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Michael Jackson's doctor was much admired but financially strapped

Household staff and clinic patients describe Dr. Conrad Murray as kind, benevolent and accessible; court files show a man drowning in debt, facing foreclosure, with multiple child support obligations.

February 08, 2010|By Harriet Ryan
  • Dr. Conrad Murray is expected to be charged Monday with manslaughter in the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
Dr. Conrad Murray is expected to be charged Monday with manslaughter in… (Associated Press )

In the Holmby Hills chateau where Michael Jackson lived his final months, Dr. Conrad Murray seemed a benevolent figure.

The physician arrived at night dressed in scrubs or a neat blazer and slacks, offering a ready smile for the household staff, and sometimes, gifts for Jackson's children. Most of his time was spent upstairs in the singer's private quarters, but occasionally he sat at the dining room table chatting with the family in his lilting Caribbean accent.

Michael Jackson: A story in Monday's LATExtra section about Michael Jackson's personal physician said that at the time of his death, the singer had not performed in concert for a dozen years. Jackson last toured in 1997, but he gave two concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2001. —

"They loved him," Kai Chase, the singer's personal chef, recalled last summer. "A very nice man, very charming, very well-groomed, very respectful, well-spoken."

The image of the respectable, competent doctor -- a profession Murray began striving toward as a youth in Trinidad -- started to crack the day the world's most famous entertainer died in Murray's care, and is likely to break further Monday when L.A. County prosecutors are expected to charge him with involuntary manslaughter.

"Here's a guy who was on top of the world . . . talk about a fall from grace," said his attorney, Ed Chernoff.

The job Jackson offered Murray, 56, last spring was a lifeline for a man struggling financially.

Courts in Las Vegas, where he lived with his physician wife, 19-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, had ordered him or his business to pay $435,000 to creditors, including a student loan.

His home near the 18th hole of a country club was in jeopardy. Property records show he had refinanced the mortgage at least three times in five years and owed close to $1.7 million on a property now assessed at $1.08 million. By the time the Jackson job came along, it had been months since Murray had paid the mortgage and foreclosure proceedings loomed, according to court records.

He had also fallen behind on child support payments. Birth certificates and other public records indicate that in addition to the two children he had with his wife, Murray had fathered at least four children with three other women.

Files from Las Vegas family court proceedings show he owed thousands of dollars to a California woman with whom he had a son, now 11. He was also helping support two daughters, ages 16 and 8, who lived with their mother in Las Vegas, according to the records. And last March, an actress from Santa Monica gave birth to Murray's son, according to a California birth certificate.

According to his lawyer, many of Murray's financial problems arose from providing medical care for the poor. (Murray declined repeated requests for interviews, as did members of his family, but he did respond to some questions posed to him through his attorney.)

Multiple practices

Born in Grenada, he was raised in Trinidad by his grandparents and later by his mother and stepfather, according to a biography provided by his attorney. He had no contact with his own father until he was 25, although he knew as a child that his father was a doctor who lived in Houston.

In addition to his Las Vegas cardiology practice, Murray treated patients two days a month at a Houston heart clinic. He founded the clinic in 2006 in a poor, predominantly African American area in honor of his father, by then deceased.

Among some of his clinic patients, Murray was adored for his accessibility and bedside manner. He gave patients his personal cellphone number and used plastic heart models and charts to help elderly patients understand their ailments, patients recalled.

"He was really kind and sat there and explained. No rushing you. He would hold a good conversation. A whole lot of doctors could learn something from that type of treatment," said the Rev. Prince James, a 67-year-old Baptist minister.

Few at the Houston clinic could pay Murray's normal rates, and he lost money with nearly every patient he saw.

But when it came to setting a price for one very famous patient, Murray did not offer a discount, according to people involved in his hiring.

Frank DiLeo, Jackson's manager, said last summer that Jackson told him Murray wanted $5 million to work during rehearsals and the eight months of concerts. "I said, 'Michael, for $5 million, I'll buy you a hospital,' " DiLeo recalled. "He said this guy was his family doctor, and he was comfortable with him. It made sense to me, to a degree."

Murray's lawyer disputed that the doctor demanded $5 million.

A special patient

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