What Killed a King (Michael Jackson) and a Prince (Prince)?


Two of music’s saddest deaths occurred seven years apart.  Michael Jackson’s death at the age of 50 shocked the world on June 25, 2009.  Ask many folks, and they’ll remember where they were or what they were doing when the shocking news broke.  Personally, I was a camp counselor at the summer music camp hosted by the department of music at my alma mater, and found out Jackson had passed before DJ’ing the dance. Safe to say, a lot of MJ was played that evening.

Prince’s death came as no less shock April 21, 2016.  A friend texted me the unbelievable news, and while finishing out the day in my music classroom, I couldn’t help but confirm on my iPad that the news he’d told me was just another of those death hoaxes. Unfortunately for myself and the world, Prince was gone, just like that.  What killed “The King” and of course THE Prince? Drugs.

It’s shocking when you look back on it.  Drugs took two of music’s greatest in the short span of seven years at a young age.  Neither 50 or 57 years of age is considered to be a long life, especially when most of us think of old age beginning minimally in our 70s.  50 and 57 seems unfair, even if both the lives of MJ and Prince were full of glory, at least from an entertainment perspective.  Let’s examine the drugs that caused/contributed to the death of each.

According to Jackson’s toxicology report, the following drugs were found in his system: Propofol, Lidocaine, Diazepam, Lorazepam, Midazolam, and Ephedrine.  As we know, Propofol (Diprivan) was key in the King’s death. It’s intended use is to “help you relax before and during general anesthesia for surgery or other medical procedures,” according to Drugs.com.  As we know, MJ wasn’t having surgeries, and if he was, they weren’t occurring as frequently as he was being administered Propofol by Dr. Conrad Murray. He was being given a drug intravenously… Among key serious side effects of note is “weak or shallow breathing.”

In regards to the other drugs in his system, Diazepam also stands out.  The U.S. National Library of Medicine has specific warnings in regards to overdosing on Diazepam, stating, “Too much of this medicine can cause death.  Symptoms of an overdose include extreme dizziness or weakness, trouble breathing, slow heartbeat, seizure, and cold, clammy skin.” These symptoms apply to both orally administered and administration by injection.  Hmm, coupled with Propofol, in the case of Michael Jackson, reading the worst case scenario with the drugs found on his body, that sounds like a surefire “ticking time bomb.”

According to Prince’s autopsy, the cause of death was an opioid overdose (Fentanyl).  Search any number of sites with information on Fentanyl, and its adverse effects seemingly can be quite adverse (yeah that’s a total UNDERSTATEMENT).  Fentanyl is a painkiller, painkillers can be highly addictive, and ultimately, at its worse, painkillers can literally kill.  Symptoms of an overdose on Fentanyl that parallels a side effect of Propofol: extremely shallow or slow breathing. Yikes!

So, it’s NOT crazy that both Jackson and Prince died surprisingly similarly. No, the drugs weren’t the same, but two musicians whose music rose above all died in most unfortunate fashions. Neither were associated with drugs and calling either addicts seems like the ultimate sacrilege. Arguably, Prince maybe more so than Michael didn’t intend to become addicted to painkillers, but it happened, at least given his hidden hip issues.  Jackson seemed to be looking for peace judging by the cocktail of drugs found in his system, but that peace would cause his demise, aided by the hand of a questionable, negligent physician.

Even royalty can fall victim to the devastating effects of drugs. In both cases, regardless of the troubling cause of death, musical legacy surpasses all.  Their respective overdoses, however, should serve as a reminder of the ultimate devastation caused by drugs.  

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