What the AEG verdict means for Michael Jackson and the music industry
Concert promoter AEG Live has been found not negligent by a Los Angeles jury for hiring Dr. Conrad Murray to treat Michael Jackson and keep him healthy in preparation for his 50-date run at London's O2 Arena. Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, had sued AEG for up to $2 billion in a wrongful death trial following her son’s passing in 2009.
The jurors ruled that AEG did hire Murray, a point that AEG had contested despite evidence that the promoter was paying Murray’s $100,000/month, but that it was not negligent for his death and will have to pay no damages to Jackson’s family. That's the right decision.
The jurors also found that Murray was not “unfit or incompetent” to do the job he was hired to do. In a narrow reading of some of the evidence, this means that the jury agreed that AEG hired Murray, but only to treat dehydration and other issues to keep tour ready, and not to inject him with Propofol. Therefore, the promoter couldn’t be held responsible for the final result since Murray was acting outside of the scope for which AEG hired him. That ruling seemingly contradicts the criminal case verdict against Murray.
What the ruling means for several key parties:
What does it mean for Michael Jackson’s legacy? His most ardent fans will, undoubtedly, continue to blame Murray and AEG and anyone else for Jackson’s death, when the simple fact is that he was a drug addict, responsible for his own actions, and his death is a sad, almost inevitable, result of years of prescription drug abuse. His glorious music and legacy lives on and nothing can ever change that.
What does it mean for Conrad Murray: His reputation is restored to a certain extent. In a criminal case he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and has been in jail (he will be released in three weeks). He is fighting to overturn California’s decision to revoke his license. Murray has maintained that he did not inject Jackson with the fatal dose of Propofol.
What does it mean for AEG Live? The concert promoter will pay no damages to the Jackson family and will keep its reputation in tact, but the 21-week trial revealed to the world the extent to which a promoter will go to prepare/keep an act on the road when there is so much money involved. No, AEG did not tell Murray to give Jackson illegal drugs, but I believe they did turn a blind eye to Jackson’s health and whatever Murray was doing to make sure that Jackson showed up to rehearsals. Evidence presented in the case showed that Jackson was tremendously fragile-- he cried and wouldn’t come out of his dressing room to announce the London 02 Arena dates-- and his mental and physical state of health was a matter of constant concern and yet, no one suggested that maybe the concerts be postponed until he could get healthy.
What does it mean for the music industry? See above, re: AEG, but it’s really just more of the same. As record sales continue to decline, touring income will become an ever bigger slice of the income pie for both artists and the industry. Therefore, we can probably see more examples (perhaps not with as big names as Jackson) where promoters do whatever it takes to keep artists on the road and keep the money train rolling. This is nothing new, but the AEG trial illuminated that promoters (and anyone who has skin in the game) see artists as cash cows more than as humans.
What’s next? Jackson’s family will likely appeal, but given that Jackson’s estate is, from many reports I’ve seen, in much better financial shape than it was when he died, and many felt that this suit was a money grab more than a true belief that AEG was at fault, maybe Jackson’s family--secure in the knowledge that money from Jackson’s legacy will continue to roll in-- can finally let him rest in peace.
What do you think of the verdict?