“Put me next to a patient, give me a needle and I’m really happy.” – Arnold William Klein, MD
Yes, indeed. Trigger-happy physicians. Hard to imagine why 100 Americans are buried everyday after prescription drug overdoses.
I have a friend here in Southern California whose job is even more interesting than mine. He investigates death scenes for a living. And part and parcel to his career-choice is a front-row seat to thousands of physicians’ foul-ups, bloops and blunders in the Twilight Zone of what healthcare calls ‘therapeutic misadventures.’ Last week we stood in the parking lot of the Riverside County Coroner’s office comparing notes on unethical physicians in the celebrity playground of Palm Springs. So it was a natural transition for our conversation to turn toward the county morgue’s most famous temporary resident. For lying silently within the large cold storage vault just a few feet away from us, was the body of Doctor Arnold Klein, who died Thursday evening at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
Doctor Arnold William Klein – and you may well remember this fellow – was a physician for numerous Hollywood celebrities over three decades. His specialty was dermatology, and he plied his trade for all it was worth onto some particularly famous faces: Elizabeth Taylor was a client. So was Dolly Parton. And Dustin Hoffman. And Sharon Stone. His favorite thing in the world to do was using injectable drugs like Restylane and Botox to battle facial wrinkles and sagging necklines.
But nobody he treated was more famous than the enigmatic Michael Jackson, who – thanks to Klein – sported the most recognizable face on earth. And it was reeling in Jackson as a frequent patient, who had developed the disease vitiligo, that helped secure Klein as a fixture among the uber-society of Beverly Hills.
In fact, Jackson’s weekly – and towards the end, daily – visits to Klein for narcotics became so routine, that the L.A. paparazzi learned they could always count on getting at least a fleeting photo of the pop star, by simply camping out in front of the clinic. And Klein loved it. He reveled in the fact that he was becoming almost as famous as his A-list clients. Klein pushed drugs into Michael for a quarter century, calling him “my best friend.” And all the while, Klein got richer and Michael got skinnier, stranger and whiter. All of which is curious, because Klein himself had been an outspoken critic of the misuse of prescription drugs, calling them “toxins,” for many years prior to his A-list client wealth-building system.
But then by now we all know – at least those of us paying attention – that when it comes to morality in medicine, ethics are routinely shelved for fame and profit.
Arnold Klein, age 70 at the time of his death, was a curious figure. It was 20 years ago, in 1996, for example, when he brokered an arranged marriage between Jackson and his own medical assistant, Debbie Rowe, who agreed to marry and bear two of Jackson’s children – Prince and then Paris – for serious money. The couple soon divorced, as was the plan all along, and Klein toyed with the media for two decades over the idea that he fathered the children. He would say he hadn’t. Then maybe he did. Then he was pretty sure he wasn’t the father. Then, in 2013, Klein posted a photo of himself and Prince Jackson on Facebook, implying that he was the biological father of Prince after all. He even filed for custody of the kids that he maybe fathered and maybe didn’t, after Jackson’s overdose death. He lost in court to Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother.
In the summer of 2009 immediately following Jackson’s death, Klein was one of five physicians heavily investigated for supplying hard-core drugs to the pop star. It was learned that he had injected Jackson with Demerol more than four dozen times in the weeks leading up to his death. But when Jackson’s death was blamed on “acute propofol intoxication,” Klein was cleared and another celebrity-infatuated wacko physician, Conrad Murray, was arrested, charged and convicted of killing his patient-boss. Klein was off the hook . . . barely.
Not long after Michael Jackson’s death, the wayward doctor was apparently missing the limelight, so he told the press that Jackson was actually a closeted gay man and in love with Klein’s clinic manager, a man by the name of Jason Pfeiffer. When Pfeiffer was asked to comment, he answered that yes, he and Jackson had “been intimate” numerous times. Klein was once again front and center in celebrity news – for a week.
But that was when Klein’s closest celebrity friends began a serious retreat, and some were loudly criticizing him for betraying his most famous patient’s trust.
“Just what we want in our doctors,” Elizabeth Taylor once said. “I thought doctors were like priests, taking an oath of confidentiality. May God have mercy on his soul.”
Indeed, in the end, God only knows. What we all do know now, in the year 2015, is that Michael Jackson is encased in a concrete tomb at Forest Lawn. And Arnold Klein lies in our local county morgue, his body unclaimed, after having died in a hospital room in severe abdominal pain; facing numerous lawsuits; financially broke and alone.
Both men are as dead today as if they had died in ancient Rome.
Here’s a peek at this very strange character, in his own words: