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Debbie Rowe: Jackson felt like Elephant Man, chose to 'depigment' skin

August 15, 2013|By Kate Mather and Jeff Gottlieb
  • Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe arrives at court in Los Angeles on Thursday, in the ongoing trial of the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the late singer's mother against concert promoter AEG Live.
Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe arrives at court in Los Angeles… (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty…)

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe returned to the witness stand Thursday, crying as she described the singer “begging for relief” from medical issues and treatments she said were “horribly painful.”

It was the second day of testimony for Rowe, who married Jackson in 1996, and is the mother of his two oldest children. They divorced a few years later. Rowe met the singer while she was working for Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein.

Rowe said she was designated to help Jackson through the procedures, and the two formed a friendship. She would accompany him to other procedures with other doctors, she said, because “he knew that I would look out for him."

Rowe offered perhaps the most detailed public recital of Jackson’s medical ailments, saying he suffered from vitiligo, discoid lupus and keloids from serious burns on his scalp sustained during the 1984 filming of a Pepsi commercial.

The conditions, Rowe testified, would be difficult on their own for anyone. For Jackson, she said, it was worse.

“He’s very shy. For him to have all this going on and to be in public, it was really really difficult for him,” she said.

The singer was embarrassed of his skin conditions, she said, and compared himself to the Elephant Man.

Jackson’s vitiligo — where skin loses pigment in patches — “would come and go,” Rowe said, but grew progressively worse. He made a decision to “depigment” his skin because he couldn’t find decent makeup, she said.

“Everybody says he bleached himself, which he didn’t,” she said.

The keloids, she said, were dense, bumpy scars that went from the middle of Jackson’s scalp back to the crown of his head. Klein and other doctors would inject cortisone into the tissue to soften the scars — a procedure Rowe said was “horribly painful.”

“You could hear the skin popping when the medication went in,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, doctors looked to insert a “tissue expander” to expand what healthy skin was left on the singer’s head. A flap was filled with saline every seven to 10 days to stretch the skin, she said, again describing the treatment as “brutally painful.”

Jackson was very fearful of pain, she said, noting he was afraid of needles and that she “always” held his hand. The pain would be so intense, she said, he would suffer “blind migraines,” get cold sweats and grow pale.

“He couldn’t do anything,” Rowe said.

But, Rowe said, she never saw Jackson “doctor shop” in order to get more pain medications. He was very trusting of doctors and “very loyal” to his own, she said.

“He said, ‘They take the oath. Do no harm,’” Rowe testified.

Rowe testified Wednesday that she believed some of his doctors “took advantage” of his low pain tolerance and fear of pain.

“The very rich, very poor and the very famous get the worst medical care,” she said Thursday. “The very rich can buy it, the very poor can’t get any and the very famous can dictate it.”

When asked if she thought Jackson dictated his medical care to his own doctors, Rowe said, “When it came to pain, I wouldn’t say it was dictating. I would say it was more begging for relief.”

“He respected doctors and wouldn’t question what they were doing,” she said.

Rowe was called as a witness by AEG Live in the suit filed by Jackson's mother and three children. The Jacksons say that AEG negligently hired and supervised Conrad Murray, the cardiologist who administered the fatal dose of propofol to Jackson in June 2009 as he was rehearsing for a 50-concert comeback in London. AEG says that the singer hired Murray and that any money the company was supposed to pay the doctor was an advance to Jackson.

The jury seemed to hang on every word of Rowe's testimony, which included the singer's medical conditions, and the time they were watching "To Kill a Mockingbird" and called Gregory Peck with a question about the movie he had starred in.

She spoke of his concerts, which she described as “amazing,” and watching them from a seat on stage.

“I would see him and I would think, is this Michael Jackson? Michael Jackson was my friend before he was anything else,” she said. “I saw him, and I would say, ‘Oh my God, I know him.’ … And I would think, 'I’m so flipping lucky.’”

When court broke mid-morning, Rowe hugged Michael's mother, Katherine Jackson, and both were crying.

“You taking care of her?" Rowe said to Jackson's nephew Trent, who has accompanied her to the trial.

“I don’t want to have to beat you up, Trent," she joked. "I can take you.”


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