking, impeccable, and impartial. But there is substantial evidence to the contrary in these historic cases and others.

Could the autopsy of Michael Jackson be the same?

The full report has not yet been publicized by the Los Angeles Medical Examiner,

Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, who covered the murder cases of both Phil Spector and O.J. Simpson. But released details and conclusions from his report give cause for wonder even on the most basic issues.

First off, take Jackson’s weight. The L.A. coroner said the star was 136. When booked on child molestation charges in Santa Barbara in 2003, he weighed in at 120. Odd.

In the final six years of his life, Jackson handlers have expressed alarm at the singer’s weight loss, calling him “skeletal” and possibly bulimic. His own personal physician and close friend, Dr. Arnold Klein, told TMZ that toward the end the King of Pop looked like he’d “come from Auschwitz.”

112 pounds. “Geraldo at Large,” guest privy to autopsy info. a few broken ribs and damaged knees.

But the autopsy reports that Jackson gained sixteen pounds in the last six years. One would have expected a loss. Indeed, coroner inside sources said he was “skin and bones,” and told Geraldo Rivera he weighed 112.

The next area of autopsy report peculiarity: Jackson’s lungs. In his 1988 autobiography, Moon Walk, he revealed that he had been diagnosed in the seventies with a condition related to pleurisy. Subsequently, he was often hospitalized with the flu, pneumonia, and shortness of breath. He traveled with oxygen tanks.

Though the coroner found that Jackson did indeed have “chronically inflamed lungs,” he concluded that he was “fairly healthy” even so.

Since the star died of pulmonary failure, did the M.E. test for the cause of the inflammation and find it to be indeterminable or benign?

In 1987, Jackson’s close friend, Liberace, died. His personal physician recorded cardiac arrest on the death certificate. But after autopsy, the Riverside coroner concluded the entertainer had died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia from the AIDS virus. His estate’s executors filed a libel suit against the coroner’s office. They lost.

Liberace – whom Michael called “Lee, my guardian angel”—had lost 75 pounds and been bedridden and on oxygen for months. He had been diagnosed HIV-positive the year before by Dr. Elias Ghanem, Vegas’s doctor to the stars who had treated Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, among others.

The tragic 1990 AIDs death of Michael’s young friend, Ryan White, devastated him. Soon afterwards, he was rushed to the hospital, suffering shortness of breath, vertigo, and chest pains. According to his biographer, J. Randy Taraborrelli, he tested negative for HIV.

In the last years of his life, Jackson suffered many bacterial and viral infections, flu-like fatigue, headache, and nausea, as well as skin problems, weight-loss and insomnia.

All are symptoms of AIDS. But some are symptoms of Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Insiders told his biographer, Ian Halperin, that Jackson had suffered from this virulent  immunological disease and needed a lung transplant. In the meantime, they claimed the singer had undergone “augmentation therapy” – he was injected with pulmonary protein from human blood — commonly administered to AIDS patients.

So, did the L.A. Medical Examiner test the star for AAD or AIDS? Unlikely. Especially in the later case. According to Dr. Carol J. Huser, author of the Coroner’s Report column for the Durango Herald, an M.E. is forbidden to test for AIDS unless he – as in the Liberace case — believes the decedent may have put others at risk.

“I test [for HIV] VERY rarely, as I think do most of my colleagues,” asserts Dr. Huser. “And, in many states, the results would be confidential and the M.E. could not release them.”

But, in the unlikely event that Dr. Sathyavagiswaran and his team tested for and found the AIDS virus or some other contributing cause of death that was non-drug related, might Dr. Murray’s defense team justifiably demand disclosure?

In any case, the coroner has disclosed that Jackson’s body bore 13 puncture wounds. Insiders have gone further, claiming that it was “riddled” with injection sites from both IVs and intermuscular shots. How is it possible to conclude that such a patient is “fairly healthy.”

The toxicology report identifies only the drugs in the last injections: the benzoids and propofol administered by Dr. Murphy in the final ten hours of Jackson’s life. It should have been clear just from this that decedent was a drug addict and had built up an enormous appetite for and resistance to sedatives.

Given his prolific medical history, did the coroner’s office fulfill its legal obligation to conduct full discovery? According to California Code 27499: “The coroner shall summon and examine as witnesses every person who in his opinion or that of any of the jury has any knowledge of the facts.”

Did the coroner’s office subpoena Jackson’s medical records or interview his innumerable doctors? If so, it would have discovered a drug cornucopia: tranquillizers for nerves and panic attacks; narcotics for pain; sedatives and anesthesia for sleep; amphetamines for performance; steroids for lupus and immunological ailments; antibiotics for recurring infections.

When the full autopsy report is publicized, will all these substances be identified and their long-term combined deadly effect be appraised?

Probably not because this would be damaging to the prosecution which seeks to find Dr. Conrad Murray solely responsible for the death of Michael Jackson due to grossly negligent treatment.

As Dr. Michael M. Baden wrote in Unnatural Death, when he became the Chief Medical Examiner for New York City, “I envisioned the office as independent, scientific, apolitical…. [But] It is an arm of the DA’s office. What is really wanted is an elastic man, one who will stretch and bend his findings to suit the DA’s needs… Truth and excellence play no part in the arrangement.”

 

 

 

***

 

5. The Last Moonwalk

 

Imagine the ghost of the King of Pop looking down on his countless investigators and coroners. Would he want the truth of his tragic demise revealed?

Like his father-in-law, Elvis, and so many other superstars, Michael Jackson had struggled mightily to keep his private life private. His death was the natural or unnatural result of how he lived that life: just as he had tried to avoid investigations, surely he would not have been an autopsy proponent.

So far, there have been two autopsies, and a third imminent.

With every living legend, in life and in death, there are two warring camps: the star and his image protectors versus the hounds who are fed by anonymous insiders. The truth is usually the first casualty in this war that soon deteriorates into wild accusations, denials, lawsuits, and sensationalism.

In life, the King of Pop was the object of three battles. The first involved his alleged molestation of children; the second, his rumored drug abuse; the third, the nature of his health. In the search for the true cause of his death, spin-controllers and the deep throats have locked horns.

Throughout his life, the Peter Pan of Pop himself seemed to have a Neverland conception of the truth even in matters of simple fact.

Regarding his radical change in appearance, he told the BBC’s Martin Rashid that he had only undergone two plastic surgeries. Otherwise, “I just changed!” he insisted. NBC’s Dateline medical expert and others declared, however, that fifty procedures would have been necessary for such a transformation.

Then came the skin color controversy. He and his doctor maintained he suffered from Vitiligo, a rare, congenital skin-lightening condition. However, his maid, Blanca Francia, asserted in an affidavit that he used powerful skin lightening creams (Solaquin, Benoquin, Fore, Retin A). “He hates dark-skinned people,” added another insider, Stacy Brown.

And what of his fair-complexioned children? He told an incredulous Bashir not only that he was the sperm-donor for the third, Blanket, but that the surrogate mother had been black as well.

As for the state of his own health, in recent years Jackson had often been seen in surgical masks, in wheelchairs, and – alarmingly gaunt – being carried by bodyguards. In 2001, he told his brothers, “I’ll be dead in a year.”

Was he aware of having a terminal condition even then?

In the mid-eighties, his doctors announced that Jackson had been diagnosed with Lupus, a serious immunological disease. Posthumously, insiders revealed that he had suffered from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare lung ailment. He’d been injected with pulmonary protein from human blood – commonly administered to AIDS patients. In his final years he suffered symptoms associated with that disease: headaches, vision loss, weight loss, hyperventilation, nausea, insomnia, mental disorientation.

In such a condition and after twelve years off-stage, the urgent question became: Could Michael Jackson ever perform again? There were two diametrically opposed answers.

“I can do this,” the singer allegedly told Randy Phillips, the promoter for his “comeback” performances at London’s O2 Arena, equipped with the state-of-the-art lip-synching technology. Phillips stated that the star passed a four-hour physical for the concerts’ insurer. Would the exam have revealed drug abuse? “Absolutely,” replied the promoter.

Jackson collapsed after his second rehearsal, but endured his last at L.A.’s Staple Center. Staging executive, Johnny Caswell, afterwards enthused: “He was energetic, passionate, diligent, excited… This guy was ready to go!”

The King of Pop died 36 hours later.

He had been “terrified” of the upcoming performances, a Jackson aide told biographer, Ian Halperin. “We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen,” the insider added. “I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but nobody believed he would end up performing.

 

Now a third and climactic battle is being waged over the King of Pop, as it has over many of his iconic predecessors: the drug war.

“From my heart, I just don’t know,” Jermaine Jackson told Larry King when asked if his brother had had a problem with controlled substances.

But Michael’s friends, Uri Geller and Deepak Chopra, did. And just as their own efforts to “save Michael from himself” had proved fruitless, so had those of Randy and Tito. The brothers had tried numerous times to force Michael to rehab, the last attempt shortly before his death. Didn’t they talk to Jermaine?

Another friend of the deceased, Lisa Minelli, had no illusions either. ‘When the autopsy comes, all hell’s going to break loose,” she said.

Two have come and gone. But hell has not broken loose, though the star’s body was found to be riddled with injection sites. A third autopsy is now being demanded by Katherine Jackson.

Why?

Is an autopsy, particularly of such a celebrity, not a carefully monitored and exhaustive scientific procedure performed by the best professionals in the field? Even if one had been incomplete or mishandled – two?

The Jacksons have urged yet another exam because they suspect “foul play.” By whom? Dr. Conrad Murray or Michael’s other personal physicians who allegedly, at his orders, injected him with narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and barbiturates? Or, at his orders, rendered him comatose with propofol, a general anesthesia for major surgery? Or could it be the foul play of his mercenary managers?

Autopsies do not reveal who. They reveal what: the drugs in the system and the pathology of the organs. On this basis they identify three things: immediate cause of death – in Jackson’s case suffocation and cardiac arrest; proximate cause – probably toxic drug interaction; and original, root cause – likely viral or immunological.

Almost certainly, the completed two autopsies have identified the three causes. Yet authorities say publication of the results will be delayed “indefinitely.” Why? Because few insiders, including the family, are likely to want any evidence disclosed which might compromise the star’s memory and legacy, much less royalties or insurance policies.

Meanwhile, the great question remains: who caused this tragedy? Was it truly a deceitful or negligent servant of the King of Pop? Or was it we, his fans, who kept him in a gilded cage and elevated him to a height where the star could no longer moonwalk, much less breathe?

 

 

***

6. The Price Of Superstardom

“… People thought that if I kept living in seclusion the way I was, I might die the way he [Elvis] did. The parallels aren’t there as far as I’m concerned… Still, the way Elvis destroyed himself interests me, because I don’t ever want to walk those grounds myself.”

