Michael Jackson was so drastically a shadow of his former self while rehearsing for the This is It tour in 2009 that the authors of a new book detailing the King of Pop’s final days say it should have been obvious to everyone around him the tour – if not Jackson’s very life – was doomed.
“The most surprising thing we learned [in writing the book] is that people thought the This is It tour was ever going to happen,” Matt Richards, co-author of 83 Minutes with Mark Langthorne, tells PEOPLE in an interview for this week’s issue. “Jackson was in no state to perform…and the reality of doing 50 shows in London was absurd. But the entourage of ‘yes’ people created an arena of unreality.”
The book, excerpted in this week’s PEOPLE, chronicles the ominous signs of Jackson’s waning health.
With the comeback concerts set to begin on July 8, 2009, Jackson was only sporadically keeping to a demanding rehearsal schedule – and drained by chronic insomnia that had him relying more and more on the powerful anesthesia Propofol, administered through an IV by his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, 83 Minutes explains. Between the Propofol at night, regular doses of the narcotic Demerol from his dermatologist, and frequent use of benzodiazepines (sedatives), Jackson “was often unable to communicate properly with his closest friends and wasn’t able to make sense as he continually repeated himself during conversations,” the authors write.
Their book includes a graphically detailed email the concert tour’s director sent after one especially bad rehearsal.
“[Jackson] appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of chills, was trembling, rambling, and obsessing,” Director Kenny Ortega wrote in a June 20 email to Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live, the company financing the tour. “Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it’s going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing.”
Ortega continued, according to the book, ” As far as I can tell there is no one caring for him on a daily basis. Tonight I was feeding him, wrapping him in blankets to warm his chills, massaging his feet to calm him and calling his doctor.”
He noted that Jackson was “frightened” that the tour would be canceled, and repeatedly asked Ortega if he was going to leave him, the authors write.
“He was practically begging for my confidence. It broke my heart,” Ortega divulged of Jackson, who had become reliant on a teleprompter to remember his own song lyrics. “He was like a lost boy.”
For more on Michael Jackson’s final days – and minutes – pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Surprisingly, the night before his June 25 death, Jackson seemed to have pulled it together: he delivered a successful performance at rehearsal before heading home to Murray. It was then and there that Jackson was given the drugs that killed him.
Related Video: How Michael Jackson’s Kids Paris, Prince and Blanket Are Coping 7 Years After Father’s Death
When paramedics arrived at Jackson’s Los Angeles home late that next morning – a dramatic scene outlined in 83 Minutes – they found a man befitting Ortega’s descriptions.
“He appeared to me to be pale and underweight,” paramedic Richard Senneff testified, according to Langthorne and Richards. “I was thinking along the lines of, this is a hospice patient.”
Jackson was 50 when he died of acute Propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for the singer’s death, sentenced to four years in prison and released after serving two of those years.