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Jackson's dermatologist says Murray fallout hurts

Dr. Arnold Klein hovers over a 50-year-old woman, a syringe filled with the promise of youth in hand and a look of concentration on his face. At this moment he appears a contented man.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dr. Arnold Klein hovers over a 50-year-old woman, a syringe filled with the promise of youth in hand and a look of concentration on his face. At this moment he appears a contented man.

"Put me next to a patient, give me a needle and I'm really happy," he says. But all is not perfection for the dermatologist to the stars.

Klein and Conrad Murray were Michael Jackson's key physicians during the pop star's final weeks in June 2009. Murray is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's drug-related death, while Klein, who treated Jackson for more than 25 years and called him "my best friend," was cleared of any wrongdoing by authorities.

Murray's defense team, however, is making Klein a part of the trial, claiming he fostered the singer's addiction to a medication, Demerol, and that it played a part in his death. No Demerol was found in Jackson's body.

The allegations, denied by Klein's attorney, reverberate painfully for the 66-year-old doctor whose patient list has boasted Elizabeth Taylor, Dolly Parton, Carrie Fisher and many more celebrities.

"I see stuff on the Internet and it hurts, because I don't like to be called a bad doctor," Klein said, referring to online news and chatter about the trial that enters its fourth week Monday.

"All I'm trying to do is be the best doctor I can," added the intense Klein, whose words spill out hurriedly and who often ends sentences with the entreaties "You understand?" or "You have to understand that."

Murray, who has pleaded innocent, is accused of failing to monitor Jackson as the singer received a fatal dose of propofol (Diprivan is the drug's commercial name) combined with a variety of other drugs including diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).

Jackson, on the brink of a comeback at age 50, had complained repeatedly of insomnia and his need for drugs to help him sleep as he got ready for a strenuous London concert schedule.

Despite Klein's anxiety over damage to his reputation, he says the fallout has been minimal. Media that sometimes camp outside his office have kept away certain high-profile patients, including "royal families from around the world, political dignitaries, people who don't want to deal with the paparazzi," Klein said.

But Hollywood's crowned heads, the actors and others who helped Klein build his practice and his fame, aren't so faint-hearted. Whether patients or friends, they are speaking up for him.

Carrie Fisher is both. The actress ("Star Wars") and writer ("Wishful Drinking," "Postcards From the Edge"), replied with a firm "no" when asked if she was uneasy hearing Klein's name invoked in the Murray case.

"Michael and Arnie had a really good relationship. ... It was a shame there was any focus brought (in the trial), because that became what everyone knew about" Klein, she said.

David Geffen, the prominent music and film executive who has long worked with Klein in the fight against AIDS, weighed in with a letter addressed "Dear Arnie" and written to be shared.

"In light of all that is being said about you in the press I was compelled to add my truths. I have never known a doctor who tries to know and learn everything as completely as you do, a doctor who has always been there for me," Geffen wrote.

Fisher contends that her own past prescription drug abuse, about which she has spoken and written, prove Klein's ethics. He never supplied her and, to the contrary, encouraged her to kick her habit, she said.

"If anyone would know, it would have been me," Fisher said with a rueful laugh. "He's not one of the doctors you would hit up for (drugs)."

Garo Ghazarian, Klein's lawyer, has called the defense claim that Klein contributed to Jackson's death "preposterous" and denied that Jackson was addicted to the Demerol used for pain relief "during medical procedures." (He did not detail them, and Klein declined to discuss issues directly related to the trial or whether it was affecting his private life.)

But lead defense attorney Ed Chernoff invoked Klein's name seven times during his opening statement and has referred to the dermatologist repeatedly throughout the trial. The defense, which is expected to begin presenting its side next week, sought to call Klein as a witness but was blocked by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, who ruled Klein's testimony was not relevant to the case.

Klein's medical specialty is the use of injectable drugs such as Botox and Restylane to ease wrinkles and sagging skin. It is a skill he pioneered and one that has made him a favorite in Hollywood, where youth and beauty are the currency of the land.

Fisher credits Klein with smoothing her face and restoring her confidence after weight loss took a toll. "He cares about what he does and he loves making people look better," she said. "It's like he's a painter, but the brush is the needle."

He doesn't limit his practice to the well-heeled or well-known. The middle-aged patient who was at the end of his needle recently was a woman who wanted, and got, a younger look for dating and business.

Klein has an international reputation, with patients from the Middle East and Europe trekking to California to see him. In a 2008 issue of Italian men's Vogue, L'uomo Vogue, an article on design leaders featured a dapper, ascot-wearing Klein as an architect of the face, alongside more traditional architecture masters including Frank Gehry.

