Strapped for cash, the physician left his low-income patients and signed on as Jackson's personal physician for $150,000 a month, only to become a target of a manslaughter investigation amid reports he injected the pop icon with a powerful anesthesia the night before his death.
But to those who have long known him and been his patients in Texas and Nevada, the 56-year-old doctor from Grenada is no Hollywood Dr. Feelgood. He's a hero, a lifesaver. For these people, the drumbeat of news reports has been met with bafflement and anger. In one section of Houston, Murray is credited with bringing a medical facility where others dared not go. He volunteered to teach elementary school and cared so much about his patients that he offered to do video conferences with them when he couldn't personally attend to them.
In 2000, Murray opened Global Cardiovascular Associates in Las Vegas just east of the Strip, where his clientele spanned the Vegas caste system from the less fortunate to, patients say, several unidentified officials in Vegas government.
"I looked forward to going to see him because he was very warm, very good-hearted," Las Vegas patient Donna Digiacomo told PEOPLE just days after discovering her doctor was the man in the middle of the Jackson media circus. "He's not getting a fair shake at this. He's the most beautiful man you would ever know."
Humble BeginningsAlthough his name will forever be associated with the King of Pop, it wasn't always glitz and glamour for Murray. Until the age of 7, he was raised by his grandparents, both of whom were farmers in Grenada. He later moved to Trinidad and Tobago to be with his mother. A hard worker, Murray bought his first house at 19, a home he would later sell and use the profits from to put himself through college. It wasn't until he was 25 when he finally met his father, who was also a doctor.
Following in his father's footsteps, Murray headed for medical school, at predominantly African-American Meharry Medical College in Nashville. Murray eventually opened a practice in Houston, the Acres Homes Heart and Vascular Institute.
"We have been so lucky to have Dr. Murray and that clinic in this community," Houston patient Ruby Mosley told PEOPLE. "There are many, many patients that thank God this man was here for them." Mosely said there are even prayer rituals for Murray in the community.
Backlash & Money WoesFor every supporter, though, there are detractors. The backlash he's faced since Jackson, 50, died last month has been so severe that Murray now has a bodyguard.
Lately it hasn't just been Jackson fans who have been hounding him. In a period of a month, Murray's businesses were hit with more than $400,000 in judgments from unpaid bills and child support obligations. It was against this financial backdrop that he accepted a job to be Jackson's personal physician during his 50 London concerts as part of the This Is It tour, a job that would have reportedly paid Murray $150,000 a month. In a letter sent to many of his patients just 10 days before Jackson's death, Murray called the job a "once in a lifetime opportunity."
His financial struggles don't end there though. More recently, the Clark County (Nevada) Recorder's Office confirmed that Murray owes $15,000 in back payments on his 5,268-square-ft. home in the ritzy Red Rock Country Club, a guarded, gated community about 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. This was the home searched last month by authorities seeking evidence of propofol, the anesthesia that may have contributed to Jackson's death, and signs of prescriptions written under aliases, a felony.
According to county records, Murray bought the home in Oct. 2004, less than two years after meeting Jackson for the first time when the King of Pop brought in one of his children to be treated for a minor illness.
Friendship with JacksonFrom that, a friendship later developed. Why would Michael Jackson, a man known to keep a tight inner circle, let this man in? His patients say it's his kindness and his concern for people first and foremost. One patient said Murray performed angioplasty on him three years ago without ever being guaranteed he would be paid.
Fernell Hogan, who founded the nonprofit Houston Community Education Council, said Murray is a symbol of what was right in their community. "Here we have a black doctor who's actually working in a black community servicing his own people, which is very rare. I have a campaign called Anything Is Possible to encourage kids and [Murray] is a symbol of that."
Additional reporting by ANNE LANG and SHERMAKAYE BASS