Personal Injury

What Caused Michael Jackson's Sudden Death?

Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop" died on June 25, 2009 at age 50. His death was sudden and unexpected, leaving many grieving fans wondering what happened. How did he die?

The Call


An unidentified man called 911 from Jackson's California mansion at 12:21 p.m. He reported that Jackson was unconscious and not breathing. In excerpts from the call, the man said that Jackson's personal doctor was the only other person present and was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the unconscious Jackson without results. "He's pumping, he's pumping his chest but he's not responding to anything, sir, please," the caller said. The caller is still unidentified.

Jackson was rushed to the hospital by paramedics shortly after the call. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 pm.

The Autopsy

An autopsy was done the very next day. The doctors, however, said they couldn't immediately establish a cause of death. Los Angeles County Coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey reported that, "the cause of death has been deferred; the medical examiner has ordered additional testing such as toxicology and other studies." Toxicology tests would show if Jackson was taking drugs when he died. This means that it could take 4-6 more weeks until there is an official cause of death. In the meantime, speculation is rising.

The Rumors

After the autopsy, foul play and external trauma were ruled out. That leaves behind a theory that it was medication that caused Jackson to suffer a heart attack.

A heart attack is a blocking of the arteries that deprives the heart of adequate blood and can cause cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest can also be caused by factors other than a heart attack, including medications. Jackson's brother Jermaine said it was believed that Jackson went into cardiac arrest due to an interruption of the normal heartbeat.

The Medications


It has been reported that Jackson's personal doctor injected Jackson with Demerol about half an hour before he went into cardiac arrest. Demerol is a strong narcotic painkiller and carries a long list of warnings to users. The government warns that mixing it with certain other drugs can lead to reactions including slowed or stopped breathing, shock and cardiac arrest. Jackson's death may have been caused by an overdose of the drug.

Other Drugs

It is possible that Jackson was "heavily addicted" to the painkiller Oxycontin and was injected daily with that medication, along with Demerol. Brian Oxman, Jackson's family spokesman and lawyer, told reporters that he had been concerned about the prescription drugs Jackson took for pain he had. He commented to reporters: "I said one day, we're going to have this experience, and when Anna Nicole Smith passed away, I said we cannot have this kind of thing with Michael Jackson. I do not want to point fingers at anyone because I want to hear what the toxicology report says and the coroner says. But the plain fact of the matter is that Michael Jackson had prescription drugs at his disposal at all times."

The Associated Press reported that in 2007 Jackson settled a lawsuit filed by a Beverly Hills pharmacy that claimed he owed more than $100,000 for prescription drugs over a two-year period.

Signs of Ill-Health

Back in 2005, when Jackson was on trial for child molestation charges, he appeared to be in bad health. His trial was interrupted several times by hospital visits. He even once appeared late to court dressed in his pajamas after an emergency room visit. Also during the trial, the prosecution confiscated several items from his home, including syringes, Demerol and other prescription drugs.

Jackson himself admitted that he first got hooked on pain medication when filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984 where special effects exploded and burned his scalp. In 1993, in a recorded statement, he said that the child molestation allegations against him contributed to his continuing drug use. "I became increasingly more dependent to the painkillers to get me through the days of the tour," he said. "My friends and doctors advised me to seek professional guidance immediately in order to eliminate what has become an addiction."

The Physical

Jackson was about to launch a huge international tour in the upcoming months and has begun rehearsing. For insurance purposes, promoters of the tour required that Jackson undergo a health physical. In February or March, Jackson passed a 4 ½-hour physical examination with independent doctors and was believed to be in good health.

Where Is the Doctor?

Conrad Robert Murray, Jackson's personal live-in doctor was at the scene when the 911 phone call was placed. When the 911 dispatcher asked the caller whether anyone witnessed what happened, the caller said: "No, just the doctor, sir, the doctor's been the only one here." After the death, the Los Angeles Police Department impounded the doctor's car to search for medications and other evidence. The Los Angele Police wanted to question the doctor; however, he was unable to be located immediately after Jackson's death. While not yet a criminal suspect, the doctor has hired lawyers and is being questioned by investigators.

What Happens Now?

The Cancelled Shows

AEG Live held multiple insurance policies covering cancellation of the shows. Randy Phillips, president of AEG Live commented: "We had pretty good coverage, but a lot of it is going to depend on the toxicology results. We need to know what the cause of death was."

What Can you Learn from this?

Drug Interactions

While the official cause of death is still unknown, many believe that medications were the cause. Jackson was taking several strong medications. An overdose of a prescription drug can be fatal. Also, mixing several drugs can be very dangerous. If you are taking several medications, ask your doctor about possible dangerous interactions.

The US Food and Drug Administration has several dangerous drug interactions on its Web site.

Possible Lawsuits

Until there is an official cause of death, we can't point fingers at anyone. However, there is a possibility that in the future, the family will try to bring a wrongful death lawsuit or a malpractice claim against Jackson's personal doctor if the Demerol injection did in fact cause his cardiac arrest.


For a medical malpractice case, Jackson's family must present expert medical testimony showing that that no reasonable health care provider would have done what his did. That could be showing that the doctor was over-prescribing several medications and a reasonable professional doctor would not have done so. The family will have to show that it was the negligence of the doctor that caused Jackson's death.

Wrongful Death

Jackson's family may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit based on negligence of Jackson's personal doctor. A wrongful death action is a lawsuit brought by the relatives of a person who died as a result of a wrongful act to bring compensation for the survivors who have been injured by the absence of the person who died.

In the meanwhile, we'll all have to wait and see what the official report says.

Have a personal injury question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Personal Injury lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Get the compensation you deserve

We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you