Michael Jackson’s cause of death will not be confirmed for several weeks, officials said, as attention turned to the possible involvement of drugs in the tragic King of Pop’s demise.
As a global outpouring of tributes to the tortured icon showed no sign of abating, Los Angeles coroners began the task of trying to determine what caused the 50-year-old star to collapse and die at his home on Thursday.
After an autopsy lasting several hours, Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey told reporters Friday that examiners had found no evidence of “external trauma or foul play” on Jackson’s body.
However Harvey said a cause of death had been deferred until the results of exhaustive toxicology tests were known, revealing Jackson was known to be taking “some prescription medication” before his death.
“Those tests, we anticipate, will take approximately four to six additional weeks to complete,” Harvey said.
Late Friday, coroners officials revealed Jackson’s body had been released to the star’s family and was being kept at an undisclosed local mortuary. No funeral arrangements have so far been revealed.
Jackson’s autopsy took place amid heartfelt tributes to the singer, and as speculation mounted about the cause of the death of the icon who sold more than 750 million records during a four-decade career.
Jackson lawyer Brian Oxman said he and family members voiced concerns over the star’s use of drugs as he prepared for a gruelling series of comeback concerts in London designed to relaunch his career.
“I know Michael was rehearsing and working extremely hard to get in shape in order to perform in London,” Oxman told ABC television’s Good Morning America. New age guru and Jackson confidante Deepak Chopra -- a qualified cardiologist -- told CNN bluntly: “I think drugs killed him.”
Jackson’s former producer Tarak Ben Ammar earlier denounced the doctors around the late pop icon as “criminals.”
“It’s clear that the criminals in this affair are the doctors who treated him throughout his career, who destroyed his face, who gave him medicine to ease his pain,” he told France’s Europe 1 radio.
Celebrity website TMZ.com -- which broke the news of Jackson’s death -- reported Friday that the star had been injected with the powerful painkiller Demerol about an hour before he lost consciousness.
A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said investigators spoke with Jackson’ doctor Conrad Robert Murray briefly Thursday, but deputy chief Charlie Beck said police wanted to interview him again.
“We will do a thorough interview with the doctor to discuss some of the unanswered questions that have been raised by the death of Michael Jackson and, you know, we expect the doctor will be able to shed some light on some things ...,” Beck told reporters.
A tape-recording of the 911 call from Jackson’s home was released Friday in which a desperate caller could be heard telling an operator that repeated attempts to revive Jackson had been unsuccessful.
The caller also said Jackson’s personal physician had been the only witness to the singer’s collapse. “(The doctor) is pumping the chest but he’s not responding to anything, sir, please,” the caller is heard saying.
Earlier Friday, police seized the BMW sedan Doctor Murray had driven to Jackson’s rented residence, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“It may contain medications or other evidence that may assist the coroner in determining the cause of death,” the paper quoted a police official as saying.
Jackson’s family, including the star’s three young children, were reportedly huddled at an estate in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Encino.
Meanwhile there were tributes from Jackson’s close friend Elizabeth Taylor and a spokesman for US President Barack Obama.
“My heart... my mind... are broken,” Taylor said in a statement. “I loved Michael with all my soul and I can’t imagine life without him... I still can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. It can’t be so.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday Obama regarded Jackson as an icon but thought aspects of his life were “sad and tragic.”
Fans staged gatherings across the world, including 10,000 Danish fans who crammed into a square in Copenhagen for a three-hour tribute concert.
A moment of silence was held at 2126 GMT, exactly 24 hours after the announcement of Jackson’s death.
On the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, thousands of fans queued for hours in boiling sunshine for the right to file past Jackson’s star set into the sidewalk.
Mark Cho, 25, from San Francisco was typical of the crowds that came to pay their respects. “I stood in line for more than two hours, but it was totally worth it,” he said.
Jackson’s death led to a stampede on the Internet as fans scoured the web for latest updates on the story.
Yahoo! News “set an all-time record in unique visitors with 16.4 million people, surpassing our previous record of 15.1 million visitors on election day,” it said.
While Jackson ruled the charts and dazzled audiences with dance moves like the “moonwalk” in the 1980s, his once-stellar career was overshadowed by his startling physical transformation and multiple allegations of child abuse.
He lived as a virtual recluse following his 2005 acquittal on charges of child molestation and plotting to kidnap his young accuser.