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This Is It Director on Michael Jackson: “I Wasn’t His Caregiver”

Oct. 28 2009, Published 8:23 a.m. ET

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Kenny Ortega, the director of Michael Jackson’s new film This Is It, rejects the idea that the star was too weak for the demands of tour rehearsals prior to his death.

“Really? ... you really thought he looked frail? You’d use that word?,” Ortega asked, in response to a query regarding Jackson’s appearance in the movie.

“I’ll tell you when he looked frail,” Ortega said Wednesday. “When the media was beating him up. He looked frail when he was being persecuted without having been tried. He looked frail during that time in his life. He was nourished, invigorated during rehearsals. He was turned on, he was so excited about this project, this was his love project. The only other thing that meant more to him were his children, honest to God.”

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Regarding Jackson’s physical health during This Is It preparation, Ortega also discussed his view of his role as director. “Did I worry about him?,” he asked. “All the time. I’m a director. To get to the end of your goal you have to make sure that everybody’s in one piece, so I wouldn’t want him to fall off the stage, and I also encouraged him to take care of himself. ‘Please eat. Please sleep. Please drink. Stay hydrated.’ You even hear me in the movie at one point on the stage going, ‘Get some water.’ We were always like that.

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“But at the same time, Michael’s 50 years old. A father for 12 years. A man who made the choice to do this in his life, believed that this was the right time to do it. I wasn’t his caregiver.”

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Michael Bearden, the tour’s music supervisor, also reframed media reports about Jackson’s sleep deprivation in the weeks before his death.

“Everybody takes it sleeping problems as something negative,” he told press. “When you’re creating, and trying to make this the biggest, best thing for ... the fans ... it’s difficult for anybody to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, we couldn’t turn if off.”

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Chuckling at a suggestion that This Is It rehearsals were “nine to five,” Bearden explained that prep days lasting 20 hours weren’t unusual, and that he and choreographer Travis Payne would often get feedback from Jackson at all hours of the night.

“But it was a good thing,” Bearden said, “because we were just so excited about what we were creating, and what the world was going to see and what MJ was capable of doing, still, at age 50. It was difficult to sleep because it was so exciting. It’s hard to turn that off, that adrenaline. ... Our muses often came at night ... so, insomnia: people have been talking about that. ... But it wasn’t really that. It was more that we were up, juices were flowing, we were creative.”



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