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The Thriller is gone

by Open-Publishing - Friday 26 June 2009

Music History

Los Angeles — Michael Jackson - the pop music icon who charmed the world as a child star, dazzled the planet as the King of Pop and, in later years, alarmed millions with his eccentric behavior and unsettling sex-scandal trials - died Thursday. He was 50.

Jackson’s brother says it’s believed that the pop star died of cardiac arrest.

Jermaine Jackson cautioned at a hospital news conference Thursday that the cause of his death would not be known until an autopsy was performed.

He said Michael Jackson’s personal doctor and paramedics tried to resuscitate him at his rented home in Holmby Hills. A team of doctors at UCLA Medical Center also tried for more than an hour.

Los Angeles police Lt. Gregg Strenk said at a separate news conference that police robbery-homicide detectives have been ordered to investigate, which is common in a high-profile case.

The pop singer’s death brought a tragic end to a long, sometimes surreal decline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music’s premier all-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled even more on stage.

The public met him in the late 1960s, when as a boy he was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson 5, the music group he formed with his four older brothers. Among their No. 1 hits were "I Want You Back" and "ABC."

He first went out on his own in 1971, at the age of 13; within a year, he had his first solo No. 1 single, with "Ben." He later had two more No. 1 songs, "Rock With You" and "Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough," from his popular 1979 album, "Off the Wall."

His 1982 album "Thriller," which included the blockbuster hits "Beat It," "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" remains the biggest-selling album of all time - more than 100 million copies worldwide.
Style and substance

He was considered perhaps the most exciting performer of his generation, known for his trademark "moonwalk" dance step, his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched voice punctuated with squeals and titters. His single sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses were trademarks second only to his ever-changing, surgically altered appearance.

But Jackson was more than an image. He also was one of the 1980s’ premier hit-makers, with more than three dozen top 40 songs as a solo artist and 13 No. 1 pop hits - including five in a row in 1987-’88.

"He was the consummate entertainer, and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever," said Quincy Jones, who produced "Thriller."

Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensations of all time. (He even united two of music’s biggest names when he was briefly married to Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie.)
’Trying to defy gravity’

But as years went by, Jackson became an increasingly freakish figure - a middle-aged man-child out of touch with grown-up life. He surrounded himself with children at his Neverland ranch, often wore a germ mask while traveling and kept a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions.

"It seemed to me that his internal essence was at war with the norms of the world. It’s as if he was trying to defy gravity," said Michael Levine, a Hollywood publicist who represented Jackson in the early 1990s.

Levine called Jackson a "disciple of P.T. Barnum," who was "much more cunning and shrewd about the industry than anyone knew."

It didn’t always seem like it, however.

In 2002, Jackson caused a furor when he playfully dangled his infant son, Prince Michael, over a hotel balcony in Berlin while a throng of fans watched from below.

In 2005, he was cleared of charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003. He had been accused of plying the boy with alcohol 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 had acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.

Despite the acquittal, the allegations that came out in court took a toll on his career and image, and he fell into serious financial trouble.
A comeback in the works

At the time of his death, Jackson was preparing for what was to be his greatest comeback: He was scheduled for an unprecedented 50 shows at a London arena, with the first set for July 13. He was in rehearsals in Los Angeles for the concert, an extravaganza that was to capture the classic Jackson magic: show-stopping dance moves, elaborate staging and throbbing dance beats.

Johnny Caswell, a principal at Centerstaging, the Burbank, Calif., soundstage where Jackson rehearsed for his London concerts, watched many of the run-throughs and said he was "absolutely shocked" by the performer’s death.

Jackson, he said, was "very frail" but approached the rehearsals with boundless energy.

"He was working hard. Putting four days a week in here. Six hours a day. Working hard. Dancing," Caswell said. "We’re in shock over here."

Jackson’s backers envisioned the London shows as an audition for a career rebirth that ultimately could encompass a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum, musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau, and even a "Thriller" casino.

Jackson needed a comeback to reverse the damage done by years of excessive spending and little work.

He had not toured since 1997 or released a new album since 2001 but continued to live like a megastar.

To finance his opulent lifestyle, he borrowed heavily against his three main assets: his Neverland Ranch, his music catalog and a second catalog that includes the music of the Beatles that he co-owns with Sony Corp.

By the time of his 2005 criminal trial, he was nearly $300 million in debt.

He also had his own family to take care of. Jackson had three children: Prince Michael, now 7; Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., 12; and Paris Michael Katherine, 11.

"On the one hand, it’s shocking," said Alan Light, a journalist who has edited Spin and Vibe magazines. "On the other hand, everybody had the sense that there was not going to be a happy ending to this story. . . . It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact he had on popular music and popular culture. He really defined what the music video could be . . . He is someone who will be remembered as an absolute superstar."