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Michael Jackson: He was channeling God

October 27, 2009 | 12:32 pm

COUNTDOWN TO 'MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT'

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It’s no secret that Michael Jackson went to his grave in search of sleep.

The pop icon's death was linked to his use of the powerful anesthetic propofol and sedatives, according to the autopsy report.

Less scrutinized, however, are the circumstances that led up to Jackson's chronic sleeplessness. Turns out that toward the end of his life, Jackson burned the midnight oil in large part because he said he was channeling God and didn’t want to affront his creator or miss out on divine inspiration by clocking off too early.

“He’d say, ‘When the phones stop ringing at night, that’s when I can have really, really great thoughts. I’m not being interrupted. I can just be one with God. And then the ideas would come to me,’” recalled Travis Payne, associate director/choreographer of “This Is It,” the sold-out series of 50 comeback concerts at London’s O2 Arena that Jackson was preparing for at the time of his death June 25. “In his mind, if he went to sleep, he would miss those ideas.”

To be sure, nearly $400 million in debt without having toured for a dozen years at the time of his comeback, there were also financial and personal pressures associated with “This Is It” (a movie made up of rehearsal footage for that tour, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” reaches theaters Wednesday for a limited two-week engagement).

As well, to hear it from the show’s director Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical,” “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Tour”), Jackson had put his all into every detail in the production -- including the levitating orb that would float from the performer’s hand and immolate over the audience, the bulldozer that would drive on-stage during “Earth Song” and the image of Africa’s Victoria Falls that Jackson wanted projected on a 90-foot high-definition video screen during another segment of the concerts.

A notorious insomniac since 1997, Jackson’s difficulty falling asleep took on crisis proportions in the final weeks leading up to the concerts – a period when it was not uncommon for the performer to wrap rehearsal as late as 1 a.m. and then call his collaborators such as Ortega or the concerts’ associate director-choreographer Travis Payne between 3:30 and 5 a.m. to brainstorm ideas for the stage show.
Such phone conversations were usually prefaced by an innocent – if rhetorical -- greeting: “You up?”

If the King of Pop was awake at that hour, his inner circle knew it was usually for one reason.

“He used the word 'channeling,' ” said Ortega. “He would say when the information was coming, when the idea was coming, it was a blessing. And he couldn't turn his back on a blessing. These were important ideas that were nurturing his work.”

Ortega continued: “I would say to him, ‘Can’t you make a little pact with your higher power to have this put on a shelf for you until a later date? We need you healthy. We need you nourished.’ He’d laugh at me and say no. ‘When they come, you have to be ready for them and you have to take advantage of them when they’re there. Or they won’t be yours.’”

--Chris Lee

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Photo credit: Associated Press

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