Michael Jackson, from his autobiography, Moon Walk, 1988

            But apparently the King of Pop changed his mind about The King of Rock, the father-in-law he never met.

In MySpace, Lisa Marie Presley, recalls how one day in 1993, her husband told her “with an almost calm certainty, ‘I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did.”

Lisa concludes: “The exact Scenario I saw happen on August 16th, 1977, happening again right now with Michael just as he predicted.”

All of the legendary rock stars in my THE ROCK AND ROLL BOOK OF THE DEAD, The Fatal Journeys of Rock’s Seven Immortals, also predicted an early demise for themselves. “I’m dead already,” said Jimi Hendrix, shortly before his abrupt and mysterious end at age 27. “I wonder if I’ll get as much publicity as him,” said Janis Joplin, who fatally ODed six weeks later, also at 27. “You’re drinking with Number 3,” Jim Morrison toasted his friends shortly afterwards. Cobain wanted to go out “in a flame of glory like Hendrix.” He, too, joined Club 27.

John Lennon had premonitions of an early, violent end. Jerry Garcia was amazed to reach 53, having clinically died in the hospital nine years before. And Elvis, who had many close scrapes with mortality like the others, had always felt predestined to an early grave.

His daughter goes on:  “I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save Michael from certain self-destructive behavior and from the awful vampires and leeches he would always manage to magnetize around him.”

The women of the seven doomed stars said much the same thing, desperately trying to, as Lisa Maria puts it, “save them from the inevitable.”

Her mother, Priscilla, tried the rescue Elvis, as did his other great love, Linda Thompson. Once Linda asked him what his greatest fault was. Without hesitation, the King replied, “I’m self-destructive. But there’s not a lot I can do about it.” The other stars conceded the same and, in his own way, so did the King of Pop.

We, the fans, are not only saddened, devastated, by the news of his passing – but we are uncomprehending. Michael Jackson and the others achieved what the rest of us can only dream of – how could they throw it all away? What is this hell inside the heaven of superstardom that consumed them all?

“I must confess I am not surprised by today’s tragic news,” said Jackson’s friend and publicist, Michael Leaven. “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 is simply cannot withstand this level of prolonged stress.”

            Prolonged stress is a euphemism for the crushing pressure of public adulation and demand; living up to an near-divine image; breathing in a fishbowl; relinquishing all privacy; being the never-ending object of gossip and rumor; being surrounded by exploiters and parasites; and, in the end, finding oneself utterly alone and loveless in spite of the adoration of millions.

All of the martyred stars were distinctly different in personality. But they became much the same in trying to maintain health and sanity in the purgatory called superstardom. Elvis and his son-in-law, Michael, were especially alike.

“Ambition,” said Elvis, “is a dream with a V-8 engine.”

All of the stars started with a super V-8. Particularly the two Kings. Michael’s ambition was to be even bigger than Elvis. After releasing the world’s biggest album – Thriller (109 million sold) – Jackson set to work trying to break his own record, and Elvis’s too. Meantime, rock’s eternal Peter Pan, built the child’s paradise, Neverland, as the boy Elvis had built Graceland years before. He wore the same fantastical costumes, indulged in every material extravagance, but gave to charity almost more than Elvis himself.

In 1984, Michael visited the White House and President Reagan decorated him for his huge contributions to drug abuse charities. Thirteen years before, President Nixon rewarded Elvis with a coveted BNDD (Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) badge, enlisting the King to be the adminstration’s “ambassador” in the War on Drugs.

By this time, though few knew, Elvis was addicted to prescription narcotics. He insisted he needed his “medicine” for many ailments including glaucoma, hypertension, insomnia, and — according to rumor – lupus, a deadly auto-immune disease brought on and exacerbated by stress.

His son-in-law was said to have been diagnosed with lupus in 1985. And he, too, began to suffer from an array of other afflictions.

Michael Jackson’s drug abuse didn’t come to public attention until 1993. He’d recently suffered a series of mishaps: He had been badly burned while filming a Pepsi ad, he’d broken a leg, he’d injured his back. Then he was charged with child molestation. To cope, he began consuming great quantities of Oxycontin, Ativan, Xanax, and Valium. When they overwhelmed him, he cancelled his Dangerous tour, and checked into rehab just as Elvis himself had done many times two decades before.

Then Michael married Elvis’s daughter. “I wanted to save him,” Lisa Marie said. “I felt that I could do it.” But she couldn’t. She filed for divorce two years later. Her mother, Priscilla, hadn’t been able to save Elvis either. She had filed for divorce after six years. Just as Elvis had rapidly deteriorated after his marriage failed, so too did Michael.

2005 was a horror for the King of Pop. His drug dependency worsened with a second, circus-like trial for child molestation. Though acquitted, he fled in disgrace for Bahrain. His records sales had plummeted, he was rumored to be on the brink of bankruptcy. Moreover, he was no longer known as the King of Pop, but as “Jacko the Wacko.”

Elvis suffered the same purgatory in the last years of his life. His sales too were in the tank and he had to borrow against Graceland to stay afloat. He was called a rock and roll dinosaur and had become a stumbling, obese parody of himself. And, his closest old friends, his bodyguards, were publishing drugstore tell-all, revealing him as a crazed, gun-totting junkie.

In the last twenty months of his life, the King was prescribed 12,000 Schedule 1 substances and injectibles: Demerol, dilaudid, Seconal, Tuinol, Placidyl, Valmid, Quaalude, among others. He died just before dragging himself back on the road, hoping the tour would rescue him from professional and financial disaster. The coroner discovered eleven major narcotics in his system. However, his personal physician, prescriber, and enabler, Dr. George Nichopolous, aka “Needle Nick, declared that Elvis had died of “cardiac arrest.”

In 2007, a Beverly Hills pharmacy sued Michael Jackson alleging that he owed more than $100,000 for prescription drugs. Just before his death, he begrudgingly consented to a tour, hoping for financial and professional resurrection. His own personal physician and prescriber, Dr Conrad Murray. The public awaits complete autopsy results.

Meantime, the cause of death for the King of Pop is the standard for superstars: cardiac arrest. And again we see the tragic price of pop immortality. But American Idols will continue to crave as if it were salvation itself.

***

7. Fame: The Death Zone

 

Imagine the ghost of the King of Pop looking down on his countless investigators and coroners. Would he want the truth of his tragic demise revealed?

Like his father-in-law, Elvis, and so many other superstars, Michael Jackson had struggled mightily to keep his private life private. His death was the natural or unnatural result of how he lived that life: just as he had tried to avoid investigations, surely he would not have been an autopsy proponent.

So far, there have been two autopsies, and a third imminent.

With every living legend, in life and in death, there are two warring camps: the star and his image protectors versus the hounds who are fed by anonymous insiders. The truth is usually the first casualty in this war that soon deteriorates into wild accusations, denials, lawsuits, and sensationalism.

In life, the King of Pop was the object of three battles. The first involved his alleged molestation of children; the second, his rumored drug abuse; the third, the nature of his health. In the search for the true cause of his death, spin-controllers and the deep throats have locked horns.

Throughout his life, the Peter Pan of Pop himself seemed to have a Neverland conception of the truth even in matters of simple fact.

Regarding his radical change in appearance, he told the BBC’s Martin Rashid that he had only undergone two plastic surgeries. Otherwise, “I just changed!” he insisted. NBC’s Dateline medical expert and others declared, however, that fifty procedures would have been necessary for such a transformation.

Then came the skin color controversy. He and his doctor maintained he suffered from Vitiligo, a rare, congenital skin-lightening condition. However, his maid, Blanca Francia, asserted in an affidavit that he used powerful skin lightening creams (Solaquin, Benoquin, Fore, Retin A). “He hates dark-skinned people,” added another insider, Stacy Brown.

And what of his fair-complexioned children? He told an incredulous Bashir not only that he was the sperm-donor for the third, Blanket, but that the surrogate mother had been black as well.

As for the state of his own health, in recent years Jackson had often been seen in surgical masks, in wheelchairs, and – alarmingly gaunt – being carried by bodyguards. In 2001, he told his brothers, “I’ll be dead in a year.”

Was he aware of having a terminal condition even then?

In the mid-eighties, his doctors announced that Jackson had been diagnosed with Lupus, a serious immunological disease. Posthumously, insiders revealed that he had suffered from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare lung ailment. He’d been injected with pulmonary protein from human blood – commonly administered to AIDS patients. In his final years he suffered symptoms associated with that disease: headaches, vision loss, weight loss, hyperventilation, nausea, insomnia, mental disorientation.

In such a condition and after twelve years off-stage, the urgent question became: Could Michael Jackson ever perform again? There were two diametrically opposed answers.

“I can do this,” the singer allegedly told Randy Phillips, the promoter for his “comeback” performances at London’s O2 Arena, equipped with the state-of-the-art lip-synching technology. Phillips stated that the star passed a four-hour physical for the concerts’ insurer. Would the exam have revealed drug abuse? “Absolutely,” replied the promoter.

Jackson collapsed after his second rehearsal, but endured his last at L.A.’s Staple Center. Staging executive, Johnny Caswell, afterwards enthused: “He was energetic, passionate, diligent, excited… This guy was ready to go!”

The King of Pop died 36 hours later.

He had been “terrified” of the upcoming performances, a Jackson aide told biographer, Ian Halperin. “We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen,” the insider added. “I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but nobody believed he would end up performing.”

            Now a third and climactic battle is being waged over the King of Pop, as it has over many of his iconic predecessors: the drug war.

“From my heart, I just don’t know,” Jermaine Jackson told Larry King when asked if his brother had had a problem with controlled substances.

But Michael’s friends, Uri Geller and Deepak Chopra, did. And just as their own efforts to “save Michael from himself” had proved fruitless, so had those of Randy and Tito. The brothers had tried numerous times to force Michael to rehab, the last attempt shortly before his death. Didn’t they talk to Jermaine?

Another friend of the deceased, Lisa Minelli, had no illusions either. ‘When the autopsy comes, all hell’s going to break loose,” she said.

Two have come and gone. But hell has not broken loose, though the star’s body was found to be riddled with injection sites. A third autopsy is now being demanded by Katherine Jackson.

Why?

Is an autopsy, particularly of such a celebrity, not a carefully monitored and exhaustive scientific procedure performed by the best professionals in the field? Even if one had been incomplete or mishandled – two?

The Jacksons have urged yet another exam because they suspect “foul play.” By whom? Dr. Conrad Murray or Michael’s other personal physicians who allegedly, at his orders, injected him with narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and barbiturates? Or, at his orders, rendered him comatose with propofol, a general anesthesia for major surgery? Or could it be the foul play of his mercenary managers?

