February 12, 2010

In defense of Dr. Conrad Murray (Did I just say that?)

I remember Michael.  Not the manufactured media creation we laid to rest last year.  Not the arrested adolescent that lived in an amusement park.  And not the plastic surgeon’s ever-changing experiment-gone-wrong.  That wasn’t the Michael we met over 40 years ago.

No, I remember the young boy from Indiana who was perfectly at ease when performing on stage with his brothers, yet pathologically uncomfortable with the trappings of fame.  The kid who dribbled a basketball on the set of his short-lived variety show on CBS.  The one who had to be physically lifted out of a mob of screaming young girls.  The one who still had his own nose, chin, and hair.  That was the Michael we all fell in love with.

Unfortunately, that young man died a slow and painful death sometime back in the 1980s.  But no one mourned him then, because we adored him so fervently that we accepted any and every crazy thing he might say or do.  But with his marvelous moonwalk and fabulous falsetto he continued to fascinate and entertain.

Last summer he gave up the ghost for a second and last time, possibly the biggest news story of the year.  Forget the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fights against terrorism, crime, and disease.  This Michael, now sainted, easily knocked them all off the front page.
Enter Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician at his side on the night of his death.  Apparently the doctor gave him a powerful anesthetic as a sleep aid, and it was more than the entertainer’s frail body could handle.  Several attempts to revive him proved futile.  And the rest, as we know, is history.

This week Murray’s trial began in Los Angeles, and the expected media circus didn’t disappoint.  Some praised the achievements of the King of Pop, while others condemned Dr. Murray as if he was a war criminal in a huge genocide.  The King’s father sniffs a conspiracy; perhaps a nurse hiding somewhere outside on the grassy knoll?

These people need to get a life.

Those singing Michael’s praises on the courthouse steps claim to know him, his character, his private thoughts.  They find it unthinkable that he might have a dark side, even though it has been revealed time and again.  Of course they admired him only from afar; they remained perfect strangers. No matter; they’ve deluded themselves into a false sense of intimacy, considering him a special friend.  Such is the nature of celebrity worship; his cult now surpasses all who came before.
No doubt the man churned out one innovative hit after another; was it Rock & Roll? Was it R & B? Was it Soul? No one could tell for sure, and that was the beauty of it. Such was his genius, that he defied all preconceived notions of popular music was or should be. He extolled the ideals of a universal brotherhood of all mankind, a colorblind society that knew no distinctions of gender or race or wealth or station.

Unfortunately for the great unwashed masses (you and me), he lived the second half of his life trapped within a velvet prison of his own making, behind multiple layers of iron gates, bodyguards, and tinted windows. He was a child in a man’s body, a black man who wished he was white, a tortured soul who longed for intimacy yet jealously guarded his privacy, revealing little of himself in return.  Such a hypocrite is not worthy of your adulation.

As for Dr. Murray: No one in this howling mob knows his story. Shouldn’t we wait to see how the trial unfolds, before we call for his head?  After all, isn’t that the very purpose of a trial, to weigh the evidence and assign guilt?  By all accounts it’s unusual (but not illegal) to administer Propofol outside a hospital setting.  And it is neither illegal, nor professionally verboten, to prescribe it for an off-label (unorthodox) purpose.

Interestingly, the DA has seen fit to charge Dr. Murray with involuntary manslaughter. This is the least-serious charge possible for (unintentionally!) contributing to the death of another.  Even the judge seems unconvinced, as he rejected a call from the California Attorney General to revoke Murray’s medical license.

The Uni-gloved One lived about 49 years before he ever met Conrad Murray.   He lived as he pleased, answered to no one, and abused his body for decades.  The die was cast, long before that fateful night.  Before we condemn the doctor any further, I say let’s wait for a verdict from a jury of his peers.

Today Michael’s body rests in a secret tomb in Glendale, just a few hundred yards away from my parents – who, incidentally, also ended up there due to self-inflicted conditions that no doctor could have helped. 

I pray that his family will soon find their peace.

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