Jackson died June 25 at the age of 50. In the weeks leading up to his death, he and Ortega had been rehearsing with backup dancers and musicians for a planned residency at London's O2 arena.
The "This Is It" shows were expected to be the pop icon's comeback after his once-dazzling career had been eclipsed for years by media reports of bizarre behavior, health issues, financial troubles, legal woes and child molestation allegations.
Ortega, who was directing the concerts, took about 80 hours of rehearsal footage and turned it into the documentary "This Is It," which is to be released in theaters next week. He said he hopes the film will continue the work Jackson started as well as set the record straight regarding the singer's much-publicized life.
"Michael was going through a lot of drama in his life, as you know, and I just remember during that period of time just praying for him because I had spent so many days with him. We toured. We traveled to different places in the world. I went into the orphanages with him. I saw what he did for children. I saw the way that he was around people...
"I just remember I felt so lonely for him and I remembered praying that he would survive this. And I couldn't imagine how he was going to survive this. ... I just thought: 'This has to be the most difficult thing in the world. How do you manipulate your way through this kind of energy?' He was being persecuted and I just prayed for his redemption and his saving," Ortega, who had previously worked with Jackson on his "Dangerous" and "HIStory" concert tours in the 1990s, told UPI in New York Thursday, while promoting the documentary.
Ortega said he and Jackson had been trying for a couple of years to find a project on which they could collaborate before deciding to work together on the "This Is It" concert series.
"I walked into his dressing room one day and I was feeling so good. We had been having a great week of rehearsals and I said: 'Michael, I can't wait for that curtain to open up in London ... I cannot wait to hear that reaction. You are going to triumph. You are going to show the world. You are going to be validated, my man. You are going to get your crown back,'" Ortega recalled.
"And he giggled at me and, without trying to make me feel small, he just looked at me like I was a little boy and said: 'Kenny, you're so silly. God bless you.' Because that man did not live to be validated. His investment was coming from a purer place."
Asked if he thought Jackson ever felt he had lost his crown, so to speak, Ortega replied: "No. I think that he knew it had just been in safe keeping; that it had been maybe sort of knocked off. I asked him, 'How do you feel about the way the dancers look at you?' And he'd say: 'Beautiful, beautiful. I love them so much.'"
Ortega said he also asked Jackson how it felt to have his 50 London concerts sell out so quickly.
"I said: 'Are you surprised? You don't have a record out. You haven't been on stage in over 10 years ...,'" Ortega said. "And (Jackson) said: 'I wasn't surprised. I know my fans.' He knew they were there. He believed that they were there. He knew they would come."
The director also contradicted rumors claiming Jackson found the rehearsal schedule grueling and feared he wasn't up to performing 50 dates over the course of nine months.
An autopsy revealed the entertainer had lethal levels of sedatives and propofol in his system. He reportedly used the anesthesia because he suffered from insomnia. The circumstances of his death, which was declared a homicide, are still under investigation, but, so far, no criminal charges have been filed.
"He was never out of breath (at rehearsal). He never left tired," Ortega remembered. "He always left invigorated. He always left nourished, enthused, excited and looking forward to having a good time."
As for the concert schedule, the director said it had been Jackson's intention to take the show on the road after his O2 residency ended.
"What he really wanted to do was to go off to the rest of the world and share this with the rest of the world," Ortega said.
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