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October 31, 2014

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Examining Michael’s death and remembering Farrah

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Darrin Bush/Las Vegas News Bureau

Steve Wynn and Michael Jackson aboard one of the ships being placed in front of Treasure Island on July 29, 1993.

*Check out this story with accompanying historical photos at VegasDeLuxe.com.*

Showbiz took a triple blow this week with the deaths of Ed McMahon and early yesterday morning the tragic loss of Farrah Fawcett at age 62 almost immediately followed by the lunchtime news of Michael Jackson’s shocking death.

Mystery surrounds Michael’s death as today’s autopsy is about to take place. Insiders tell me with certainty that a full police inquiry is underway and that the focus on the investigation centers on prescription drugs the King of Pop was using -- and whether his doctor or medical people were with him at home that morning before he went into cardiac arrest.

One pointed question being asked is whether Michael, who was only 50, was injected with or ingested a medical drug yesterday and if he was treated with another after unexpected effects of the first. I am reliably told from the inside that there is no question whatsoever that Michael had become dependent on prescription drugs -- maybe as many as seven a day to cope with pain and anxiety.

Brian Oxman, the Jackson family’s lawyer, said as much to CNN last night: “This was something which I feared and something which I warned about. There was a real worry that the drugs could kill him.” I heard reliably that Michael had medical people around him on a daily basis providing him with the drugs. “It was just like Anna Nicole Smith or Elvis Presley all over again,” one source told me this morning. Allegedly his physician had been with Michael at his rented Holmby Hills, Calif., home, around the corner from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, in the hours before he went into acute cardiac arrest and suffered breathing failure.

Michael’s brother Jermaine said that Michael’s medics had tried for an hour to resuscitate him before paramedics were called in and rushed him to nearby UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead moments after arrival.

Michael’s death deals a financial blow to the Anschutz Entertainment Group, who was about to present Michael in the This Is It concerts in London at their 02 Arena starting in a little more than two weeks. AEG is the producer of the Bette Midler and Cher shows at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace and the two-year Santana residency at The Rogue Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Michael had started rehearsing with the extraordinary and elaborate stages and sets this week. AEG had turned over its Staples Center in Los Angeles for the rehearsals. Michael had been performing, rehearsing and working out there with his handpicked dancers as late as Wednesday night with director Kenny Ortega.

He was due to have returned to the final rehearsals at Staples Center yesterday afternoon and evening. So the question looms: Why did he take prescribed drugs yesterday morning? Fear of next week’s move from Los Angeles to London and the reality the show was finally a go? Stress from the rehearsals and anticipated rigors of the London shows starting July 13?

One of AEG’s top officers revealed that he’d spoken to Michael and Kenny this week, and everybody was thrilled with how the shows would look and be staged. “It was really a case of all systems go. The whole production was ready to roll and be packed up and shipped by freighter plane to London next week. Michael and the cast would have been all set up in London by this time next week,” I was reliably told.

Instead, AEG is now out millions of dollars. The company had spent $20 million alone to build the elaborate 22 sets and lighting systems. “It would have been the most expensive and technologically advanced spectacular ever staged in an arena,” my source told me.

AEG now has to refund some $100 million for tickets and VIP packages and scramble to fill 50 now open dates into March. In total, AEG, which had to self-insure the majority of its loss exposure, might lose another $100 million-plus from the expected profits of the London concerts, new live stage show album and concert DVD followed by the three-year hoped-for world tour with stops in Las Vegas.

Cher and Celine Dion paid tribute to Michael last night. Celine, who said she hung posters of the pop superstar in her bedroom growing up, said: “He was not only an extremely talented person. He was unique. He was a genius. He and I worked for the same record company. He came to see me at one of my concerts and visited afterwards in my dressing room. I always thought he was so fragile living under enormous pressures.”

Cher added: “He was a great singer. God gave him certain gifts, and he was an extraordinary child -- optimistic and beautiful.” Michael’s friend legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor, who had promised to fly to London to see him perform, was said “to be too devastated to even release a statement” about his sudden death.

Michael had many ties to Las Vegas, not only because he lived here on and off in recent years. In April 1974, Michael was still with the Jackson 5 when they opened for comedy impressionist Frank Gorshin at the then MGM. In July 1993, Michael was still out and about and stood with hotel mogul Steve Wynn on top of one of the ships placed in front of Treasure Island.

I met Michael over dinner at Wing Lei in the Wynn, where he often ate. Our birthdays are the same day! He was with Kenny Ortega that night along with British pop mogul Simon Fuller. Michael invited me into a private banquet room to record the meeting on camera. I chatted with him about his hopes for a future show or comeback tour. In a soft, almost whispering voice, he told me he was well, that these were early discussions, but if it all worked out, he would return to perform. Little did we know that the dinner meeting in the Wynn eventually led to the planned London concerts due to have started in just 18 days time.

The sadness of it all! If it comes down to a drug overdose, accidentally or otherwise, it will be yet another needless and sad show business tragedy.

Ironically, some of Michael’s possessions were due to go under the hammer at the Julien’s Auctions Summer Sale here at Planet Hollywood and streaming live online at www.juliensauctions.com. The memorabilia, alongside items from, among others, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, includes his Victory Tour costume shirt, intimate letters, handwritten lyrics and autographed albums. Interest in the memorabilia jumped yesterday after the news of his death, and the auctioneers expect that prices will be much higher than anticipated.

Meantime, the Michael Jackson figure at Madame Tussauds in The Venetian was moved to the front plaza last night. A condolence book has been placed beside it, and fans lined up until midnight paying their respects, leaving flowers and notes and signing the book. It will eventually be sent to the family.

Farrah Fawcett (1947-2009)

Although most of yesterday and today’s headlines focus on Michael, I am not going to let actress Farrah Fawcett leave us without recognition.

Here are three photographs from Farrah’s early days captured by our contributing photographer Tom Donoghue when he was the track photographer for the Hollywood Park Race Track in Inglewood, Calif. Before her relationship with Ryan O’Neal, Farrah was a warm, longtime professional friend of mine.

I saw her right from the start before even the 1976 Charlie’s Angels phenomenon through the extraordinary explosion of that red swimsuit poster, her first movies and on to her days acting off-Broadway seeking validation as a legitimate actress.

I remember helping rescue her through a maze of underground kitchens at the Carlton Hotel during the Cannes Film Festival when the international sex symbol was trapped by a mob of frenzied photographers. I also remember swimming with her in the bitterly cold ocean off Long Island during a Faberge photo shoot. We both signed autographed pieces of paper for each other to mark our insane bravery of splashing, then swimming, in 48-degree water!

I must have written more than 50 magazine cover stories about her during the first two years of her extraordinary arrival in the headlines. Farrah was married to actor Lee Majors, who lives here in Las Vegas, in 1973 until their separation in 1979.

She was a one-in-a-million lady as charming and captivating as she was beautiful, and as sad as it is to lose her from life, she is at last pain free and at peace after a wretched three-year battle against cancer.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground. Read more of Robin's stories at VegasDeLuxe.com.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter HERE.

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