Autopsies do not reveal who. They reveal what: the drugs in the system and the pathology of the organs. On this basis they identify three things: immediate cause of death – in Jackson’s case suffocation and cardiac arrest; proximate cause – probably toxic drug interaction; and original, root cause – likely viral or immunological.

Almost certainly, the completed two autopsies have identified the three causes. Yet authorities say publication of the results will be delayed “indefinitely.” Why? Because few insiders, including the family, are likely to want any evidence disclosed which might compromise the star’s memory and legacy, much less royalties or insurance policies.

Meanwhile, the great question remains: who caused this tragedy? Was it truly a deceitful or negligent servant of the King of Pop? Or was it we, his fans, who kept him in a gilded cage where he could no longer hide, and elevated him to a height where he could no longer breathe?

 

 

 

 

 

KURT COBAIN: BOY, INTERRUPTED (Feb. 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994)

Kurt Cobain called himself “an extremely happy child” until the age of nine.

“Things just lay down before me,” the Gen-X godfather later recalled. “I didn’t have any problems. There were no obstacles.”

During this period, the boy believed he was an alien sent from another planet to study earthlings. His best friend was a fellow extraterrestrial by the name of “Boddah.” Amused by the fantasy at first, his parents set a place at the dinner table for Boddah. Finally, becoming concerned that their son wasn’t spending time with real children, they told him Boddah had gone missing in Vietnam.

Then, in 1976, Don Cobain, an auto mechanic, and Wendy, a homemaker, were divorced.

“I HATE MOM. I HATE DAD,” Kurt graffitied his bedroom wall.

Wendy won legal custody of her son and tried her best as a single parent. “I was totaled out on him,” she said. “My every waking hour was for him.”

Though a small, meek boy who hated sports, he became prone to violence and backtalk. Without friends, he adopted stray and wounded animals. Wendy took him to a psychologist who prescribed him Ritalin for his hyperactivity and tantrums. Finally at her wits end with the unmanageable boy, she sent him off to live in the trailer park with his father.

As my bones grew they did hurt. They hurt really bad, Kurt sang in “Serve the Servants.” I tried hard to have a father. But instead I had a dad.

Don Cobain could be an impatient disciplinarian. He had once thrown his misbehaved son, age 6, across the room. He was especially severe with the boy in public. Once when Kurt spilled his water glass at a restaurant, Don seized him by the head, rapping him with his knuckles. “Fuck him for that!” Kurt later told his biographer, Michael Azerrad. “Accidents weren’t allowed… we had to be perfect all the time.”

Still, deeply attached to his father, he begged him not to get remarried. To pacify the sensitive boy, Don promised, but broke his word. “… After that,” recalled Kurt. “I was one of the last things of importance.” He had little further contact with his father for the rest of his brief life.

Early on, the future Punk icon decided he was fated to be either a great artist or a rock musician. In kindergarten, he drew perfect Donald Ducks, Plutos, and other Disney characters. By early teens, he was producing lifelike vaginas, fetuses, and devils. Later, after an arrest for public drunkenness, he spent his jail time drawing nudes which he sold to fellow prisoners for masturbation. Kurt was also a graffiti artist, decorating buildings and shop fronts with guerilla haiku such as GOD IS GAY! ABORT CHRIST! and NIXON KILLED HENDRIX!

In high school, Cobain’s precocious art abilities led him to filmmaking. One of his Super-8 shorts was called Kurt Commits Bloody Suicide. In it he pretended to cut his wrists with a crushed soda can.

“I have suicide genes,” he told schoolmates.

Kurt’s genetic instability rivaled that of Elvis. Two of his fraternal great uncles had fatally shot themselves. A third great-uncle died of a cerebral hemorrhage after toppling drunk down a staircase. His maternal great-grandfather stabbed himself in the stomach in front of his family, and later perished in a mental hospital.

“I’m going to be a superstar musician, kill myself, and go out in a flame of glory,” Kurt told a friend after deciding that his future was not in art after all, but rock and roll. Not classic rock, not metal rock, but the kind of rock that expressed his entire childhood – the manic energy, the isolation, the rejection, the hurt.  The rage.

Shock-and-awe became the sturm and drang of Punk. In this Kurt was the maestro. He gobbed and pissed on fans; he smashed up guitars, tour buses and hotel suites; he paraded on stage in women’s lingerie and hospital gowns; and he did Manson-eyed photo-ops with revolvers in his mouth. With such stagecraft enlivening Grunge anthems such as “Smells like Teen Spirit,” he became the pied piper of the once voiceless X-generation.

Kurt Cobain dreamed of “going out in a flame of glory like Hendrix.” Instead of trying to his outgrow his painful childhood, he sought to embrace it. His only tattoo was a “K” inside a shield on his forearm. The K was for KAOS, his local Punk radio station which played the songs of the child-friendly K Records.

Explaining the significance of the tattoo, Kurt said, “It was just a nice reminder of innocence… To try to remind me to stay a child.”

He did so until age 27 when he joined his immortal predecessors in Club 27 – Hendrix, Janis, Morrison, and too many others. The young star was found lying with a shotgun, and next to his body, a suicide note addressed to Boddah.

“I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child,” the note ended to his imaginary boyhood friend. “I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Peace, love, empathy

THE DEATH OF KURT COBAIN: A STUDY IN DEMONOLOGY

LOVE

 I’m all I wanna be — a walking study in demonology.

“Celebrity Skin”

 “I might lie a lot, but never in my lyrics.”

Courtney Love

Twenty years ago, on March 4, Courtney Love tried to kill Kurt Cobain for the first time. So believes her own private detective, Tom Grant, as well as other scrupulous investigators.

The Nirvana frontman was in Rome at the time suffering from bronchitis, laryngitis, and exhaustion. On doctor’s orders, he had just cancelled the rest of his band’s 1994 European tour. His wife had been in London plugging her soon to be released Hole album, Live Through This. Mixing business with pleasure, Ms. Love had been sharing her suite with her lover, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.

When Courtney rendezvoused with the convalescing Kurt at Rome’s Excelsior Hotel, he presented her with a three-page letter. “It was mean to me… not really nice,” she later told her detective, Tom Grant. “It talked about getting a divorce.” It also mentioned cutting her out of his will and disbanding Nirvana.

Early the next morning, an ambulance sped from the Excelsior to Umberto Polyclinic hospital, bearing a fully made-up Ms. Love and a comatose Kurt. The star’s stomach was pumped and he awakened twenty hours later.

Dom Perignon and sixty hits of Rohypnol — the Date Rape drug — were found in Cobain’s system, usually a fatal dose. Before leaving for Rome, Ms. Love was interviewed by Select magazine in her London hotel room and had there a “a box of Rohypnol on her big mahogany table.” Popping some, she explained, “I got it from my doctor. It’s like Valium.”

Cobain’s treating physician in Rome, Dr. Osvaldo Galletta, told Wallace and Halperin, authors of Love and Death: “We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn’t look like one to me.”

Geffen Records, too, issued a statement that the incident was “accidental.”

Cobain confirmed this, but refused to discuss the incident further. In fact, his memory was likely impaired since Rohypnol overdoses commonly cause prolonged confusion and amnesia. “Cobain doesn’t know what happened to him,” Dr. Galletta confirmed at the time. “He hasn’t gained complete control of his memory.”

But if Courtney had slipped Kurt the drug, why then had she called the ambulance? By her own admission to Rolling Stone magazine, she found her husband comatose on the hotel room floor at 3 or 4 a.m. She did not call the ambulance until 6:30, and never provided an explanation for the delay. Earlier that morning Geffen Records had received a phone message from “a female identifying herself as Courtney saying Kurt was dead.”

Ms. Love’s former husband, “Falling James Moreland” — the self-described “Eddie Fisher of punk rock”– might have warned his successor about such marital misadventures. Their marriage was annulled after Ms. Love set his bed on fire while he was sleeping.

She could get uncontrollably violent,” Falling James told Wallace and Halperin. “She’s dangerous. She definitely has an evil side.”

On the rebound from James, Courtney had turned her attention to the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” star. Soon, a smitten Kurt was calling her “the coolest girl in the world,” and his ultimate diva fix — “my heroin.” Courtney seemed like a soulmate, her childhood a mirror of his – the early parent divorce, the homelessness, the drug abuse, the scrapes with the law.

After their wedding on a cliffside in Waikiki in ‘92, Rolling Stone asked Kurt the secret of their romance. “It’s like Evian water and battery acid,” he replied. “Mix them and you get love.”

But, when the champagne was mixed with the Rohypnol, the star got chemistry he apparently hadn’t expected.

Until Rome, he had admired his wife’s take-no-prisoners attitude. In an Oregon reform school, she had stabbed a girl “because I didn’t like her looks.” Later, when thinning the competition for Kurt’s heart, she had informed his girlfriend, Mary Lou Lord, “I’m gonna cut your head off and shove it up your ass.” As for others, “I’ll destroy anyone in my way. I’ll kill every lousy lay – Coz I got my eye on a Future Date,” she wrote in an early love couplet. Later, she narrowed this down to “five people in the world that, if I ever run into, I will f–king kill.”

Presumably, Kurt was confidant he wasn’t on this list when tying the knot with Ms. Love. But, two years later when waking up in the Rome ICU after cocktail hour with the coolest girl in the world, might he have begun to wonder?

By this time Kurt had discovered their fatal irreconcilable difference: fame. He hated it; she loved it – the limos, the mansions, the money. And now that he was filing for divorce and writing her out of his will, she had just two choices: she could become a poor, humiliated divorcee with a dying career; or she could become rich widow with a reborn career.

For “the girl with the most cake,” as Courtney called herself, this was really no choice at all. Besides, she’d made the choice years ago. “I’m gonna marry myself a rock star and kill him,” she had written in a letter to her father.

When the Roman doctors derailed her plan, she retreated and regrouped. “If he thinks he can get away from me that easily, he can forget it,” Mrs. Cobain told Spin magazine after her husband regained consciousness. “I’ll follow him through hell.”

And Hell it was for the last month of Kurt’s life in a Rohypnol daze.

Two weeks after he left the hospital and returned home to Seattle, he locked himself in his bathroom, escaping a raging Courtney. They’d been arguing about the divorce and the will again. His wife called 911, crying that he had a gun which he might turn on himself. He emerged from the locked room without a gun, but the police confiscated his house weapons anyway.

Kurt soon secured another gun for “protection,” explained the friend who bought it for him. He somehow felt unsafe in his own house. Hunted. Or was his paranoia just another after-effect of the Rohypnol OD?

Just before Easter, his lifeless body was found in the storage room above his garage. The new gun beside him bore no discernable fingerprints. Handwriting experts later found that the “suicide” note beside him was in part a forgery.

