How bad is, or was, Michael Jackson's addiction to prescription medication?
Well, in a deposition Jackson gave last summer, the beleaguered pop star 'fessed up for once about where his head's been at when he signs documents.
The testimony Jackson gave on July 25, 2007, had to do with agreements he signed with former manager Dieter Wiesner.
As usual, Jackson claimed to have forgotten putting his signature on the dotted line.
In the deposition, taken in London, an attorney for Wiesner asks Jackson the key question.
This is what it looks like in the actual transcript, obtained exclusively by this column:
Q Were you impaired by the taking of prescription medications or something else at the time you signed these two documents?
A I could have been.
Q Is that best of recollection, that you signed these while impaired, not knowing what they meant?
A I could maybe say so, but I'm not — I don't remember them.
It's not like Jackson misunderstood the questioning, either. In the same line of examination, the attorney for Wiesner managed to get this in as well:
Q How long in 2003 were you impaired because of the taking of prescription medication?
A I don't know.
Q Was it most of 2003?
A I'm not sure.
Q Did Dr. Farshchian prescribe that medication for you?
A No, it wasn't Farshchian. I think it was a local.
And then there's also this exchange:
Q As of March 31, 2003, were you still impaired because of the taking of prescription medication?
A I could have been.
Q During the period of time you were impaired by the taking of prescription medication, was this an impairment that lasted like all your waking hours, or did it come and go?
A It comes and goes, not all of the waking hours, of course not. Yes.
Q Now, during the period of time you were taking this medication when you weren't impaired, did you ever tell one of your advisors that you were [concerned] about your impairment and they better watch what you were signing during this period of time?
A Not that I recall.
Dr. Alimorad Farshchian, of course, was Jackson's infamous "vitamin" doctor upon whom Jackson relied heavily in 2002-2003.
It was Dr. Farshchian — founder in 2000 of the The Center for Regenerative Medicine — who accompanied Jackson from Florida back to California in February 2003 with the Arvizo family.
They eventually filed charges against him that consumed Jackson in a trial and took away a couple of years of his life.
Jackson's vagueness about his business transactions didn't go over so well, I am told. As usual, he claimed to have no memory of people or events that had already been documented or testified to in other cases.
After losing a multi-million dollar case to another former partner, Marc Schaffel, Jackson was convinced by his attorneys to settle the Wiesner case instead of letting it go to trial.
The settlement, like the Schaffel one, has not been paid.
For Jackson, the admission in sworn testimony that he was "impaired" thanks to too many prescription drugs is startling.
He's already been in rehab once — that he's admitted. Further testimony about his drug use came in his child molestation trial.
Sources have told this column about numerous instances when Jackson was too "out of it" to perform.
As I reported here, his ankle "snake bite" in 2003 was in fact a cover-up for an injection he received.
The question now: Is Jackson still "impaired" by prescription drugs, and if so, where is getting them?
So here's the deal: Think Films is doing a stealth release for Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."
It starts Friday with two New York theaters, then expands next Friday to a few major cities.
Lumet, who's 83, says he's "sick" of talking about himself and the movie.
Ethan Hawke, one of the stars, told me Wednesday night at the very unheralded premiere of the film, "this was the worst time I ever spent on a film. Ugh! Living with those characters..."
He shook his head. "I mean, there's no irony. They're just two brothers who accidentally kill their mother. It's not funny."
Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei were all at the premiere, as were Bebe Neuwirth, Patricia Clarkson and a few dozen society types who looked peppy and preppy and could not have been less interested in the film itself.
I did spot writer Hannah Pakula, widow of the great director Alan Pakula, and Tony Walton, but they were Lumet's guests.
Lauren Bacall came, not just as a Lumet pal, but as a potential Best Supporting Actress nominee in another ThinkFilm release, Paul Schrader's "The Walker."
And there was Sidney.
"I did six hours yesterday talking to different radio shows for five minutes apiece!" he cried.
Well, it's hard to have a hit movie. But everyone agrees, Lumet has made a little masterpiece in "Devil." He just doesn't like to hear about awards.
