For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But on the verge of another attempted comeback, he is suddenly gone, this time for good.
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, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery, was pronounced dead on Thursday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center after arriving in a coma, a city official said.
Jackson was 50, having spent 40 of those years in the public eye he loved.
The singer was rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented Bel-Air home in which he was living, shortly after noon by paramedics for the Los Angeles Fire Department. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 pm. Pacific Time.
As with Elvis Presley or the Beatles, it is impossible to calculate the full effect Jackson had on the world of music. At the height of his career, he was indisputably the biggest star in the world; he has sold more than 750 million albums.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson 5 to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson was responsible for a string of hits.
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. He became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
Jackson’s first solo album, ‘Off the Wall’ (1979) yielded four No.1 singles and sold 7 million copies. His follow-up, ‘Thriller’ (1982) became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age.
Even with the millions Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1988 he paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in California. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theatre at a cost of $35 million and the ranch became his sanctum.
But not long afterward, his career started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment undoubtedly came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molesting charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then groped him, but Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
After his trial, Jackson largely left the US for Bahrain, where he was the guest of Sheik Abdullah, a son of the country’s ruler, and would never return to live at his ranch.
Reaction to his death started trickling in from the entertainment community late Thursday. “I am absolutely devastated,” music producer Quincy Jones said. “I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”
Jackson had been scheduled to perform 50 concerts at the O2 arena in London beginning next month and continuing into 2010. The shows were positioned as a comeback, with the potential to earn him up to $50 million, according to some reports.
(Abridged version of a story from The New York Times)