At the Sunday candlelight vigil for her husband, the widow Love read to his 7,000 mourners the part of the note about his not wanting to be a rock star anymore. “Shut up, bastard!” she cried. “Why didn’t you just enjoy it?”

Years later, the wealthy widow who had once conceded to her critics, “I might lie a lot, but never in my lyrics, wrote a popular tune called “Celebrity Skin.” I’m all wanna be, she sang, a walking study in demonology.

STATE OF THE ART: WHY VAN GOGH WOULD CUT BOTH EARS OFF TODAY

 

WHY VAN GOGH WOULD CUT BOTH EARS OFF TODAY

Contemporary art is governed by aesthetic anarchy.

The revolution began years ago when academic technique, fidelity to nature, and “beauty” were scraped in favor of subjectivism. The public now relies on critics to tell it what art is. Responding to the mandate, the critics have developed a dogma consisting of an arcane vocabulary which has become so incestuously self-enamored that it refers more to itself than the art. Still, the rhetoric gives an air of science and unimpeachable method to matters of taste.

Today’s artist must identify the personal aesthetic which defines his work. Among the many 20th century options — from Cubism to Constructivism, Fauvism to Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism to Post Painterly Abstraction, Pop to Op, Conceptual to post avant-garde — the artist searches for a common thread. S/he finds it in the New. All modern styles have shared a passion for progress. Burying the old, enshrining the New. The contemporary artist, therefore, attempts — unless s/he wishes to be dismissed as “unimportant” — to produce work which is, above all, “new.”

This imperative presents daunting problems, practically no less than philosophically. To the extent that innovation challenges prevailing aesthetic dogma, it is often initially condemned as an aberration, and its authors as impostors. Van Gogh, Picasso and Braque, Kandinsky and Mondrian, Pollack and de Kooning were less than the toast of the town when fathering Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism. But more recently, by way of contrast, Johns, Warhol, Stella, Schnabel, Koons have enjoyed christenings at Studio 54 for Neo-Dada, Post Painterly Abstraction, Pop, and the Transavantgarde.

The first group changed art at the center, challenging popular culture and threatening dogma, creating the New. The second played with the surface, welcoming popular culture and inveigling dogma, creating novelty.

Artists’ ambitions have, in turn, influenced their aesthetics. Modernists, content to survive, explored the unknown. Pops, craving attention, attended cocktail parties. And now post-modernists, wanting sensation, devise promo strategies in hope of inspiring another rebel-artist or auteur personality cult.

Somewhere in this process, as the new has been replaced by novelty, doctrinaire has unseated legitimate aesthetics.

The doctrines of the original modern art movements — whether composed by poets and intellectuals (Appollinaire, Mallarme, Breton, etc.); critics (Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg); or the artists themselves (Kandinsky, Klee, Motherwell, etc) — defined and systematized a new aesthetic, put it in the context of art history, and, generally, made its work seem more like methodical experiment than autism. In short, the doctrines functioned, simultaneously, as tools of education and tools of propaganda.

With the advent of Pop, however, doctrine, in an attempt to disguise the vogue of substancelessness and petty novelty, has become more important than the art which it endeavors to justify, making one wonder which is the real issue. Second, it has become more propaganda than education. Third, regarding education, it is larded with art school buzz words which have little relation to the work itself, or, in any case, no cash-in value.

Contemporary doctrine and criticism are stunning for their flatulence. The issues of  “frontality”, “flatness”, “edge”, “scale”, “plasticity”, “painterliness”, “pictoral space”, “compression of motif”, “metaphysical multivalence of parts”, and “optical fibrillation” are debated. We are subjected to dissection of an artist’s “voice”, “iconography”, “diction of line”, “dialectic of color”, “the rhetoric of his brushstrokes”, and ultimately his “Zeitgeist”. If Rauschenberg or Johns come up, Kiefer or Baselitz, Salle or Fischl, or any other member of the postmodern pantheon, their pictoral space is invariably compared to that of Poussin, Caravaggio, Ingres, Delacroix, Vermeer, Valaquex, or Pierro della Francesca.

In short, current doctrine has a way of distorting the subject by both over-complicating and over-simplifying it, and artists of today must take especial care not to be seduced by the fashion critics of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Art is above all, both in the creation and the observation, a living experience which loses meaning and impact to the extent that one attempts to explicate it, much less throw vocabulary at its mysteries in hopes of revelation. When a real practitioner is in front of a canvas the furthest thing from his mind is “frontality,” “pictoral space,” “rhetoric of brushstrokes,” or his “Zeitgeist.. He is an animal rediscovering instinct, the more primitive the better. It is no mistake that one of the most brilliant movements of the century was that of the Fauves, “the wild beasts.”

But, in the end, as Dutch expressionist, Asger Jorn, once observed: “There is no such thing as different styles, and never was. Style is the expression of a bourgeois content, and its various nuances are what we call taste.”

 

WHAT IS GREAT ART?

IMG_1709

WHAT IS GREAT ART?

Every artist strives to produce quality work according to his or her personal standards of what great art is.

Inspired by the masters — Bosch, Breugel, El Greco, Grunewald, Rembrandt. Corot, Van Gogh, Utrillo, Modigliani, Munch, Nolde, Corinth, Kokoschka. Rouault, Sautine, Vlaminck, Ensor, Picasso, Klee, Kline, de Kooning, Rothko, Dubuffet, — these are my standards of great art:

  • Great art revitalizes perception by returning to objects what our intellect steals from them: magic.
  • Great art reveals a vision; mediocre art showcases a technique.
  • Great art has the power and inevitability of a force of nature. It is never merely an manipulation of materials for a novel or whimsical effect.
  • Great art has no subject matter outside itself. It creates and occupies its own universe, and contains all the tools necessary for its own understanding. It needs no comment or “explanation” because the image itself is its own comment and its own explanation.
  • Great art states nothing, implies everything.
  • Great art is an equation of form: it poses a problem of line and color, and shows the process of solution or unsolveability.
  • Great modern art is an order of disorder, a method to madness. It catches the animal, but lets him run free at the same time.
  • A concentrated form of energy, great art operates according to the laws of nuclear physics — gravity, mass, relativity.
  • Superseding aesthetic schools, vogue and propoganda, great art is a unique synthesis of the four ways of seeing: impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, and abstract.

•   Great art has the power and inevitability of a force of nature. It is never merely an assemblage or manipulation of materials for a fortuitous, “novel” effect.

• Great art is obligated to enrich the observer’s sensibility. Putting a pedestal under an already existing object — natural or from the streets — does not fulfill this obligation.

• Great art is characterized by ambition. It is always far out on the limb: desperate, passionate, dependent on miracles. Bad art — glib, facile, and without edge — never ventures beyond the narrow circumference of its technique.

•   Great art has nothing to do with art school buzz words and concepts — “plasticity,” “painterliness,” “motif,” “narration,” “iconography,” “diction of line,” “Zeitgeist,” etc. As Barnett Newman said: “Art criticism is as useful to an artist as ornitholigy is to a bird.”

•   Great artists produce. Pretenders pontificate.

THE MASTERS SPEAK

 GAUGUIN

 – On the whole, in painting, one should look more for suggestion than for descriptions.

-Color, which is vibration, just as music, is able to attain what is most general and yet most vague in nature: its interior force.

-The artist must take nature’s elements and create a new element.

 

CEZANNE

-Never the brain’s logic: but the logic of the eyes. If the artist feels correctly, he will think correctly.

-Painting is, first of all, optical. That’s where the material of our art is: in what our eyes think. Nature always shows us what she means.

-We are an iridescent chaos.

 

MATISSE

-Being an artist is a matter of learning, and perhaps relearning, the language of writing by lines. Artistic creation acquires quality only when it comes up against difficulties.

-Color helps to explain light. I do not refer to the physical phenomenon of light but, rather, the only kind of light that truly exists, that of the mind of the artist.

-An avalanche of colors never has any force. Color attains its full expression only when it is organized, when it corresponds to the intensity of the artist’s emotions.

 

JEAN DUBUFFET

-As for myself, I hold in high esteem the values of savagery: instinct, passion, capriciousness, violence, and delirium

-Painting is a much more spontaneous and direct language than spoken words. It is nearer to a cry or a dance.

-Ideas are but a faint puff of air. It is when visions disappear that ideas emerge along with the blind fish of their waters, the intellectual.

-Art should not announce itself. It should emerge unexpectedly, by surprise.

  

ROGER BISSIERE

-In art, mathematics must be subordinate to phantoms. The good painter is the painter who buries a color every day.

-The hand must venture into the unknown, it must remain alive to the danger it is courting, it must sense the brink.

-A painting is the image of someone, a projection of the person in his entirety, devoid of lies or hesitation, with his flaws and assets alike. Painting can brook no lies. 

 

ANTONI TAPIES

-I cannot conceive of an artist who is not in the midst of an adventure.

GEORGE BRAQUE

-I like the rule that keeps emotion in check. One cannot always hold one’s hat in one’s hand. This is why hangers were invented. As for myself, I have found painting to be a means of hanging up my ideas.

-The picture is complete when the idea is obliterated.

 -The artist who no longer encounters any resistance approaches perfection. But only a technical perfection.

-With age, art and life become one.

 

ASGER JORN

 -It is a question of penetrating the entire cosmic system of laws that govern the rhythms, the energies, and the substance that make up the world’s reality, from the ugliest to the most beautiful — everything that cries out to us: this is life itself. In order to express everything, we must know everything.

-There is no such thing as different syles, and never was. Style is the expression of a bourgeois content, and its various nuances are what we call taste.

 RENE MAGRITE

-Too often, by a twist of thought, we tend to reduce what is strange to what is familiar. I endeavor to restore the familiar to the strange.

-The mysterious is not just one of the possibilities of the real. The mysterious is what is absolutely necessary for the real to exist.

-I always try to make painting something that will not be noticeable, something that is the least visible possible — on the verge of disappearing

 

PICASSO

-If one knows exactly what one is going to do, what is the sense of doing it? Since one knows it, it has no value.

-What is terrible today is that nobody speaks ill of anyone. If we believe what we read, everything is fine. Nobody kills anybody anymore, everything is equivalent, nothing is thrown on the ground.

 

ARTIST STATEMENTS: Painting, Sculpture, Cont. Furniture

 

GENERAL STATEMENT

Today’s artist is obliged to identify the personal aesthetic which defines his work. Among the many 20th century options — from Cubism to Constructivism, Pop to Op, Conceptual to post avantgarde, etc. — he finds a single common thread: the New. The modern artist, unless he is resigned to being dismissed as derivative and therefore “unimportant,” strives to produce work which is, above all, “new.”

