Kenny Ortega, shown in 2011, wrote to an AEG Live executive that Michael… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The director of Michael Jackson's ill-fated comeback concerts broke into tears Wednesday as he read jurors an email he wrote five days before the singer died, calling the pop star a "lost boy" whose deteriorating physical and mental condition had left him near a breaking point.
The June 20 email from Kenny Ortega to Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, had been shown to the jury previously in the wrongful death case, but Ortega's reading gave it a new emotional depth.
"My concern ... is that the artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to the real emotional stuff," Ortega wrote. "He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, ranting and obsessing.
"Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it's going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing ... I believe that he really wants this.
"It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug. He's terribly frightened it's all going to go away. He asked me repeatedly tonight if I was going to leave him. He was practically begging for my confidence. It broke my heart. He was like a lost boy. There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if we get him the help he needs."
As Ortega read the email out loud, he paused between words and he began to cry. He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped his eyes with a tissue.
"I'm not OK right now," he said, and the judge called a recess.
Katherine Jackson, Jackson's mother, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, also wiped away tears.
Jackson's mother and three children are suing AEG Live, Phillips and another executives, saying that they negligently hired and controlled Dr. Conrad Murray, who gave the singer a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009. AEG says that Murray worked for Jackson, not the entertainment giant.
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving jail time.
Ortega said he wrote the email after Jackson — who had been showing up for rehearsals sporadically — had stopped coming at all. He finally showed up in a condition that alarmed Ortega and others in the crew, less than three weeks before the first concert was scheduled.
"I saw a Michael that frightened me," Ortega testified. "I observed Michael like I had never seen him before, and it troubled me deeply.
The director, who had worked with Jackson on his "Dangerous" tour in the early 1990s and on several other occasions, said he called Murray several times but never spoke to him that night.
"I wanted someone who was a professional to be aware that Michael had showed up in this condition," he said.
Ortega said he was in a room with Jackson and Karen Faye, his longtime makeup artist and hair designer. The singer was shivering and had a blanket wrapped around him, and Faye placed a heater nearby. Ortega was massaging his feet. The director remembered crying.
Ortega was so disturbed by Jackson's appearance that he didn't think the tour could take place. "I wanted to stop," he testified.
Ortega's email led to a meeting at Jackson's Holmby Hills mansion the next day attended by the singer, Murray, Phillips and the director. Ortega called the meeting "accusatory" and said Murray was angry, telling him not to be an amateur psychiatrist or physician, words that echoed an email Phillips sent the director a few hours earlier.
According to Murray, Jackson was fine. "I was flabbergasted," Ortega said.
Jackson showed up to rehearsal three days later, a changed man. "I remember saying, 'Did I see something that wasn't there, because Michael just didn't seem like the Michael I had seen on the 19th, he was charged up, raring to go," Ortega said.
Two days later, he was dead.