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How TMZ broke news of Michael Jackson’s death one year ago

By Michael Lewittes




June 25, 2009 started off as an ordinary day in the L.A. offices of TMZ.

In fact, when TMZ got its first tip at around 1 p.m. PST that Michael Jackson was being taken to the hospital, “it was not that alarming,” recalls Harvey Levin, explaining the singer had “been taken to the hospital many times before” for non-life threatening ailments.

Gossip Cop spoke to Levin about that fateful afternoon — exactly one year ago today — because it was TMZ’s executive producer and his team who broke the worldwide exclusive of Michael Jackson’s shocking death at the age of 50.

“We didn’t think it was a life/death thing,” says Levin, until he received the next tip that Jackson had gone into full cardiac arrest.

And that’s when a “minor” Michael Jackson hospitalization piece turned into a “huge story.”

“Everyone stopped what they were doing,” Levin tells Gossip Cop. Not because his team was in total shock, but rather because it was the story and his entire staff, from the reporters to the art department to the support staff — anyone who might know anyone — was needed to call sources and verify the cardiac arrest claim.

“Everyone was chasing it,” says Levin, who vividly remembers, “Word came fairly early on it was grave.”

And after multiple sources provided “credible information,” TMZ was 100 percent certain the King of Pop had passed.

“We knew it long before we published it,” says Levin, whose team nevertheless continued calling sources for a full hour afterwards, double and triple-sourcing their story.

“What could we be missing,” Levin asked himself at the time, wanting “a certain feeling before we pushed the publish button.”

Having confirmed with various parties, TMZ had nailed it.

“There was no doubt” about the scoop says Levin, who was told at the time that “EMTs wanted to pronounce him dead at the house, but [Dr. Conrad] Murray didn’t want to.”

Other outlets quickly began to question whether TMZ stood by its story, and rumors even spread that Jackson was alive and rehearsing at the Staples Center.

At that point, though, the only questions TMZ had, says Levin, were “Why did this 50-year-old die” and were drugs involved? And why did the doctor say Jackson was still alive at the home when EMTs claimed he died in the house?

Without taking a moment to breathe – or even congratulate itself for breaking the century’s biggest story (so far) – the TMZ staff immediately got back to business because “We knew there was a much bigger story,” says Levin, rattling off issues, including “drug abuse, celebrity privilege, money, family, trust… ”

Indeed, those subjects will undoubtedly dominate more headlines as the Jackson family, Dr. Murray, creditors, the estate, and sundry other individuals and corporations head into court this year.

Though Levin was initially referring to Jackson’s finances, in a larger sense the TMZ head honcho is correct in saying, “Michael Jackson may be bigger in death than he was at the end of his life.”

As for the first year anniversary of Jackson’s death, it’s another ordinary day in the TMZ offices.

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