But after a century of unprecedented artistic inquiry and innovation, is it possible to produce work that is truly new? Has everything been done? At what point does an aesthetic reorganization or synthesis become so radical and systematic — Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction — that a truly new art form is born? Can today’s artist hope to conceive comparable new forms? If so, will his innovations be identified empirically, on the surface of the work ; or intuitively, by what is at the heart ?

The doctrines of the original modernists — whether composed by poets and intellectuals (Appollinaire, Mallarme, Breton, etc.); critics (Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg); or the artists themselves (Kandinsky, Klee, Motherwell, etc) — defined and systematized a new aesthetic, put it in the context of art history, and, generally, made its work seem more like methodical experiment than autism. In short, the doctrines functioned as both tools of education and tools of propaganda.

Since that time, the critics have developed a dogma and arcane vocabulary which has become so self-enamored that it refers more to itself than the art. We are subjected to dissection of an artist’s “voice”, “iconography”, “diction of line”, “dialectic of color”, “the rhetoric of his brushstrokes”, and ultimately his “Zeitgeist”.

As Barnett Newman said: “Art criticism is as useful to an artist as ornithology is to a bird.” So, in the end, we must consult the founders of 20th century art to find out what it is all about.

“Never the brain’s logic: but the logic of the eyes. That’s where the material of our art is: in what our eyes think.” Cezanne.

“The picture is complete when the idea is obliterated.” Braque.

“Good painters don’t know what they think until they paint it.” Motherwell.

“What you do when you paint, you take a brush full of paint, get paint on the picture, and you have faith.” de Kooning.

In short, current doctrine has a way of distorting the subject by both over-complicating and over-simplifying it, and artists of today must take especial care not to be seduced by academic commentary, especially when it plugs their inventions.

For me, art both in the creation and the observation, is a living experience which loses meaning and impact to the extent that one attempts to explicate it, much less throw empty terminology at its mysteries.

The roots of modernism are found in Africa, New Guinea, and the caves of  Lascaux. All elements of perception are united in the work of primitives: the object itself, the subject’s emotion, psychology, and metaphysics. An aboriginal work is the result of a spell cast on the artist by nature which is simultaneously impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, and abstract.

Where contemporary art has splintered into movements and counter-movements which have explored each of these facets microscopically, the art of the future must move toward synthesis. Indeed, Baselitz, Kiefer, Schnabel and other members of the current Transavantgarde are already on this path.

Similarly, I regard my own work as a synthetic. Primitive to the extent that it tends to the animistic. Medieval to the extent that it tends to the hierarchical, allegorical, religious. Expressionist to the extent that it is hermetic, violent, extremist. Surrealist to the extent that it is hallucinatory, rooted in the Unconscious. And abstract to the extent that it is metaphysical.

 

PAINTING

starry night

An extension of Abstract Expressionist color field painting, my technique was born while I was experimenting with the application of enamels, resins and solvents on melamine board, vinyl floor tile, sheet metals, glass. I found that pigment “cocktails” (both spirit and water-based) applied in monochrome layers will, under certain conditions, blossom or exfoliate within one another when solvents are introduced. Kaleidoscopic effects result which are reminiscent of both microscopic images (viruses, bacteria) and macroscopic (stars, planets, constellations).

With unorthodox paint mixtures and applications, I try to achieve the brilliant richness and depth of glasswork, cloisonné, and high-fire ceramics. As with ceramics, every work is unpredictable and one-of-a-kind due to the many variables involved: the “ground,” the glazes, means and timing of applications, heat, humidity, curing procedure.

My larger compositions are puzzle-like assemblies of these “color tiles” with other luminous materials: acrylite, exotic hardwoods, brushed aluminum and stainless steel. Smaller, solitaire pieces include decoupaged and overpainted fragments from Renaissance masterpieces, as well as my own surrealist watercolor portraits.

I try to create never-before-seen works of imagination. Work that is not merely novel, but – technically and conceptually — truly individual and new.  Art should revitalize perception by returning to it what our intellect steals: magic. In other words, beauty. Simply put, when I paint I hope to capture this magical natural beauty.

 

SCULPTURE

lazarus2

Mine is the art of creating skeletons of imaginary creatures. In this I am inspired by the magic of African primitives, the minimalism of Modigliani and Giocommeti, and the mysterious biomorphs of Henry Moore. My intent is to create gracefully sensuous yet ethereal structures – incarnate ghosts, if you will.

Bone is the ultimate sculptural material for this art. Not only is it the perfect marriage of form and function, it is a one-of-a-kind interplay of stark, subtly-hued surfaces and planes. In short, it is classically beautiful, pure, enduring.  To my knowledge, few contemporary artists are using unadorned bone as a medium of sculptural assembly.

I gather bones from the wild. The seasoned remains of cattle, deer and whale are cut, carved, reshaped, and then joined using steel pins and epoxy compounds.  A structure of a reincarnated creature evolves: a vertebra or pelvis becomes a honeycombed head; jawbones and ribs become legs; shoulder blades become torsos. After assembly, the sculptures are sanded and burnished to an ivory luster. The weathered, variegated whites are complemented and accentuated by ebony and other exotic hardwoods, black and clear acrylite, stainless steel, and travertine marble.

The most powerful art is not an effect or pop manipulation, but a force of nature like rain, wind, thunder. I try to revive these bones in structures which seem created not by hand but by the elements themselves.

 

FURNITURE

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My furniture design is inspired by the marriage of the classical and the contemporary. Most of my pieces combine exotic hardwoods with steel and/or acrylic. I try to orchestrate the dramatic hues and grain patterns of highly figured tropical woods such as cocobolo, bloodwood, zebrawood, purpleheart, and others.

Generally, my woodwork is  sculptural and minimalist. I avoid unnecessary detail or superfluous decoration. Less is more. I work mostly with hand tools. I use no jigs, templates, schematic drawings. Each piece is one-of-a-kind. Trial and experiment is involved in every creation.

My inspirations and tastes are eclectic – from African primitives, to the Shakers, the Bauhaus, Mackintosh, Eames, and contemporary Italian. But above all, I strive for the unique, elegant, and timeless. In short, to make my craft an art.

DAVID COMFORT: ARTIST RESUME

DAVID COMFORT

EDUCATION

1971 Bachelor of Arts.  Reed College, Portland, Oregon

 

SOLO EXHIBITION

2002-2013 ART TRAILS OPEN STUDIOS,  Santa Rosa, California

1996 Blooming Art. Sacramento, California

1991-92 Taylor Art Gallery. Carmichael, California

1979-80 Huntress Gallery. Newport Beach, California.

1975-7 The Art Gallery. Portland, Oregon

 

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2006                        “Transitions” – Seb. Center for Arts. Honorable Mention.

2006                        “Journeys” – Sebastapol Center for Arts

2006                        “Born of Fire” – Sebastapol Center for Arts (Judge: Joe Hawley, SFSU)

2005                      World Council for the Arts, International juried show. San Francisco, CA.

(Purchase Award Finalist. Judge: Marian Parmenter SFMA)

2005                  Virginia Breier Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Art furniture show.

2005                 Crocker/Kingsley Exhibition – Crocker Museum, Sacramento, CA

(one of sixty, from field of 2,500 entries. Judge: Mel Ramos)

2003-2005            “Artistry in Wood.” Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, CA

2004                        “Triptych/Diptych” show – Healdsburg Arts Center (honorable mention)

2003                        “Sculpture” – Sebastapol Center for Arts (Judge: Manuel Neri)

2003                        American Craft Council Show, San Francisco, CA

2003                        Sausalito Arts Festival, Sausalito, CA

2003                        “Fortune” show – Sonoma County Cultural Arts gallery

2002                        California State Fair – Award of Excellence (one of ten,of 7,500 applicants)

2000                        “Driven to Abstraction” show: Sebastapol Center for the Arts

2000                        SoFo II Gallery (Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County) –

“Seeing Red” show

1999                        SoFo II Gallery (Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County) –

“Bizarre Bazaar” show

 

TELEVISION

2006      Home and Garden TV. “Look What I Did!” show, featuring art furnishings and outdoor installations. (aired on HGTV in 2007)

THE KING & HIS SON-IN-LAW: Elvis Presley & Michael Jackson

LIL'ELVIS

ELVIS:

THE LONELY BIRTHDAY BOY

Sixty-four years ago, January 8, 1946, Gladys Presley gave her beloved only son a guitar for his 11th birthday. The high-spirited boy had wanted a bicycle, but his ever-protective mother had feared he might hurt himself.

A decade later, Elvis rehearsed “Heartbreak Hotel” on his birthday and, two days later, recorded it at RCA Studios in Nashville. The tune became the biggest hit of 1956, turning the former Crown Electric truck driver into the King of Rock and Roll himself.

Thomas Durden, a Nashville steel-guitarist, had composed the historic song after reading a Miami Herald story about a man who had killed himself over a lost love. His suicide note simply read: “I walk lonely street.”

“Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell,” sang Elvis. “It’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.”

After the release of his birthday song, the young King – every man’s envy and every girl’s dream – seemed the least lonely mortal in the world.

Then, in 1958, his lost his mother. “Please don’t take my baby away!” he had sobbed, throwing himself over her coffin and refusing to let go. “She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.” Then as she was lowered to her resting place,  “Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I lived my whole life just for you.”

Later, Elvis said, “I lost the only person I ever loved.”

At last his grief subsided when he met Priscilla Beaulieus. His family and friends marveled at how the beautiful 14-year-old ingénue resembled Gladys in her own youth.

Priscilla became what she called Elvis’s “Pygmalion.” “He relished the role of recreating me,” she later wrote. “Like a sculptor, he could shape my image and design my demeanor in ways that would bring him delight.”

After an eight-year courtship, the King at last tied the knot with his completed creation. “I’ll give you Elvis’s relationship with her in a nutshell,” later wrote his Man Friday, Lamar Fike. “You create a statue. And then you get tired of looking at it.”

But that wasn’t all. Elvis had confided to other friends that he could not consummate with a mother. Within a year of the marriage, Priscilla had given birth to their daughter, Lisa Marie. By this time Elvis was calling her “Satnin,” his nickname for his satin-skinned mother.

On his 37th birthday, the King announced that Priscilla was leaving Graceland and taking Lisa Marie with her. On his 39th birthday, he signed the final divorce papers.

Perhaps then he recalled “I Was the One,” the flipside of “Heartbreak Hotel.”  Though he taught her how to kiss and how to cry, he sang, “I’ll never know who taught her to lie. Now that it’s over and done, who learned the lesson when she broke my heart?  I was the one.”

Elvis had been repeatedly unfaithful to Priscilla, driving her at last into the arms of her karate instructor.