"Don't ask him about it. Did you ask him about?" asked Lilith Jacobs, Lumet's devoted right-hand woman for many years. "He's superstitious. He doesn't want to talk about the Oscars."
OK. But, for the record: Nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Hoffman), Supporting Actor (Hawke) and Supporting Actress (Tomei) will be campaigned for and, in all likelihood, gotten.
The only fly in the ointment is that Hoffman will be pushed by Fox Searchlight for Best Actor in "The Savages." And for Best Supporting Actor by Universal in "Charlie Wilson's War." The only thing he's not doing is hosting the Oscar telecast.
And what about Marisa Tomei? She's naked in this movie.
Remember how on "Seinfeld," George Costanza went after her moments after his fiancée Susan dropped dead from licking poisoned envelopes?
Naked Marisa Tomei is a long-held fantasy for some men. Apparently, she's had a clause forever that prohibited this.
Now, all bets are off. And so are all bras. Tomei's scenes should do for her what similar ones did for Susan Sarandon in "Atlantic City" 26 years ago.
"She's got a lot of offers now," said one agent.
While we're on the subject of Best Supporting Actress with Lauren Bacall in "The Walker":
Queen Latifah is a shoo-in for her work as Motormouth Maybelle in "Hairspray." She steals the film, thanks to another saucy performance that includes knockout singing.
Other Best Supporting Actress names floating around: Cate Blanchett for "I'm Not There"; Indian superstar Tabu for "The Namesake"; Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone"; Alison Janney for "Juno"; Samantha Morton for "Control"; the aforementioned Tomei in "Devil." These are the performances you have to see if you're an Academy voter.
Which brings, or brought us, to the Highline Ballroom last night for Latifah's sold-out show to promote her new album "Trav'lin Light."
This was no Jennifer Lopez show. Latifah can sing her heart out, which she did with a full, top-notch jazz band that was so good we didn't want them to stop.
But what did we expect? The album is produced by the legendary Tommy LiPuma. Latifah's not fooling around.
Latifah's songs included Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man" and "Quiet Nights" as well as the Mamas and Papas' "California Dreamin.'"
They're all great, but you've got to hear her encore of "Lush Life," produced for her last album by the late, great Arif Mardin.
She could wind up with both Grammy and Oscar nominations this winter. Not bad.
Anthony Pellicano's attorney has filed a motion to dismiss his client's indictment before a February 2008 trial can begin.
The reasons? Steven F. Gruel, a former federal prosecutor, claims Pellicano was unlawfully searched by the FBI and that FBI agent Stanley Ornellas lied and manipulated evidence to make Pellicano look guilty.
Gruel also says the FBI used Sandra Will Carradine, a former Pellicano girlfriend and ex-wife of Keith Carradine, in a covert manner to get info on the jailed private eye.
The irony, Gruel points out, is that Carradine did to Pellicano exactly what Pellicano is accused of doing to dozens of unsuspecting people: wiretapping them without their knowledge. The only difference is that Carradine was doing it for the government.
The motion to dismiss will be heard Nov. 19, but it's unlikely the judge is going to let the Pellicano case go after all this time.
Still, Gruel's papers are a good read, if only because they retell the Pellicano saga from the private eye's point of view.
It's kind of like "Fractured Fairy Tales" as he writes, "Anthony Pellicano is a nationally recognized forensic audio expert."
The real wording would be "Anthony Pellicano figured out a way to eavesdrop on people by bugging their phones, offices and homes to help his clients."
Gruel goes on: "He had a long career as a private investigator working for a succession of prominent attorneys in the private and public sector."
Here, again, the underlying meaning is: "He had a long career as private detective helping Hollywood lawyers get dirt on clients' enemies."
And so on: "He worked many times for local, state and federal government agencies and authorities. As of the time of his arrest in November 2002, he had no criminal record."
In fact: "He'd never been caught doing anything up until that point."
It's a good read, and one that explains the history of the case from 2001 forward, including the infamous harassing of entertainment reporter Anita Busch and the long, convoluted subplot of action movie star Steven Seagal and his producer, Jules Nasso.
And all of it will be retold in front of a jury when the trial begins, at long last, in February.