October 22, 2009
Posted: 11:34 AM ET
When the news about Michael Jackson arrived, Kenny Ortega couldn’t believe it. It was the afternoon of June 25, and Mr. Ortega, the director of Mr. Jackson’s planned run of “This Is It” concerts, was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the show was in its final rehearsals.
One of the promoters had called to say that Mr. Jackson was dead. “I made him repeat himself a number of times,” Mr. Ortega said in a telephone interview this week, still wrenching over the memory. “I hung up the phone and had my assistant call him back and I said, ‘Tell me something that no one else would know other than us,’ and he told me again, Michael had died.
I thought it had to be a rumor. There was some crazy media thing going on here.” Millions around the world felt the same shock, but for Mr. Ortega it was especially puzzling.
Mr. Jackson had been readying himself for what were to have been 50 comeback shows in London, and despite being very thin, he seemed to be in good health. The night before he died — from drugs including propofol, a powerful anesthetic that he had been taking as a sleeping aid — he had been in rehearsal, nimble and powerful as ever, Mr. Ortega said.
Despite four months of lurid coverage in the news media over Mr. Jackson’s final days and his death at age 50, it is the image of a physically vigorous and mentally focused Michael Jackson that Sony Pictures and the Jackson estate are eager to convey with “This Is It,” a new film opening around the world on Wednesday for a two-week run.
Drawn from 120 hours of rehearsal footage — for which Sony paid $60 million — the film, directed by Mr. Ortega, shows Mr. Jackson as healthy, clear-headed and capable, according to a number of people who have seen it. (Sony did not screen the film for The New York Times for this article.)
“Was he slight? Yes. Was he frail? At times,” Mr. Ortega said. “But we had a very strong and excited, happy and determined Michael. He wanted to do this more than anything he’s ever wanted to do, and he was involved in every aspect of this project. He was there, he was invested, and he wanted to do this. That’s the truth. It really is.”
Filed under: Michael Jackson
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