The photo flashed on live TV, an almost ghostlike visage. But the picture of Michael Jackson’s unclothed, painfully thin corpse sadly might be the enduring, haunting image to emerge from the trial of the doctor tasked with caring for him.
There was Jackson – whatever his foibles, a performer who gave his all from his boyhood to his final days – literally stripped of his dignity, for the world to see.
With the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray moving into its fourth week, the King of Pop's image in death appears to be spiraling more out of control than even in life.
We've noted that the court case threatens to alter Jackson's legacy, with the sordid circumstances of his demise potentially overshadowing the way he lived – a mix of astounding musical accomplishment and, to put it mildly, dubious personal decisions. While time will render the verdict, the trial seems to be speeding up the deliberations, via the stark last glimpses and sounds of the premiere entertainer of his era.
Many fans used the Internet to unleash their fury about the public showing of the photo – employing the very medium that will ensure the image, briefly seen on TV with a black box covering Jackson's pelvic area, is forever a click away. Their anger is misplaced, but understandable – there's an impulse among supporters to protect Jackson, who projected a Peter Pan-like aura and now seems at his most vulnerable more than two years after his last breath.
Tapes of his slurred voice played in court lack the childlike endearment and eccentricity that was part of both his charm and weirdness. There’s a helpless sadness in listening to an obviously addled Jackson express a desperate desire to be seen as the "greatest entertainer in the world" – a need instilled in him since the childhood he seemed to spend the last four decades of his life trying to reclaim. Jackson also needed his "milk" – his juvenile nickname for the powerful anesthetic that apparently helped lead to his downfall.
There are conflicting rumblings over whether his elder son, 14-year-old Prince, will take on an adult role and testify during the prosecution's rebuttal, as soon as this week. Jackson, we suspect, would have tried to protect his child from the spotlight’s glare, knowing better than anyone its power to wilt blooming youth.
We can’t say if the child's account, which reportedly contradicts Murray's description of his interactions with Jackson's children the day the pop star died, is essential to the prosecution's case. But the trial is necessary to uncover the naked truth about Michael Jackson's death – a truth, no matter what the impact on his legacy, that could give the music superstar the final measure of justice and dignity he deserves.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.