The King burned with jealousy. Though almost any other woman could still be his, he now walked lonely street. He moved his fans to tears with his other laments – Just Call Me Mr. Lonesome, Are You Lonesome Tonight? Lonely Man, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

In signing the divorce on his birthday, surely he hoped for a new beginning. But on his birthday the next year, Walter Cronkite, flashing a recent photo, announced on the Six o’Clock News: “Elvis – fat and 40!”

The King collapsed and had to be carried to his bedroom. Weeks later he was checked into Baptist Memorial as “Aaron Silvie.” Here he underwent a second narcotic detox.

When once asked his secret for looking so young, Elvis had replied, “Vitamin E!”

In the last twenty months of his life, he was written 12,000 prescriptions for pills & injectibles – mostly narcotics. Eleven different kinds were found in his system by the coroner. The King died of a massive overdose.

Shortly before the tragedy, he’d phoned his long-lost friend and bodyguard, Red West. By this time he had lost not only his mother and his wife, but many of his old friends. “I feel terribly alone, like that Number 8,” he told Red.

A long time student of Cheiro’s numerology, Elvis, due to his birthday, identified himself as a Number 8 person. “These people… feel intensely lonely at heart,” wrote Cheiro. “… They are either great successes or great failures, and often face the very greatest sorrows and losses.”

Weeks after Elvis’s last birthday, he gave a $70,000 engagement ring to the stunning young Ginger Alden. “She didn’t give a rat’s ass about him,” said Lamar Fike. Soon Elvis seemed to realize this, even suspecting that she was having an affair with his step-brother, David.

The King’s fiancée was the one who found his body on the bathroom floor. Before she alerted his father and the Graceland staff, she placed a call to the Enquirer.

 

***

“THERE GOES MY EVERYTHING”

ELVIS & GLADYS: RIP

 In 1934, Vernon Presley, age 18, recalled blacking out at the instant of his son’s conception; then, regaining consciousness, he had seen the night sky thronged with brilliant blue stars. Elvis Aron’s twin brother, Jesse Garon, was stillborn. The future King’s God-fearing mother, Gladys –- who herself almost died in the delivery — believed he had inherited Jesse’s soul, and was “the One.”

Years later, Gladys would suffer a miscarriage, making her all the more protective of her only surviving child.

“My mama never let me out of her sight,” said Elvis.

Vernon told biographer, Peter Guralnick (Last Train to Memphis): “He never spent a night away from home until he was seventeen. The three of us formed our own private world.”

The security of that world was shattered when Vernon was convicted of check fraud on a hog sale and was sent Parchman, the most medieval of the Mississippi penitentiaries. Her husband’s imprisonment galvanized Gladys’s obsessive fear that loved ones could without warning be taken from her or senselessly stricken down.

When she was 18, her father, Bob, died suddenly of pneumonia. Months after the birth of Elvis, her mother, Doll, was claimed by tuberculosis. Her parents had been first cousins. Many of her other siblings were stricken with mental and physical disabilities. Gladys, Vernon, and Elvis were sleepwalkers and all suffered from terrifying nightmares of impending doom.

Gladys Presley had once been a vivacious and fun-loving party girl and buck dancer. But, after all the family losses, protecting her only son became her life. She slept with Elvis until he was thirteen. For his eleventh birthday, Elvis had wanted a bicycle but, fearing that he might get run over on the way to school, Gladys gave him a guitar instead.

Elvis called his satin-skinned mother “Satnin” and the two communicated in a babytalk no one else could understand. “Elvis saw his parents as his ‘babies,’” recalled his friend and future manager, Lamar Fike (Elvis and the Memphis Mafia). “He called his mother his baby.”

In 1953, Elvis, now a truck driver for Crown Electric, gave Satnin a special birthday gift: his first recording, “My Happiness,” for which he paid the studio $2. The next year, “That’s Alright, Mama” put him on the charts and soon he was rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Long before, reported Elaine Dundy (Elvis and Gladys), he and Satnin had marveled at a Memphis mansion on one of their walks to school. “Mama,” he told her, “some day I’m gonna buy you a house just like that!”

In 1957, he gave her Graceland, plus a pink Cadillac though she couldn’t drive.

Gladys had never known anything but shotgun shacks, jalopies and public housing. When her father died, her family couldn’t afford a marker or a winding sheet. When Elvis was born, Welfare paid the doctor’s $15 delivery fee. Now, to be under the same magnificent roof at Graceland with her boy was like a dream come true. But, the dream soon became one of her nightmares.

“After Elvis became famous, Gladys was never happy another day,” remembered her best friend, Lillian. “She never had peace no more.”

When her son was touring, as he always seemed to be now, the fans mobbed and tore at him. She forbade him to fly airplanes after his chartered prop lost an engine over the Ozarks and crash-landed. So he drove to all his gigs, but she feared he’d have a fatal accident. “If you don’t slow down, you won’t live to 30!” she warned him.

One night Gladys suddenly bolted out of bed and cried to Vernon, “I see our boy – he’s in a blazing car!” The next day, Elvis called her from Texarcana and said his rented Cadillac had burst into flames and he’d narrowly escaped.

The overwrought, now alcoholic Gladys started popping pills to sleep, speed to wake up, and greater quantities of vodka to cope. When Elvis returned to Graceland, he would shower her with gifts but even the most extravagant now left her cold.

“Mama, what do you want?” pleaded Elvis.

“For you to say home, baby!” Gladys would cry.

During one of his absences, a friend of the family, Frank Richards, dropped by Graceland for the first time and said to Elvis’ mother: “I guess you must be about the happiest woman in the world!”

“You got it wrong,” she said. “I’m the most miserable woman in the world… I’m guarded. I can’t buy my own groceries. I can’t see my neighbor.”

Soon after moving to Graceland, her son received a draft notice from the Army. Remembering how her cousin, Junior, had lost his mind in Korea and massacred innocents, she begged Elvis not to go. But he felt it his duty.

After he left for Basic Training, Gladys suddenly died of cirrhosis of the liver. She was buried on August 16, 1958.

“Please don’t take my baby away!” Elvis sobbed, throwing himself over her coffin and refusing to let go, as detailed by biographer Charles L. Ponce de Leon. “She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.” Then as she was lowered to her resting place,  “Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I lived my whole life just for you!”

Later, the King of Rock and Roll would say of his mother. “I lost the only person I ever loved.” Her death was the greatest tragedy in his life. From that day on, according to his friends, he became an utterly different person.

“Basically, Elvis’ personality was that of Gladys’,” Lamar wrote. “There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them.”

In 1975, Vernon Presley suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Elvis occupied the next bed, detoxing from another near fatal narcotic overdose. He and his father had grown apart since Gladys’ passing, largely due to Vernon’s brief mourning and hasty remarriage. For Vernon’s part, something had been burning in his chest all these years. That day in hospital, he suddenly spit it out. “You worried your mama right into the grave!”

“Elvis broke down and cried,” remembered his cousin, Billy Smith. “It about killed him.”

Two years later, The King of Rock and Roll fatally overdosed himself. The date was August 16 — the very same day he had buried his beloved mother nineteen years before and inconsolably wept, “Oh, God, everything I have is gone!”

 

***

KING OF ROCK/ PRINCE OF POP

THE STRAIGHT DOPE

 

After his landslide reelection in 1968, President Richard Nixon decided to extend an olive branch to America’s disaffected youth, hoping to show them he wasn’t quite as unhip and belligerent as thought. Having identified youth drug abuse as America’s “Number 1 Problem,” he hoped to thaw the generational cold war by rapping with a rock star.

In April, 1969, his press secretary, Ron Zeigler, invited Jimi Hendrix to the White House for a Fireside Chat. The guitarist’s manager, Mike Jeffery, formerly a British MI6 spy/assassin, turned the offer down without informing Jimi who, at the time was finishing his last tour with the Experience. Weeks later, Hendrix was busted for heroin possession in Toronto. By the end of the year – due to the bust and his association with the Black Panthers — the star earned himself a place on the Nixon’s “Security Index,” a list of celebrity “subversives” to be rounded up and placed in detainment camps in the event of a national emergency.

The two prime candidates for the Voodoo Child’s replacement were now James  Douglas Morrison and Janis Lyn Joplin. The son of the Navy’s youngest admiral, Jim –named after General Douglas MacArthur himself — seemed a likely candidate in spite of the being a draft dogger, a cop baiter, and a loose canon. But that spring of 1969 the “Erotic Politician” scandalized all decent Americans by allegedly exposing himself at a Miami concert. Supporting the guardians of national decency –Jackie Gleason, Pat Boone, and Anita Bryant, the orange juice queen — Nixon condemned the singer.

So that just left Janis. Coincidentally, the Queen of the Blues was to grace the cover of that April 7 Newsweek. But bad luck struck again. Nixon’s predecessor, President Eisenhower, suffered a fatal heart attack days before and bumped her from the cover.

“Motherfucker!” exclaimed Janis publicly. “Fourteen heart attacks and the son of a bitch has to croak in my week. MY week!”

Discouraged, Nixon backburnered the idea of a détente summit with a rock idol. Then, at last, a stroke of luck: at Christmastime, 1970, he received a handwritten note from the King of Rock and Roll himself. In it, Elvis denounced the Beatles and Jane Fonda, and offered his services as “ambassador to America’s troubled youth.” Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had both fatally OD’d only months before.

So the President was only too happy to invite the King to the Oval Office for an impromptu summit….

 

Elvis arrived decked out in a black suede jumpsuit and his Captain Marvel cape festooned with gold chains. The ensemble was accessorized with amber aviator shades disguising his Revlon eye-shadow and mascara.

“You dress pretty wild, don’t you?” ventured the Quaker chief executive as an icebreaker.

“Mr. President,” responded the heavily medicated King, “you got your show to run, I got mine.”

The two proceeded to discuss the scourge of drugs ravaging America’s youth. For some time now, the King had been taking liquid cocaine for performances, and massive quantities of narcotics throughout the day. As for the President, he had a bourbon monkey on his back, as well as a soft spot for Dilantin, a drug usually administered to epileptics, but which he found helpful for his nerves, his mood swings, and depression.

After the meeting of minds, both shook hands for a photo-op before a bank of American flags. Then Nixon give Elvis a federal narcotics agent badge which for the King – who carried 40 honorary precinct badges from around the nation – was a true jewel in his crown. In exchange, Elvis – who had just dropped $20,000 on firepower that Christmas — gave Tricky Dick a commemorative Colt .45 revolver.

The singer later laid a Colt .357 snubnose on Spiro Agnew who had visited him four years ago on the set of Spinout. But the vice-president — who would resign due to income tax evasion — turned the piece down on principle. Elvis also tried to offer his services to the man whom he considered “the greatest living American”: J. Edgar Hoover. The cross-dressing FBI head, however, refused the King an audience due his “exotic dress” and the length of his hair.

When the King returned to Graceland with his trophy narc badge, his kid step-brother, David Stanley, asked how much he had paid for it.

“That’s not funny!” snapped Elvis. “I am the ears and eyes of President Richard Nixon!” Then he broke out his artillery, mustered The Guys – the Memphis Mafia – and told them, “All these dope smoking hippies should be arrested!”

He ordered David to draw up a list of all the dealers at his Memphis high school, then he called his friends at the MPD and had them send over rap sheets of the other pushers in town. But soon he was back on the road and never got around to collaring anybody.

He did, however, shoot his own primary care pusher, Dr. George Nichopolous. When Dr. Nick threatened to cut back on his narcotic injections, the King pulled his piece and sprayed his hotel suite. One slug ricocheted off the TV and wound up in Nick’s chest.

“Son, good God almighty!” cried his father, Vernon. “What in the world made you do a thing like that?”

The loaded King snickered: “Aw, hell, daddy, so I shot the doc. No big deal. He’s not dead.”

But the President Nixon’s eyes and ears gave his pusher a gold Mercedes for the inconvenience.

 

            On May 14, 1984, Michael Jackson visited the White House to accept an “appreciation plaque” from President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole. The honor was a token of gratitude to the King of Pop for donating his Beat It as background music for the administration’s Just Say No and drunk driving campaign advertisements.

Five months earlier, the pop star had suffered burns during a pyrotechnic Pepsi video shoot. Afterward he began taking painkillers which escalated into narcotic abuse. The soft drink giant paid $1.4 million for the accident. Though formerly a teetotaler and strict Jehovah’s Witness, the Beat It star began to fill his Pepsi cans with what he called “Jesus Juice.”

“Isn’t this a Thriller!” declared President Reagan on the South Lawn that bright spring afternoon, beaming at the King of Pop and the 2,000 guests, reminding all of the unprecedented eight Grammies the album had recently garnered. “Michael is proof of what a person can accomplish through a lifestyle free of alcohol or drug abuse,” he continued.

Indeed, the former actor had prospered from his own sobriety, indulging only in a sip for state occasions or for the Eucharist on Sundays at the First Presbyterian.

Like his father-in-law, Elvis, whom President Nixon had decorated fourteen years before, Michael donned his Sunday best that afternoon. In stunning contrast to Reagan’s own staid navy blue suit and the First Lady’s gold-buttoned Adolfo ensemble, the King of Pop sported a sequined cobalt blue parade military doublet with gold sash and epaulets, accessorized by his signature white rhinestone glove.

The White House ceremony for the star went smoothly until it moved indoors to the Diplomatic Reception Room. Michael took one peek inside, then suddenly fled to the Presidential Library bathroom, his handlers hurrying after him in confusion. When the singer did not emerge for several moments, they began to knock urgently on the locked bathroom door begging him to return to the festivities.

“Not till you clear all of those adults out!” came a cry.

A full seventy-five grown-ups – the president’s cabinet, plus other statesmen and dignitaries – were anxiously waiting to meet the King of Pop in the Diplomatic Room. He had apparently been promised their children, not them.

“Done!” cried his retainers. So they hurried back, evacked the reception area and quickly mustered some official kids – Chief of Staff, James Baker’s, little six-year-old, Mary, the first.

Michael’s own chief of staff, Norman Winter, hustled back to the bathroom door. “OK, you can come out now, Mike,” he called.

“Are you sure?” demanded his employer. Michael had been prone to panic attacks for some time, and was now Beating It with downers and his Pepsi Jesus Juice.

“Sure!” Winter assured him.

The King of Pop emerged warily and allowed himself to be shouldered back to the reception area. To his relief, the room was now empty except for a handful of saucer-eyed children and the Transportation head herself who prevailed on him to sign her copy of Thriller.

Then the King, the kids, and Ms. Dole proceeded to the Roosevelt Room to rendezvous with the First Couple.

While Michael played with the children here, Nancy Reagan took a bodyguard aside and discreetly inquired about his boss’s surgery. She said she could see that he’d had his nose done, but was wondering if he’d had eye and cheekbone work too. The aide smiled sphinx-like.

“It’s all so peculiar, really,” mused the Just Say No First Lady. “A boy who looks just like a girl.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” replied the King’s man who now looked like he needed some Jesus Juice himself.

 

 

***

MICHELVIS:

When The Two Kings Became One

 

 “The way Elvis destroyed himself interests me, because

I don’t ever want to walk those grounds myself.”

Michael Jackson, Moon Walk (1988)

 

But apparently the King of Pop changed his mind about The King of Rock, the father-in-law he never met.

In MySpace, Lisa Marie Presley, recalled how one day in 1993, her husband told her “with an almost calm certainty, ‘I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did.” The King’s daughter concluded: “The exact scenario I saw happen on August 16th, 1977, happened again with Michael just as he predicted.

Who else might have foreseen that such a bright star, in his attempt to surpass even Elvis, would become so much like him that he would suffer the same tragic fate?

From the beginning of his career at age 6, “I dreamed of creating the biggest-selling record of all time,” Michael wrote. He achieved this goal in 1984 with his historic Thriller. But his appetite for the throne was only whetted.

“If Elvis is supposed to be the King, what about me?” he would often say. Then, in 1989, after his chart-topping Bad, Michael was proclaimed the “King of Pop.” But he still felt he hadn’t surpassed the King of Rock.

“The most important thing to him was his legacy,” declared his longtime manager, Bob Jones. “He feared the fates of Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr…. Michael desired to be remembered and worshipped like Elvis.

The future King of Pop had met the King of Rock and his daughter in late 1974 while performing with the Jackson Five in Las Vegas. Michael, 16 then, was on his way up; Elvis, pushing 40 and terminally addicted, was on his way down.

Elvis’s drug habit had begun for professional reasons: he took speed in the late fifties to keep up his exhausting national tours. Michael started taking painkillers to endure his own demanding schedule after his Pepsi burn accident.

Both stars were blessed and cursed with an unstoppable, all-consuming drive. The once poor boy from Tupelo called ambition “a dream with a V8 engine,” and the once poor boy from Gary would surely have agreed. The superhuman aspirations of both kings had originally been spurred by two musical visionaries.

Sam Phillips, the Sun records head who recorded Elvis’s break-out hit, “That’s Alright,” had famously remarked: “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Berry Gordy, the Motown records head who discovered the Jackson Five, told the brothers he would make them “the biggest thing in the world.” Michael recalled: “I’ll never forget that… it was like a fairy tale come true.”

Indeed, the kings grew up on make-believe

When receiving the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Awards, Elvis told the crowd that he had always been the hero of every comic book he read so insatiably as a boy. “Every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times,” he concluded.” His hero was Captain Marvel. On stage the King wore the superhero’s capes and a golden thunderbolt necklace.

Michael said he was “a fantasy fanatic,” and “not to crazy about the reality of things.” At age 44, the King of Pop later told BBC’s Martin Bashir that he was Peter Pan.

“No you’re not. You’re Michael Jackson,” Bashir reminded him.

The ageless star and architect of Neverland, more fantastic than Graceland itself, replied: “I’m Peter Pan in my heart.”

Both boy kings lived by the same credo: If you believe with all your heart, anything can come true. This childlike faith came from their beloved, southern Baptist mothers: Gladys from Mississippi, and Katherine – who later became a Jehovah’s Witness –from Alabama.

The fathers of the two mother’s boys were firm realists. Elvis had little respect for Vernon, a sharecropper and moonshiner, but later hired him as his financial manager. Michael feared and hated Joe, a crane operator and frustrated musician who managed his five sons with merciless purpose.

“There are winners and losers in this world,” he would lecture them, belt in hand, “and you’re going to be winners!”

But, in striving to become not just a winner, but a superstar bigger than Elvis himself, Michael felt unfairly handicapped. According to Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth, he complained to his managers that record stores carried Elvis but few black artists. He added that the industry had “conspired” against him “after I broke Elvis’s sales and the Beatles’ sales.

“They don’t give me my due because I’m black,” biographer, Darwin Porter, quoted the star as saying. “So maybe I’ll try to become white.” Critics accuse him of having done exactly that, calling him “Wacko Jacko,” for this and other presumed oddities, and professionally hobbling him further.

Elvis, whose ID bracelet read “CRAZY,” had weathered his share of criticism too. Detractors dubbed him “Elvis the Pelvis,” the Catholic church denounced his music, and Frank Sinatra himself called it a “rancid-smelling aphrodisiac.”

In spite of their great personal differences, the kings became mirror images in their extravagances, excesses, ailments, and their struggles with the pressures of superfame. They gave away Cadillacs, houses, and donated millions to charities. They were shopaholics and built fairytale Camelots. And they spent kings’ ransoms for prescription steroids, sedatives, and painkillers to treat their increasing ailments, most stress-related.

Both were tortured with severe migraine headaches and insomnia. In drug-induced half sleep, they had nightmares of being murdered, triggered by the death threats they received regularly. Both were diagnosed with Lupus, pleurisy, immune deficiency, anemia and glaucoma too.

The kings’ favorite pain reliever became Demerol, then Oxycontin. Elvis doctor-shopped and amassed coast-to-coast drug enablers. Michael used two of them himself – Dr. George Nichopoulos and Dr. Elias Ghanem. Prescriptions were written for the kings using pseudonyms and the names of their handlers. In the end, both were playing Russian roulette: Elvis with Dilaudid, a super-strength morphine used for terminal cancer patients; Michael with Propofol, used for general anesthesia.

A few years before his final sleep, the King of Pop confided to his friend and spiritual advisor, Dr. Deepak Chopra, that he had found something “that takes you to the valley of death and then takes you back.” The new age guru was horrified and, with Michael’s other spiritualist friend, Uri Geller, begged him to seek help. Under duress, the star had entered rehab twice. Otherwise he refused the repeated intervention attempts by his own brothers.

Elvis, too, had detoxed numerous times and fallen off the wagon. His own spiritual advisor, Larry Geller, and his bodyguards – old school friends whom he called brothers– tried to intervene. But, according to biographers, Thompson and Cole (The Death of Elvis: What Really Happened), he raged, “I’ll buy the goddamned drugstore if I have to. I’m going to get what I want. People have to realize either they’re for me or against me!”

The King fired his beloved bodyguards, replacing them with his young step-brothers who became addicted themselves. In desperation, his father, Vernon, and his manager, Colonel Parker, begged his ex-wife to intervene and get him help. But Priscilla too failed.