Often dressed in black, Klein is fond of such eye-catching jewelry as his Rolex watch decorated with diamond-and-ruby lips, a gift he received from Cher. He looks ready to be cast in a movie about a flamboyant doctor's adventures among the stars.

Although he's long balanced the roles of medical heavyweight and prominent physician-about-town, he's now in difficult — but not unprecedented — territory. In 2004, he was sued by a Hollywood socialite who blamed Botox injections for disabling headaches. A jury found for him and the drug manufacturer.

Earlier this year, Klein sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and alleged in court papers that he lost at least $10 million to theft and fraud, blaming a former employee and others. A countersuit from the ex-employee denied the allegations and claimed, among other issues, that he had endured difficult working conditions.

Klein minimized the impact of the stated financial losses, saying the bankruptcy filing was based on "bad advice" and that he expects resolution soon. It appears to be the Murray trial, above all, that aggrieves him.

During the 2009 investigation into Jackson's death, federal drug agents checked into who was prescribing medications to the singer and examined the entertainer's interactions with at least seven doctors, including Klein. Federal drug agents raided a pharmacy in the Beverly Hills building where Klein previously practiced before clearing him in Jackson's death.

Klein clearly is in far different circumstances than Murray, who could end up behind bars and lose his medical license if convicted.

By contrast, Klein just moved into new offices around the corner from Rodeo Drive and above a posh restaurant, Villa Blanca, which is a haunt for "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" circle.

His professional credentials remain intact. He is a professor of medicine and dermatology at the University of California, Los Angeles, which is home to the Arnold Klein chair in dermatology endowed by supporters in 2004. And he's a charity stalwart. Klein teamed with other physicians, Taylor and Geffen to form the respected American Foundation for AIDS Research, AmFAR, and he has supported other fundraising efforts targeting breast cancer and eye disease.

Dazzling mementoes and gifts are scattered around his hilltop Beverly Hills home, set in an exclusive neighborhood protected by gates and guards. There's a photo of Klein with Taylor and Jackson; Jackson-signed lithographs of five of the singer's album covers; and sculptures given to Klein by the King of Pop and his children.

A copy of the book "Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry" is inscribed with a mash note from the late actress: "My beloved Arnie, I love you more than I can tell. I feel you have saved my fading life. I love and thank you forever. Yours, Elizabeth."

The connection between Klein and Jackson went especially deep. Their friendship developed when Klein treated the singer for ailments including vitiligo — a patchy loss of skin pigmentation, which Klein said forced Jackson to lighten his complexion overall — and facial gauntness caused by weight loss, which can be filled out with Restalyne and other so-called injectables.

Debbie Rowe, who worked as Klein's nurse, married Jackson and bore two of his three offspring, Prince and Paris, before the couple divorced. Media reports alleging Klein to be the children's father through a sperm donation have been dismissed by the doctor, although sometimes coyly.

Jackson lived in one of Klein's homes for a time, and the pair partied with the likes of Taylor. Jackson's last Christmas, in 2008, was spent with his children, Klein, Fisher and a few others, Klein recalls.

The doctor is writing a book about the King of Pop. What Klein says he came to know about him: Jackson wasn't a drug addict but indulged in wine (he called it "Jesus juice"); was a prude and an innocent who wanted to live his childhood forever; and "wasn't adult enough to be sexual," contrary to the child molestation allegations Jackson faced.

Klein said he's been hurt both by the defense's portrayal of Jackson as a frail addict who contributed to his own death and by the allegation that Klein himself shares blame.

"Once you're famous or popular at any level, they'll attack you," he said.

It's unsurprising that Klein finds himself caught on the jagged edge of celebrity, a risk with prominent patients, observers said.

"You become part of that celebrity's tragedy or gossip. Their dirty laundry is aired and you're part of it, directly or indirectly," said Dr. Rahul K. Parikh, a San Francisco-area physician and writer who, in a 2009 piece, criticized Klein for publicly discussing the late Jackson's medical history with then-CNN host Larry King. .

Mixing fame and medicine also is counterproductive, contends Dr. Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist and author ("Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone").

"The seduction of fame to a doctor can be tough to resist," said Goulston. "I also think it distracts the doctor from what he should be doing, which is to focus totally on the well-being of the patient."

But Klein said his patients and the quest for perfection, nothing else, are his obsession.

"I do this because of my level of doing it, you understand? The monetary thing is nice but it's really secondary to what I do," he said.

Could he have done something to save Jackson, his friend and patient?

"I don't know. How do you save a person?" Klein mused. "This tragedy is an example of how the rich and famous can get terrible medical care. It repeats itself and repeats itself. When people get famous, they get all the 'yes people' around them."