Last days of their lives
Dr Richard Shepherd. Picture: supplied

The pale, slightly blotchy body lying on the autopsy table looks so authentic, right down to the bruises on the chest from attempts at resuscitation, that the obvious question to ask forensic pathologist Richard Shepherd is whether that really is Michael Jackson.

It is not - the body is just a clever model acquired by the makers of Seven's new three-part show Autopsy: the Last Hours of . . .

But this points to the quality of this series, which though it reviews the deaths of Jackson, singer Whitney Houston and model and actress Anna Nicole Smith, comes from Britain's Channel Five and concentrates more on the facts than sensationalism.

Dr Shepherd is a leader in his field. He is a UK Home Office forensic pathologist and first point of contact when compiling that country's response team to disasters such as the Bali bombings and 9/11, as well as having given expert advice at the inquiries into the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry in 1972 and the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed.

In Autopsy, he brings Jackson's last few days to life to a degree that may be uncomfortable for some viewers. Though Jackson lived his life in the spotlight, it could be argued he was entitled to take some small secrets to the grave.

Dr Shepherd agrees in principle but says that his role is to provide answers for the living.

"Although I work with the dead I remember the living and I hope nothing revealed is a surprise to the family. Relatives generally like it when you explain the facts.

"But I don't believe that what we reveal will be a surprise to anyone who has sat down and read the autopsy report, which has been published. Forensic pathologists need to communicate better with the family and perhaps with a wider community."

In all three autopsy reviews, Dr Shepherd walks the viewer through the findings and explains what they mean and, in particular, the impact that the over-use of drugs had on the trio.

"Every drug has side effects and these people were taking illicit drugs but also a shedload of prescription drugs," he said.

In the lead-up to Jackson's death five years ago yesterday, he was rehearsing for a series of sell-out concerts at the O2 Arena in London. He was 50 years old and more than $400 million in debt.

At rehearsals, he was unable to produce his old dance moves and was struggling to perform for any length of time. The concert promoters sent him a warning letter but what they did not know - as Dr Shepherd outlines - was that Jackson's lungs were damaged and he had osteoarthritis in his fingers and spine.

"His lungs were like a battlefield," Dr Shepherd said. "The lining of the airways showed a lot of damage and both lungs showed widespread inflammation and quite extensive scarring."

He said that the damage was because Jackson suffered from the auto-immune disease discoid lupus. The show reveals how Jackson stopped having his regular injections of the narcotic Demerol and instead produced an "electric performance" for his promoters by taking ephedrine, but this led ultimately to his death.

Of the three autopsies he reviewed for the series, Dr Shepherd said the deaths were all unnecessary but the one he found saddest was that of Smith.

"If only she had gone to hospital and got some treatment she would have been OK."

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West