Friday, June 26, 2009

Did stress kill Michael Jackson?

Is it really possible to die of stress? Both Paul Gambaccini and Yuri Geller have fingered it as a possible cause of Michael Jackson's shockingly premature death. If you look at his much mediatised life it certainly makes sense.

Talking about Jackson's proposed concerts later this year, Gambaccini told the BBC: 'I always doubted that he would have been able to go through that schedule, those concerts. It seemed to be too much of a demand on the unhealthy body of a 50 year old. I'm wondering that, as we find out details of his death, if perhaps the stress of preparing for those dates was a factor in his collapse.'

Certainly work-related stress can kill. The Japanese even have a word for 'death from overwork' – Karoshi. In 2007, the government published its highest karoshi figures ever.

The great Gambo's comments reminded me of a TV programme I saw the other day about biologist Robert Sapolsky, a guy who has devoted his life to measuring stress in monkeys. His research shows that monkeys lower down the hierarchy a) tend to die younger and b) have higher stress levels. Asked to explain the death rates, he points out that it can't be smoking, drinking too much or poor diet as all the monkeys eat the same food. He puts it down to stress.

You might counter that Jackson was a multi-millionaire and hardly at the bottom of the food chain. I'd say that when it came to media treatment 'Whacko Jacko' was very much at the bottom of the food chain. The bullying he's been subjected to by the press down the years is not at all unlike that meted out every day to the weaker baboons by the alpha-males and those eager to please them. Many people have complained about the stress heaped on Susan Boyle by the media and rightly so. Michael Jackson, whatever he might have done, was clearly no less mentally frail.

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