Published: Wednesday, Jul. 08, 2009 / Updated: Wednesday, Jul. 08, 2009 07:31 AM
Rock Hill doctor helped saved Michael Jackson's life after 1995 rehearsal collapse
By Andrew Dys, Columnist - firstname.lastname@example.org
When Dr. William Alleyne II heard about Michael Jackson's death last week while on vacation, this doctor who specializes in lung ailments in Rock Hill turned young again.
In his mind, he was just Bill Alleyne, the young guy who spent money out of his pocket to buy Michael Jackson albums. The guy who became a doctor and took his new bride to Michael Jackson concerts.
“It was an overwhelming sense of sadness,” Alleyne said.
Sure, Bill Alleyne is a Michael Jackson fan like millions. But Dr. William Alleyne had more reason to be sad than most fans. Alleyne said Tuesday, for the first time in 14 years, “I was the doctor who saved Michael Jackson's life.”
In December 1995, Alleyne was the critical care director at Beth Israel North Hospital, on the Upper East Side in New York City across the way from the mayor's Gracie Mansion. He was the guy in charge when one of the nurses told him, “We have Michael Jackson coming here.”
Alleyne didn't believe it then.
“I said, ‘Ha, ha, very funny,'” Alleyne recalled.
He had seen patients who were stars, or spouses of stars, but this was different. Thousands of people started clamoring outside the hospital. The place was turning into bedlam.
“Ten minutes later, they rolled Michael Jackson in on a stretcher,” Alleyne said Tuesday from his Rock Hill office where he's one of the partners at Carolina Pulmonary Physicians. But in 1995, Alleyne was the doctor to the King of Pop. Jackson had collapsed after a rehearsal for an upcoming HBO special at the nearby Beacon Theater.
Alleyne and his wife had seen Jackson before in concert, on television, and now, in 1995, Jackson was waiting, unconscious, for Bill Alleyne to save his life.
“Mr. Jackson was in critical condition,” Alleyne said. “He was dehydrated. He had low blood pressure. He had a rapid heart rate. He was near death.”
Alleyne went from doctor to a star to doctor of a man who could die. Alleyne, an acquaintance of Jackson's doctor at the time who had seen some of that doctor's patients, had been picked personally by that doctor to be the attending physician for Jackson's emergency care. Alleyne gave the order to have the defibrillator ready if needed to treat the abnormal heart rhythm of the most famous entertainer with the best rhythm on Earth.
After about an hour or so that December dusk, Alleyne said he had Jackson stabilized with intravenous fluids and other treatment, and transferred Jackson to intensive care. But in the meantime, the crowd outside had become massive, a mob scene.
“I looked outside the window, and the crowd was shoulder to shoulder, huge, far more than when the mayor's mansion across the street had hosted the pope, the president, even Nelson Mandela,” Alleyne recalled.
And inside the hospital, Alleyne said, “it was absolute pandemonium.”
Jackson's entourage had muscled into intensive care. Alleyne had a brief showdown with one bodyguard who did not want to let Alleyne in the room again after Alleyne had left briefly. Alleyne recalled he said to the bodyguard, “Your boss is dying in there, and I am going in there to save his life. You can be the one who has to say you wouldn't let me in.”
Bill Alleyne walked in and saved Michael Jackson.
But the crush of people inside wasn't over. The entourage of Jackson's then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, came in. Presley came in, too. Then through the middle of the crowd, another entourage, and Janet Jackson, Michael's sister.
“Here is Janet, drop-dead, stop-the clock gorgeous, and she said, ‘Thank you for taking care of my brother,'” Alleyne recalled.
Alleyne found time to call home. His wife, Cheryl Courtlandt, a physician herself who now is a pediatrician at Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte, was home with two small kids.
“I'm gonna be a little late honey,” Alleyne told his wife. “Turn on the news.”
He told his wife Michael Jackson was his patient, and she said to her husband, verbatim, in words Alleyne will never forget: “Well, you take care of Mr. Jackson and hurry home, because I have two kids here and you need to take out the garbage.”
Jackson soon was stable, and Alleyne and Jackson started a doctor/patient relationship similar to all in theory but unlike any relationship Alleyne had ever had in practice. As people were climbing trees to get pictures of inside the hospital, as Jackson's fans sang his songs outside and the world press invaded the sidewalks and street for information about the condition of this most-famous man, Bill Alleyne tried to keep Michael Jackson alive with intravenous food and care.
“Michael Jackson was the most soft-spoken, least demanding guy you would ever want to meet,” Alleyne said. “Everything he said was a whisper. His biggest concern was could he perform.
Alleyne told Jackson no way could he perform anytime soon.
Alleyne had to get permission to release information to Jackson's family. Jackson gave it. Alleyne had to deal with other doctors who came to watch his every move, and a world that wanted information that Alleyne would not give to anybody but those Jackson said to give it to.
