An emotional Katherine Jackson testified for the first time Friday in her lawsuit against entertainment giant AEG Live over her son Michael’s death, saying she wanted to know “what really happened to my son.”
The 83-year-old matriarch held attorney Brian Panish’s hand as she made her way to the witness stand, where the lawyer and court bailiff helped her into her seat. She adjusted her purple-and-white patterned jacket as the microphone was moved closer.
Katherine Jackson admitted she was nervous – it was the first time she had ever spoken to a jury, she said. She also said it was difficult to speak in public about such a private matter.
“The most difficult thing is to sit here in this court and listen to all the bad things they say about my son,” she said, later adding. “A lot of the things that have been said are not the truth. And he’s not here to speak for himself.”
“Are you here to speak for your son Michael?” Panish asked.
“I’ll try my best,” she replied.
Katherine Jackson, 83, and her grandchildren -- Prince, Paris and Blanket -- claim AEG Live negligently hired and controlled the physician who gave the singer a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in 2009, days before his "This Is It" tour was to open in London.
AEG says it was Jackson who hired Dr. Conrad Murray, and that any money the company was supposed to pay the doctor was an advance to the singer. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death and is serving jail time.
The pop star’s mother spent much of the morning talking about raising her nine children with husband Joe in a four-room house in Gary, Ind. Money was tight, she said, particularly when her husband couldn’t find work at the steel mill. Katherine Jackson recalled making her children’s clothes, cutting coupons from newspapers — even picking vegetables she would preserve.
Katherine Jackson said that both she and her husband came from musical families and that their talents were passed on to their children. She recalled going to sleep at night — she and Joe in one of the bedrooms, her sons sharing a triple bunk-bed in the other — and waking up to the children “harmonizing and singing.”
Michael, she said, “was born that way.”
“When all the kids were dancing around, he was in my arms and he couldn’t be still. He was dancing to the music,” she said. “And when he started to talk, he would still dance.”
Her washing machine, she said, used to rattle to a rhythm. She recalled finding her seventh child standing next to the machine, “dancing, sucking on the bottle, to the squeaking of the washer.”
The jury laughed. “He just loved music,” Katherine Jackson said. “He loved to dance.”
Katherine Jackson said she and her children would listen to country music — something her father played when she was a girl — and her older sons began singing in competitions at local high schools. Michael was about 5, she said, when he sang at his own school program.
She said she went to the school with her father-in-law to watch her son sing “Climb Ev'ry Mountain.”
“I was so nervous when he walked out on the stage because he was always shy,” she said. “And he started singing the song and he sang it with such clarity. … Joe’s father sat there and cried like a baby. He looked around, and I was crying too.”
“He got a standing ovation for his performance, and he wasn’t nervous, and I was shocked,” she continued, saying she thought he “felt more at home when he was on stage.”
Michael joined his brothers’ group soon after, she said, and the boys would rehearse at home, pushing the furniture back toward the walls of the living room and dancing in the middle of the floor. They kept singing at local contests, only losing once, she said with a chuckle.
“I think they were sick of seeing the Jacksons win,” she said.
Panish showed videos and photos of the Jackson 5, featuring a young Michael smiling as he sang and danced with his brothers. The attorney asked Katherine Jackson what type of suits her son wore in one black-and-white photo.
“Homemade suits,” she responded, drawing laughter.
The boys’ careers took off – they singed a record deal with Motown in 1968 -- and Katherine Jackson talked about moving to California with her family. Girls swarmed their home, she said. “I got so tired of it,” she laughed.
Michael didn’t let the fame go to his head, she said. Katherine Jackson told stories earlier in the morning of her son as a child, crying because one of his other brothers was sick. “Michael has always been sensitive and loving,” she said.
Panish showed a photo of Michael as a toddler, smiling at the camera. He asked what it showed.
“It shows him as a sweet little boy to me,” Katherine Jackson said. “My baby.”