It was déjà vu for their daughter, Lisa Marie, who married Michael seven months after his first detox. “I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save Michael from certain self-destructive behavior,” she wrote. Before they were divorced, he had begged her to join him in a séance to reach Elvis.

Before their untimely deaths, the King of Rock and the King of Pop – though one had become a behemoth and the other skeletal –had become much the same person. Both were on the verge of bankruptcy. Both were being called has-beens.

Elvis was about to return to the road, but feared he hadn’t the strength. At the end of his previous tour, after his grand Thus Spake Zarathustra entrance, he had collapsed on stage, wept, and been carried out. “My life is over. I’m a dead man!” he told his step-brother and biographer, David Stanley (Raised on Rock) after his bodyguards published a tell-all (Elvis: What Happened?) revealing him as terminally addicted.

Michael, on the brink of a comeback tour himself, had collapsed during a Staples rehearsal. “It’s over… I’m better off dead,” he told one of his handlers, according to biographer Ian Halperin.

The last enabler of each king – Dr. Conrad Murray for Michael, Dr. George Nichopoulos for Elvis — unsuccessfully performed CPR. The family of each star blamed his physician for the tragedy. Nichopoulos was tried for manslaughter, exonerated, but was suspended from medical practice. Murray will also be tried for manslaughter, and may lose his license, too.

Near the end, the King wrote the epitaph for himself, as well as for his son-in-law: “The image is one thing and the human being is another, it’s very hard to live up to an image.”

 

 

***

OF KINGS & COVER-UPS

            32 years ago, on August 18, the world was devastated by the news of the sudden death of the King of Rock and Roll. Recently, the passing of the the King of Pop – the son-in-law Elvis Presley would never know — was greeted with similar incredulity. In both cases, grieving family, friends, and fans alike demanded to know the cause of the tragedy.

“It may take several weeks to discover the exact cause of death,” Elvis’s personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, a.k.a. “Needle Nick, told reporters the next day, the Memphis coroner at his side. “The precise cause may never be discovered,” he added, positing simple “cardiac arrest” in the meantime.

A full autopsy was performed, requiring the removal of the star’s brain and organs. But the contents of his stomach were destroyed without being analyzed. No coroner’s inquest was ordered. The medical examiner’s notes, toxicology report, and photos disappeared from official files.

Rumors of a cover-up soon began to flourish.

Two years later, investigators discovered that ten major narcotics had been found in Elvis’s system. Independent medical experts concluded that he had died of “poly-pharmacy,” the lethal interaction of these controlled substances. The most toxic in the mix was codeine, to which Elvis, a pharmaceutical autodidact, knew he was dangerously allergic. He had secured a bottle of the painkiller during an emergency dental appointment on that fatal night. His liver was found to contain twenty-three times the average therapeutic dose (equivalent to the entire bottle). Another American icon, Howard Hughes himself, had suffered a fatal codeine overdose the year before, in 1976.

The King’s young step-brother, David Stanley – his self-described bodyguard “lifer” – insisted that he had committed suicide, but was immediately muzzled. “There were millons and millions of dollars wrapped up in Elvis’s various insurance policies,” he later wrote. “If they even got a whiff of the theory that Elvis died of self-induced drug overdose then a fortune was at stake.”

But why, at age 43, would the world’s most popular entertainer take his own life? Several reasons, perhaps. His estranged bodyguards had just published a scathing tell-all – Elvis: What Happened – depicting their boss as a terminally addicted and deranged prescription junkie. He was deeply in debt, his record sales at an all-time low. He feared he was a has-been. He was exhausted from relentless touring, but was being forced back on the road by his insatiable manager, Colonel Parker. And his fiancé, Ginger Alden, was threatening to leave him.

Moreover, the King was in desperately poor health. He had been battling Lupus for more than a decade. The stress of his career exacerbated the immunological disease. Its symptoms could only be relieved by cortisone. This steroid was widely regarded as a “miracle” drug in the sixties and seventies; but it is now known to cause, in immoderate doses, psychosis and suicidal depression.

Suicide allegations, however, were nipped in the bud, and Elvis’s life insurance policies were paid out in full.

Seven years earlier, Jimi Hendrix had fatally ODed. His close friend, Eric Burdon of the Animals, announced in a TV interview that the guitarist had committed suicide. Hendrix’s manager and his record label, Warner Brothers, had taken out a multi-million dollar insurance policy on him. After Burdon’s announcement, a Warner’s VP accosted him: “You f**ker, don’t open your mouth again – that’s our insurance policy!” The singer immediately retracted his statement. Hendrix’s beneficiaries were paid in full.

Weeks later, Janis Joplin’s body was found in her L.A. hotel room. Her insurance company denied her manager, Albert Grossman’s, claim. They alleged that the singer had intentionally ODed, nullifying the policy. Grossman prevailed in court and was paid. He and his attorney had arrived at the hotel room before the authorities and all the drug paraphernalia had gone missing.

Cover-ups have become more the rule than the exception in celebrity deaths. Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, waited at least a half hour before calling 911. What evidence might have been removed from the death scene in that time?

To date, two autopsies have been completed. Now Jackson’s mother, suspecting “foul play,” is demanding a third. In a surprisingly hasty move recently, Jackson estate executors settled for a $3 million pay-out on a $20 million policy. Should final autopsy results indicate drugs as a cause of death, the pay-out will be nonrefundable; but an additional $17.5 million Lloyd’s policy taken out by Jackson’s London promoter, AEG, could be rendered null and void.

But to date, publication of Jackson autopsy results has been delayed “indefinitely.” In the meantime, it is likely that Dr. Murray will be scapegoated and tried for murder, just as was Elvis’s physician. Though Dr. Nicholpoulos was ultimately cleared of charges, he lost his medical license. And Vernon Presley, refusing to believe that his son was ultimately responsible for his own fate, tried to have his enabler assassinated.

 

 

BRIAN JONES: THE DROWNING

BRIAN JONES:

THE DROWNING

Forty years ago, Rolling Stones’ founder, Brian Jones, drowned in his swimming pool. At the time, 1969, authorities called it “death by misadventure.” The Sussex police have just announced that they may reopen the case as a homicide. The decision is based in part on a recent eyewitness report that the guitarist was in fact drowned by his live-in carpenter, Frank Thorogood.

Before dying of cancer in 1994,  Thorogood himself was said to have confessed the murder to Stones’ chauffeur, Tom Keylock. In her 2001 memoir, Jones’s girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, another eyewitness to the tragedy, also fingered Thorogood. She alleged that band managers put her on the next plane back to Sweden, threatening her life should she talk to authorities.

The Jones case harks back to that of his friend, Jimi Hendrix, who died in London a year after being “drowned in red wine,” according to the coroner. In 1993, the case was reopened by Scotland Yard as a possible homicide only to be reclosed months later due to insufficient evidence.

Similar mysteries surround other deceased stars, notably Kurt Cobain and, now, Michael Jackson.

Strangely, many had predicted early ends for themselves. Like Jones, both Hendrix and Cobain (as well as Morrison and Janis) died at age 27. Once Jones, while tripping on acid, was told by his bandmate, Keith Richards: “You’ll never make thirty, man.” Brian replied: “I know.” Not long before, when the guitarist saw a goat being led to slaughter in Morocco, he had cried, “That’s ME!” The Stones laughed and agreed.

In her autobiography, Jagger’s ex-lover, Marianne Faithfull, related how he and and Keith had “a real vendetta,” against Brian, and “unmercifully taunted” him. Guitarist, Ry Cooder, observed the same thing during the Let It Bleed sessions, two months before the drowning. “Jagger was always very contemptuous of Brian and told him he was washed up,” he recalled.

While the singer later conceded that he had been hard on his hypersensitive, drugged-out bandmate, he declared, “We carried Brian for quite a long time. We put up with his tirades and his not turning up for over a year.”

At last the Stones traveled to Brian’s Cotchford Farm, the former residence of Winnie-the-Pooh’s A.A. Milne, and fired him. “I felt sorry for him,” drummer Charlie Watts later wrote. “We took his one thing away, which was being in a band. I’m sure it nearly killed him when we sacked him.”

Charlie and bassist, Bill Wyman, were the only Stones to attend his funeral weeks later.

Brian Jones’s death by drowning was hauntingly uncanny. Days after the sacking, Mick and Marianne threw the I-Ching to see what the future might hold for him. “Death by water,” came up. The prophecy was repeated on a second throw.

Perhaps this reminded Jagger of an incident the year before at Richards’s country estate. Freaked over the possibility of jail time for his most recent drug bust, Brian plunged into Keith’s moat, screaming that he was going to kill himself. Keith laughed while Mick dove into the water after him.

“You want to drown, you bastard?” he cried, dragging him ashore. “Well, I’m going to bloody well drown you, then. Look at these velvet trousers – cost me fifty quid. You’ve ruined them!”

Even Frank Thorogood, the resident carpenter at Cotchford, bullied him and berated him as a “pampered rock star.” At last, Brian threatened to fire the contractor for shoddy work and for extortionate charges. That night, Thorogood drowned his employer in the estate swimming pool. Anna Wohlin, indoors at the time, insisted that Brian was a good swimmer and not intoxicated.

Two days later, the Rolling Stones – with new guitarist, Mick Taylor – threw a memorial concert for Jones in Hyde Park. Jagger read Shelley’s “Adonais,” then released two-thousand butterflies, most dead from suffocation.

Soon the Doors’ Jim Morrison — who, two years later, would die on the same day as Brian — wrote “Ode To L.A. While Thinking Of Brian Jones, Deceased.” Then the Who’s Pete Townshend followed with his poem, “A Normal Day For Brian, A Man Who Died Every Day.”

Marianne Faithfull had a different perspective on her ex-lover whom she called her “twin.” “One of the things that keeps you alive when you’re on the skids is that people care what happens to you,” she wrote. “It’s your life line, and with Brian nobody really cared anymore.”

Except her. After Brian’s death the As Tears Go By star took a massive overdose of Tuinol and fell into a six-day coma. “Everyone was taking his death so in stride, for God’s sake!” she said. “Well, I thought, I’ll show you! You want pain and suffering? I’ll show you pain and suffering!” In her coma she was met by the resplendent ghost of Brian decked in medieval costume, his hair green, and “Buddhist lightning bolts tattooed on his palms.”

Beckoning her to a cliffside, he called: “Death is the next great adventure… Coming?”

When Marianne finally opened her eyes, she found an incredulous Mick Jagger at her bedside. She tried to tell him her dream, but he refused to hear it. Then he left her for good.

“Either you’re dead, or you move along,” Sir Mick, the ultimate rock survivor, had always said.

 

 

http://culturecatch.com/music/brian-jones-drowning