Michael Jackson Medical Thriller—Does He Need New Lung?

Biographer claims Jackson suffers from rare generic condition; singer's camp remains mum

By Josh Grossberg Dec 22, 2008 9:40 PMTags
Michael JacksonAP Photo/Jockel Finck, File

Is Michael Jackson really facing a life-threatening genetic condition?

The reclusive King of Pop's camp is remaining mum after a biographer with a penchant for tabloid-friendly fare claimed Jackson is in desperate need of a lung transplant.

Author Ian Halperin, who made a minor splash by writing a book theorizing Kurt Cobain was murdered and who is apparently trying to drum up interest in his in-the-works Jackson biography, insists the 50-year-old entertainer is suffering from a sometimes-fatal genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Jackson's condition has worsened over the years to the point where "his quality of life is severely diminished," Halperin tells In Touch magazine, so much so that he's "barely able to speak" and has lost 95 percent of the vision in his left eye.

"He's had [the deficiency] for years, but it's gotten worse," Halperin told the magazine. "He needs a lung transplant but may be too weak to go through with it...[But] it's the [gastrointestinal] bleeding that is the most problematic part. It could kill him."

The "relatively rare genetic disorder...becomes apparent in young adulthood and early middle age," Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital who treated Jackson in 1999, said in an informational press release.

"The liver can also be affected, causing cirrhosis. The disease produces an early-onset emphysema, just as one might see in an older smoker. Treatment for mild or moderate cases involves infusions of a specific medication. In advanced stages, a lung transplant may be necessary.

"Since this is a genetic disorder, other members of the Jackson family must be tested for this genetic variant," added Horovitz, who would not say whether Jackson actually has the disorder.

The singer was last spotted in public two weeks ago in Los Angeles, wearing a Zorro-like mask as he headed into his doctor's office and made the shopping rounds.

Earlier this year, he was photographed in a wheelchair pushed by aides, and just last month, his lawyer claimed Jackson couldn't fly to Britain to testify in a now-settled lawsuit by an Arab sheik because Jackson was too ill to make the trip. He also shot down speculation he would join his brothers in a reunion tour next year.

Adding fuel to the fire, Jermaine Jackson was quoted in Britain's Sun saying his younger brother was "not doing so well right now...This isn't a good time." However, the tabloid did not provide any real context for the remarks.

While Jackson's camp is so far silent, FoxNews.com is calling Halperin's statements bogus, claiming the Moonwalker is doing just fine, living in a swanky rented home in Beverly Hills with his three kids.