Did Debt Contribute to Michael Jackson's Death?

Debt, not fame, may have played a larger role than commentators admit.

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Michael Jackson's money struggles were well-known: He owed some $300 million to Barclays Bank, and sold part of his stake in the rights to Beatles songs in 2005 in an attempt to shore up his finances. Even though he earned an estimated $1 billion over his lifetime, he may have spent just as much -- on his Neverland Ranch, security, medical treatments, and legal troubles, leaving his estate essentially broke. (It will likely take years to work out the details of his estate, including who gets what.)

Debt is a well-known source of stress. One Associated Press-AOL Health poll found that debt-related stress increases the chances of ulcers and digestive track problems, migraines, severe anxiety, severe depression, and even heart attacks, which may have killed Jackson. In fact, almost three in ten people with debt-related stress reported severe anxiety and almost one in four experience severe depression, compared to just four percent for each ailment in the control group.

In the days following Jackson's death, commentators have largely focused on the stress of Jackson's fame. His friend Deepak Chopra discussed the King of Pop's affection for prescription painkillers on cable television and has called for a crackdown on Hollywood doctors who prescribe such medications for celebrities, who Chopra says are more likely to suffer from childhood trauma than members of the general population.

To be sure, Jackson had no shortage of stressors, including his immense fame, charges of child abuse, and seemingly bizarre existence. So far, the extent to which debt may have contributed to Jackson's stress levels has been largely overlooked. But debt may be as much a risk factor for health problems and early death as fame is, and it has the potential to affect all of us.

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