Michael Jackson's Death Latest in Hollywood Coroner's High-Profile History


From the death of Michael Jackson last month to screen goddess Marilyn Monroe in 1962 to hip-hop kingpin notorious B.I.G. in 1997 to the 1981 death by drowning of Natalie Wood and the 1994 murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, the Los Angeles County coroner's office serves as more than a medical examiner's office -- it's Hollywood's psychic stopover between glamour and the grave.

"The L.A. County coroner's office is the busiest office in the United States," said David Campbell, who worked there for 20 years, rising to the rank of captain of investigations and spokesman, before retiring in 2005. "On average, it'd be fair to say, 15 to 25 bodies a day would come into the coroner's office."

Inquiries into Michael Jacksons Death

Michael Jackson is the latest star in its high-profile history to grace the L.A. county coroner's office.

"Not surprisingly, with Hollywood, they have some of the most high-profile and complex cases. They're the most technologically advanced coroner's office in the world," said Brad Schreiber, author of "Death in Paradise: An Illustrated History of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner."

For more on the investigation into Michael Jackson's death, watch "Prescription for Death?" on "Primetime: Crime," Tonight at 10 p.m. ET

With national attention surrounding the investigation into the King of Pop's death, Campbell said stars like Jackson are given extra attention to protect their privacy.

"High-profile cases do get special attention. They may be isolated from other cases, and this way it prevents lookie-loos," Campbell told ABC News. "In addition to that, a security hold might be placed on the coroner's paperwork. It makes it more difficult for people to access it."

Still, Jackson's case has already sparked news of an investigation into reports that the singer's death certificate and other sensitive records were obtained by numerous employees in violation of regulations.

Yet, most victims -- no matter how famous -- barely raise an eyebrow at the coroner's office.

"When Nicole Brown Simpson came into the coroner's office, it was a very busy day. If I remember correctly, we had five or six homicides come in that particular day," Campbell said. "So there was no particular sense of 'oh my goodness, we've got a celebrity death or a high-profile case.'"

The subsequent autopsies and inquiries into the high-profile dead always seem to yield some telling details. According to the coroner's office, Nicole Brown Simpson's last meal was pasta; Sean Penn's brother, actor Christopher Penn, reportedly weighed some 310 pounds. And Campbell recalls a poignant image from the examination of singer Janis Joplin, who died from an overdose of heroin in 1970.

"It is in fact true that when Janis Joplin died, there was indeed bad drugs out on the streets," Campbell said. "In fact, I remember seeing a coroner's photograph of Janis Joplin when she died, and she -- she still had money, cash in her hand. She was clutching dollar bills."

Coroner Inquiries Provide Portraits of Death

The death of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe, who died five miles from Michael Jackson's last home, would remain haunting and mysterious until this day.

"The forensic evidence about her death suggests that she was not a suicide, because she took Nembutal, and yet there was no Nembutal in her stomach, it was in her bloodstream," Schreiber said. "The significance of that suggests that either forcibly, by an injection, or some other method, that she was given the Nembutal."

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