By Alan Duke, CNN
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Tour manager Paul Gongaware warned Michael Jackson’s 1993 tour doctor, “Don’t be a Dr. Nick” — a reference to Elvis Presley’s last physician — according to a deposition for the upcoming wrongful death trial.
“Dr. Nick was the doctor whose overprescription of drugs to Elvis had led to Elvis’ death,” according to a court filing by lawyers for the Jackson family.
Presley collapsed in the bathroom of his Memphis, Tennessee, mansion — Graceland — on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. While his death was ruled the result of an irregular heartbeat, the autopsy report was sealed amid accusations that abuse of prescription drugs caused the problem.
“Dr. Nick” — Dr. George Nichopoulos — said later he was treating Presley for insomnia. He was charged with over-prescribing drugs to Presley, but he was acquitted. He later lost his medical license in another case.
Presley’s death came days before he was to begin a new tour organized by the concert promoter Concerts West.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009, at the age of 50. The coroner ruled his death was caused by a fatal combination of sedatives and the surgical anesthetic propofol.
His personal physician — Dr. Conrad Murray — told investigators he gave Jackson nightly infusions of propofol to treat his insomnia. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to four years in prison and stripped of his medical license.
Jackson’s death came two weeks before his “This Is It” comeback concerts, organized by AEG Live, were to have debuted in London. AEG got into the concert promotion business when it purchased Concerts West, a young company that had taken the name of Elvis’ last promoter.
Jackson’s mother and three children are suing AEG Live, claiming the concert promoter is liable for the singer’s death because it hired, retained or supervised Dr. Murray.
Elvis’ name could loom in the wrongful death trial which is starting this month in a Los Angeles courtroom, especially if his daughter takes the stand. Lisa Marie Presley, who was married to Jackson from May 1994 until January 1996, is on the witness list.
“I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did,” Jackson told his wife during their short marriage, according to a blog Presley published a day after Jackson’s death.
The Jackson lawyers used the Elvis and “Dr. Nick” reference to argue that “AEG knew Jackson had suffered chronic substance abuse and drug dependency problems for many years.” Gongaware, now AEG Live’s co-CEO, managed Jackson’s “Dangerous” and “HIStory” tour between 1993 and 1997.
“Shortly after he joined the ‘Dangerous’ tour in 1993, Dr. Finkelstein was asked to treat Jackson for pain,” the Jackson filing said, referring to Dr. Stuart Finkelstein, a doctor on the 1993 tour. “Having observed signs of opiate addiction in Jackson, Dr. Finkelstein nonetheless administered Demerol by injection, and administered morphine intravenously in Jackson’s Bangkok hotel room for 24 hours.”
After that, Finkelstein told Gongaware “he thought Jackson had an opiate dependency problem,” the filing said.
“For three and a half months, the ‘Dangerous’ tour continued,” it said. “Another doctor attended Jackson regularly, on one occasion breaking into Dr. Finkelstein’s bag to get opiates to administer to Jackson. Gongaware was there the whole time, in charge of tour logistics, aware of the various physicians present, and he discussed with Dr. Finkelstein Jackson’s opiate problem.”
When Gongaware warned Dr. Finkelstein, who the brief described as his “close friend,” not to become Jackson’s “Dr. Nick,” he was “warning me, you know, don’t get all infatuated where you start administering meds to a rock star and have the rock star overdose and die on you,” Dr. Finkelstein testified.
“Though those tours were hugely successful, Jackson’s tour doctors, one of whom Gongaware had hired, were administering pain killers to Jackson, and Gongaware thus was familiar with Jackson’s substance abuse problems,” the Jackson brief said.
AEG lawyer Marvin Putman told CNN, however, there “were no indicators or warning signs of a problem” with Dr. Murray.
Murray was not Gongaware’s first choice to be Jackson’s tour doctor in 2009, according to the filing. He first called Finkelstein, who advertises himself now as an addiction specialist, the document said.
While Murray has said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying as his criminal appeal is pending, Dr. Finkelstein is expected to take the stand.
AEG’s lawyers will use Jackson’s drug use history in their defense, arguing that it showed Jackson was responsible for his own death.
“Mr. Jackson is a person who was known to doctor shop,” AEG’s attorney Marvin Putnam said. “He was known to be someone who would tell one doctor one thing and another doctor something else.”
Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial, which ended in his acquittal, is relevant because it “resulted in an incredible increase in his drug intake,” Putnam said.