LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson's 50-concert comeback bid in London next month was intended to wash away the taint of freakish scandals and restore him to glory as the "King of Pop." But the curtain will never rise.
In an instant Thursday, the man who moonwalked above the music world was gone, leaving a shot at redemption unfulfilled and fans and pop starsalike in anguish and shock.
"I can't stop crying over the sad news," Madonna said in a statement. "The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever."Said Dick Clark: "Of all the thousands of entertainers I have worked with, Michael was the most outstanding. Many have tried and will try to copyhim, but his talent will never be matched."
Jackson, 50, died at UCLA Medical Center after being stricken at his rented home in Holmby Hills. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him at his home for nearly three-quarters of an hour, then rushed him to the hospital, where doctors continued to work on him.
"It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home. However, the cause of his death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known," his brother Jermaine said.
Police said they were investigating, standard procedure in high-profile cases.
Jackson's death brought a tragic end to a long, bizarre, sometimes farcical decline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music'spremier all-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled even moreon stage.
His 1982 album "Thriller" -- which included the blockbuster hits "Beat It," "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" -- is the best-selling album of all time, withan estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide.
At the time of his death, Jackson was rehearsing hard for what was to be his greatest comeback: He was scheduled for an unprecedented 50shows at a London arena, with the first set for July 13.
As word of his death spread, MTV switched its programming to play videos from Jackson's heyday. Radio stations began playing marathons of hishits. Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital. In New York's Times Square, a low groan went up in the crowd when a screen flashed that
Jackson had died, and people began relaying the news to friends by cell phone.
"No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow," Michael Harris, 36, of New York City, read from a text message a friend had sent him. "It's like when Kennedy was assassinated. I will always remember being in Times Square when Michael Jackson died."
The public first knew him as a boy in the late 1960s, when he was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson 5, the singing group he formed with his four older brothers out of Gary, Ind. Among their No. 1 hits were "I Want You Back," "ABC" and "I'll Be There." He was perhaps the most exciting performer of hisgeneration, known for his backward-gliding moonwalk, his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched singing, punctuated withsqueals and titters. His single sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses were trademarks, as was his ever-changing, surgicallyaltered appearance.
"For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don't have the words," said Quincy Jones, who produced "Thriller.""He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I've lost my little brother today, and part ofmy soul has gone with him."
Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensations of all time. He united two ofmusic's biggest names when he was briefly married to Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, and Jackson's death immediately evoked comparisons to thatof Presley himself, who died at age 42 in 1977.
As years went by, Jackson became an increasingly freakish figure -- a middle-aged man-child weirdly out of touch with grown-up life.
His skin became lighter, his nose narrower, and he spoke in a breathy, girlish voice. He often wore a germ mask while traveling, kept a petchimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions, and surrounded himself with children at his Neverland ranch, a storybook playland filledwith toys, rides and animals.
The tabloids dubbed him "Wacko Jacko." "It seemed to me that his internal essence was at war with the norms of the world. It's as if he was tryingto defy gravity," said Michael Levine, a Hollywood publicist who represented Jackson in the early 1990s.
He called Jackson a "disciple of P.T. Barnum" and said the star appeared fragile at the time but was "much more cunning and shrewd about the industry than anyone knew."
Jackson caused a furor in 2002 when he playfully dangled his infant son, Prince Michael II, over a hotel balcony in Berlin while a throng of fans watched frombelow.
In 2005, he was cleared of charges he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003. He had been accused of plying the boy withalcohol and groping him, and of engaging in strange and inappropriate behavior with other children.
The case followed years of rumors about Jackson and young boys.In a TV documentary, he acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.
Despite the acquittal, the lurid allegations that came out in court took a fearsome toll on his career and image, and he fell into serious financialtrouble.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary. He was 4 years old when he began singing with his brothers -- Marlon, Jermaine, Jackie and Tito -- in the Jackson 5. After his early success with bubblegum soul, he struck out on his own, generating innovative, explosive,unstoppable music.
The album "Thriller" alone mixed the dark, serpentine bass and drums and synthesizer approach of "Billie Jean," the grinding Eddie Van Halen soloon "Beat It," and the hiccups and falsettos on "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." The peak may have come in 1983, when Motown celebrated its 25thanniversary with an all-star televised concert and Jackson moonwalked off with the show, joining his brothers for a medley of old hits and thenleaving them behind with a pointing, crouching, high-kicking, splay-footed, crotch-grabbing run through "Billie Jean." The audience stood and roared.Jackson raised his fist.
By then he had cemented his place in pop culture. He got the plum Scarecrow role in the 1978 movie musical "The Wiz," a pop-R&B version of"The Wizard of Oz," that starred Diana Ross as Dorothy.
During production of a 1984 Pepsi commercial, Jackson's scalp sustains burns when an explosion sets his hair on fire.
He had strong follow-up albums with 1987's "Bad" and 1991's "Dangerous," but his career began to collapse in 1993 after he was accused ofmolesting a boy who often stayed at his home. The singer denied any wrongdoing, reached a settlement with the boy's family, reported to be $20million, and criminal charges were never filed.
Jackson's expressed anger over the allegations on the 1995 album "HIStory," which sold more than 2.4 million copies, but by then, the popularity of
Jackson's music was clearly waning, even as public fascination with his increasingly erratic behavior was growing.
Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, and they divorced in 1996. Later that year, Jackson married Deborah Rowe, a former nurse for hisdermatologist. They had two children together: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince Michael, and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson. Rowefiled for divorce in 1999.
Cardiac arrest is an abnormal heart rhythm that stops the heart from pumping blood to the body. It can occur after a heart attack or be caused byother heart problems.
Billboard magazine editorial director Bill Werde said Jackson's star power was unmatched. "The world just lost the biggest pop star in history, nomatter how you cut it," Werde said. "He's literally the king of pop." Jackson's 13 No. 1 one hits on the Billboard charts put him behind only Presley,the Beatles and Mariah Carey, Werde said.
"He was on the eve of potentially redeeming his career a little bit," he said. "People might have started to think of him again in a different light."