Thursday, June 25, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But now he is gone.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center after arriving in a coma, according to a city official. He was 50.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 3:07 p.m. CDT. He had been rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented mansion in which he was living, shortly after noon. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest.
At Jackson's peak, he was the biggest star in the world and has sold more than 750 million albums.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson Five to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson was responsible for a string of hits like "I Want You Back," "I'll Be There" "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" "Billie Jean" and "Black and White" that exploited his high voice, infectious energy and ear for irresistible hooks.
As a solo performer, Jackson ushered in the age of pop as a global product -- not to mention an age of spectacle and pop culture celebrity. His early career with his brothers gave way to a solo act in which he became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his Moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
But after his entertainment career hit high-water marks, it started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molesting charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then sexually fondled him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., but Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
Jackson is survived by three children: Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince "Blanket" Michael Jackson II.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958. The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at the age of 5 in a group that their father, Joe, had organized the previous year. In 1968, the group was signed by Motown Records.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon and Michael was the center of attention: He handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age.
In 1971, Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of "Ben," the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No.1 hit in 1972.
The brothers left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," released in 1979, yielded four No.1 singles and sold 7 million copies.
"Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album's title track, directed by John Landis, was a horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and helped make MTV a household name.
Even with the millions Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1987, Jackson paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theater, at a cost of $35 million, according to reports.
A forensic accountant who testified at Jackson's molestation trial in 2005 said Jackson's annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland.
The child molestation trial attracted media from around the world to watch as Jackson, wearing a different costume each day, appeared in a small courtroom in Santa Maria, Calif., to listen as a parade of witnesses spun a sometimes-incredible tale.
After weeks of testimony, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on all 14 counts against Jackson.
The No. 1 singles
Jackson's 13 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts put him behind only Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Mariah Carey:
1979: "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
1980: "Rock with You"
1983: "Billie Jean"
1983: "Beat It"
1983: "Say Say Say"
1987: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)"
1987: "The Way You Make Me Feel"
1988: "Man in the Mirror"
1988: "Dirty Diana"
1991: "Black or White"
1995: "You Are Not Alone"