After about 72 hours, Alleyne and Jackson's publicists and others realized they had to give a press conference. So Alleyne worked with Jackson's people to go over what could be said, what to stay away from but still tell the truth. Alleyne was blunt with the world, saying Jackson did not have any immune system problems because rumors about AIDS were swirling. He was blunt that Jackson had no drugs in his system.
News accounts from 1995 show Alleyne and his then-partner, Dr. Bob Glennon, talking about Jackson's condition to convince the world that Jackson was, in fact, critically ill.
“Michael Jackson was unconscious when he arrived,” Alleyne said. “I had to make that clear.”
Through the next few days, Alleyne was Jackson's doctor. Other doctors came to watch behind him, but Alleyne said he was not affronted. Having others sets of eyes look at his care and treatment of Jackson was understandable.
Jackson had to do what other patients who are recovering must do, Alleyne said. Walk around, be monitored. Except he had an entourage in the next room.
“After a couple of days, Mr. Jackson told me he needed to get his hair done,” Alleyne remembered. “I told him we had a barber at the hospital.”
Jackson's entourage laughed: A stylist traveled around the world with Jackson and would style those locks right there in intensive care. The makeup crew came in, too.
Near the end of Jackson's hospital stay, he asked Alleyne if he could visit other patients in intensive care. Jackson met one lady, gave her an autographed picture after he prayed with her, and the lady told Alleyne, “I can die now; I prayed with Michael Jackson.”
Alleyne recalled, laughing: “I told Mr. Jackson maybe visiting with people who had suffered heart attacks or other serious problems wasn't such a good idea.”
When Jackson was discharged, Alleyne stayed in the background as the cameras went off and the video was shot. But Jackson asked Alleyne to make house calls for the next three days. Blood pressure checks, pulse, all that stuff. Alleyne was the director of critical care — house calls were not his bag. But Michael Jackson had asked, so Alleyne said yes.
“House calls, to the penthouse of the Four Seasons hotel,” Alleyne said. “He had rented out the entire top two floors.”
In one “moment of weakness,” Alleyne said he almost asked Jackson to teach him how to moonwalk — Jackson's famous trademark dance.
But Alleyne kept it professional with Michael Jackson, as the entourages and the world watched Alleyne's every move.
Finally, about two weeks into this whirlwind relationship, Alleyne told Jackson, “Mr. Jackson, you are stable. I can stop being your doctor and return to being your fan.”
All humble Alleyne asked for was an autographed picture for his kids to have years down the road.
Before Alleyne left the hotel that day, Alleyne recalled Jackson telling him: “Thank you for saving my life.”
Then Jackson told Alleyne he understood how difficult it had been for a black man to get to such a distinguished position within the medical world, that Alleyne's accomplishments were inspiring to Jackson.
“It was very touching,” Alleyne said. “I will never forget that.”
Alleyne never gave an interview since then, never signed any book deals or made a nickel off being Michael Jackson's doctor of almost two weeks. He never spoke to Michael Jackson again.
Alleyne, other than casual conversation with friends, or associates in medicine, or among the people at his medical practice, never told anyone of his time as doctor to the most famous entertainer in the world.
Alleyne's own children, son Douglas and daughter Courtney, only learned of his role when a documentary came out a few years ago that had some of the footage of the news conferences from 1995 in it. There was Bill Alleyne.
“Daddy, are you Michael Jackson's doctor?” his daughter asked.
“I said yes, because I was his doctor,” Alleyne said. “I looked at it as always being his doctor, that I had a professional relationship with Mr. Jackson and would honor that.”
This man with Carolina roots in his family came to Charlotte in 1996, then began practicing medicine in Rock Hill in 1999. He's done what humble doctors do: give some time to reading at schools, volunteered, raised his kids.
The sign outside his Rock Hill medical practice only has his name. There is no mention of Michael Jackson anywhere in the building.
Only now, after Jackson's death, did Alleyne agree to share his remembrances of those days.
Alleyne said that he told his wife, only half-jokingly, that the world spotlight would be on the doctors who had recently been caring for Jackson before his death.
Alleyne said he would be remembered as: “I was the doctor who saved Michael Jackson's life.”
Alleyne has, at night the past few days after seeing patients, watched some coverage of the aftermath of Michael Jackson's death.
“That to this day he is so loved comes as no surprise to me,” Alleyne said. “He was very gracious and kind.”
He understands that there were accusations against Jackson after 1995, but that was not the Michael Jackson Bill Alleyne knew in 1995.
And Tuesday afternoon, as tens of millions, maybe more, watched the memorial service for Jackson from Los Angeles, here's what Bill Alleyne, doctor, did: He saw other patients. He did not watch TV.
He helped a lady with a little bit of cardiopulmonary trouble. Another with asthma. More. Each received Bill Alleyne's full attention, as he had given Michael Jackson his full attention in 1995.
Alleyne saw them all, gave this interview about that two weeks 14 years ago, then went home.
Just like he did for those crazy days in December 1995, when Bill Alleyne was Michael Jackson's doctor.