LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson was so distraught over persistent insomnia in recent months that he pleaded for a powerful sedative despite warnings it could be harmful, says a nutritionist who was working with the singer as he prepared his comeback bid.
Cherilyn Lee, a registered nurse whose specialty includes nutritional counseling, said Tuesday that she repeatedly rejected his demands for the drug, Diprivan, which is given intravenously.
But a frantic phone call she received from Jackson four days before his death made her fear that he somehow obtained Diprivan or another drug to induce sleep, Lee said.
While in Florida on June 21, Lee was contacted by a member of Jackson's staff.
"He called and was very frantic and said, `Michael needs to see you right away.' I said, 'What's wrong?' And I could hear Michael in the background ..., 'One side of my body is hot, it's hot, and one side of my body is cold. It's very cold,"' Lee said.
"I said, `Tell him he needs to go the hospital. I don't know what's going on, but he needs to go to the hospital ... right away."
"At that point, I knew that somebody had given him something that hit the central nervous system," she said, adding, "He was in trouble Sunday and he was crying out."
Jackson did not go to the hospital. He died June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest, his family said. Autopsies have been conducted, but an official cause of death is not expected for several weeks.
"I don't know what happened there. The only thing I can say is he was adamant about this drug," Lee said.
Following Jackson's death, allegations emerged that the 50-year-old King of Pop had been consuming painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants. But Lee said she encountered a man tortured by sleep deprivation and one who expressed opposition to recreational drug use.
"He wasn't looking to get high or feel good and sedated from drugs," she said. "This was a person who was not on drugs. This was a person who was seeking help, desperately, to get some sleep, to get some rest."
Jackson was rehearsing hard for what would have been his big comeback — his "This Is It" tour, a series of performances that would have strained his aging dancer's body. Also, pain had been a part of his life since 1984, when his scalp was severely burned during a Pepsi commercial shoot.
"The Incredible Hulk" star Lou Ferrigno, who's been working out with Jackson for the past several months, said Jackson was focused on health.
"When he was with me, he wasn't different. He wasn't stoned. He wasn't high. He wasn't being aloof or speedy. Never talked about drugs," Ferrigno said. "I've never seen him take drugs. He was always talking about nutrition."
Several months ago, Jackson had begun badgering Lee about Diprivan, also known as Propofol, Lee said. It is an intravenous anesthetic drug widely used in operating rooms to induce unconsciousness. It is generally given through an IV needle in the hand.
Patients given Propofol take less time to regain consciousness than those administered certain other drugs, and they report waking up more clear-headed and refreshed, said University of Chicago psychopharmacologist James Zacny.
It has also been implicated in drug abuse, with people using it to "chill out" or to commit suicide, Zacny said. Accidental deaths linked to abuse have been reported. The powerful drug has a very narrow therapeutic window, meaning it doesn't take doses much larger than the medically recommended amount to stop a person's breathing.
An overdose that stops breathing can result in a buildup of carbon dioxide, causing the heart to beat erratically and leading to cardiac arrest, said Dr. John Dombrowski, a member of the board of directors of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Because it is given intravenously and is not the kind of prescription drug typically available from pharmacists, abuse cases have involved anesthesiologists, nurses and other hospital staffers with easy access to the drug, Zacny said.
In recent months, Lee said, Jackson waved away her warnings about it.
"I had an IV and when it hit my vein, I was sleeping. That's what I want," Lee said Jackson told her.
"I said, 'Michael, the only problem with you taking this medication' — and I had a chill in my body and tears in my eyes three months ago — 'the only problem is you're going to take it and you're not going to wake up," she recalled.
According to Lee, Jackson said it had been given to him before but he didn't want to discuss the circumstances or identify the doctor involved.
Londell McMillan, attorney for Katherine and Joe Jackson, talked about Lee's disclosures Tuesday on CNN.
"It's a hearsay comment. It would be inadmissible anywhere in a court of law," he said. "I also wonder why anyone would make a comment about something that they don't have much knowledge about. They didn't see the drug administered. It's again because of the Michael Jackson factor."
Lee said the singer drew his own distinctions when it came to drugs versus prescription medicine.
"He said, `I don't like drugs. I don't want any drugs. My doctor told me this is a safe medicine,"' Lee said. The next day, she said she brought a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference to show him the section on Diprivan.
"He said, 'No, my doctor said it's safe. It works quick and it's safe as long as somebody's here to monitor me and wake me up. It's going be OK,"' Lee said. She said he did not give the doctor's name.
Lee said at one point, she spent the night with Jackson to monitor him while he slept. She said she gave him herbal remedies and stayed in a corner chair in his vast bedroom.
After he settled in bed, Lee told Jackson to turn down the lights and music — he had classical music playing in the house. "He also had a computer on the bed because he loved Walt Disney," she said. "He was watching Donald Duck and it was ongoing. I said, `Maybe if we put on softer music,' and he said, `No, this is how I go to sleep."'
Three and a half hours later, Jackson jumped up and looked at Lee, eyes wide open, according to Lee. "This is what happens to me," she quoted him as saying. "All I want is to be able to sleep. I want to be able to sleep eight hours. I know I'll feel better the next day."
Lee, 56, is licensed as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in California, according to the state Board of Registered Nursing's Web site. She attended Los Angeles Southwest College and the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Sciences in Los Angeles.
Comedian Dick Gregory, who knows Lee and her work, said he believes Jackson's insomnia had its roots in the pop star's 2005 trial on child molestation charges. Jackson's health had deteriorated so much that his parents called Gregory, a natural foods proponent, for help.
Gregory said Jackson wasn't eating or drinking at the time and, after he was persuaded by Gregory to undergo testing, ended up hospitalized for severe dehydration.
But Jackson obviously was healthy enough to withstand the level of medical scrutiny needed to insure him for the upcoming high-stakes London concerts, Gregory said. "That you don't trick," he said of the exams.
Lee, who has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Marla Gibbs, Reynaldo Rey and other celebrities, said she was introduced to Jackson by the mother of one of his staff members. Jackson's three children had minor cold symptoms and their pediatrician was out of town.
Lee said she went to the house in January, the first of about 10 visits there through April, and treated the children with vitamins. Michael, intrigued, asked what else she did and took her up on her claim she could boost his energy.
After running blood tests, she devised protein shakes for him and gave him an intravenous vitamin and mineral mixture — known as a "Myers cocktail," after Dr. John Myers — which Lee said she uses routinely in her practice.
"It wasn't that he felt sick," she said. "He just wanted more energy."
Lee said she decided to speak out to protect Jackson's reputation from what she considers unfounded allegations of drug abuse or shortcomings as a parent.
"I think it's so wrong for people to say these things about him," she said. "He was a wonderful, loving father who wanted the best for his children."