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

But the coroner's official finding as to the cause of her death was barbiturate intoxication, specifically Nembutal, Schreiber revealed.

Considerably more savage were the 1969 slayings by Charles Manson's followers of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, whom the coroner's office determined had been stabbed some 16 times.

"It was a historic low, at that point, to consider how brutally the people were killed at Roman Polanski's rented home," Schreiber said.

Other celebrated deaths received the same kind of dedicated inquiry now being carried out in Jackson's case. For Karen Carpenter, who battled anorexia before her death in 1983, an outside lab performed toxicological analysis at the coroner's request. Their finding: Her death was the result of her past abuse of Ipecac, a vomit-inducing drug.

"There is a technical term for it: emetine cardio toxicity," Schreiber said. "Emetine is the byproduct of Ipecac. So it is like a poison that makes the muscles of the heart grow striated, long and weak. ... [She] basically had a heart attack. She was a young woman, who had the heart of an old woman, and that's how she died."

Coroner's Office Unlocks Missing Link in Celebrity Deaths

And the L.A. coroner's office has unlocked the missing link in the death of Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American to get a best actress Oscar nomination, who died suddenly at age 42.

"She'd broken a toe. And initially, when she was found in her Hollywood apartment, people thought that there'd been an embolism. And then it turned out that she was using an antidepressant that had just hit the market, called Tofranil," Schreiber told ABC News. "No one really knew what effects it might possibly have, but the L.A. coroner determined that the cause of death was overdose of Tofranil."

Hollywood's sordid history of death and stardom is almost as old as the town itself. Preliminary results of Jackson's autopsy show the powerful anesthetic propofol was a contributing factor in the pop icon's death, but results of the toxicology report are still pending.

And though little has changed at the L.A. county coroner's office in 2009, as Schreiber notes, their work's power to stun will never diminish.

"I know once I was at the coroner's office, and I was giving a tour to somebody. We happened to be walking by the autopsy rooms, and I pointed out and said, 'And over here is the autopsy room.' And they were actually doing an autopsy," he recalled. "My knees went to Jell-O, and I nearly did a face plant. It was stunningly horrifying. And I don't know how they do it, and how they do that day after day. I really admire them."

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