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Swiss fans mourn "irreplaceable" Jackson

(Reuters)

Michael Jackson's Swiss fans are remembering the singer as a musical genius whose showmanship and spirit brought smiles to the faces of people around the world.

Jackson died in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon at the age of 50 after collapsing and being admitted to hospital. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday.

Police said they were investigating the singer's death, a standard procedure in high-profile cases.

In Switzerland, fans and artists alike had already made up their minds about his legacy and were wrestling with the void his death has left.

Ticinese singer Paolo Meneguzzi, who represented Switzerland at the 2008 Eurovision song contest, said he felt a "deep hurt".

"Since Jackson was already a legend while he was alive, he will remain immortal. He was the greatest genius in the history of music. As a singer and a dancer, he is irreplaceable," he said.

"Michael Jackson was the greatest musician in history," said Michael Drieberg, a concert promoter. He compared Jackson's early death to that of Elvis Prestley nearly 32 years ago.

Drieberg had organised Jackson concerts in 1988 and 1997 in the city of Lausanne and had hoped to bring one more show to Switzerland. Drieberg met Jackson for the first time when he picked him up at airport and remembers him as a kind, modest, almost timid man.

Swiss fan club

Thomas Zahner, the co-founder of Switzerland's Michael Jackson fan club, said: "I cannot yet understand." He, along with some of the other 500 club members, had wanted to travel to one of Jackson's upcoming concerts.

He told swissinfo.ch he first thought the news of Jackson's death was a "hoax".

"His music thrills us," Zahner said, explaining why he and the other 500 members of the club followed Jackson's every move. "He's an artist, musician, dancer – once you've seen him on stage, you can never forget it. Perhaps also because of his enigmatic character. It's everything."

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's premier all-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled on stage.

His 1982 album "Thriller" – which included the blockbuster hits "Beat It," "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" – is the best-selling album of all time, with an 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 50 shows at a London arena, with the first set for July 13.

Alpine connection

According to Zahner's website, Jackson came to Switzerland several times during his lifetime. His first Swiss concert was in Geneva in 1979 as part of the Jackson Five.

The pop icon's first solo world tour made a stop in Basel and Lausanne in 1988. Fifty thousand fans attended the sold-out concert in Basel's St Jakob stadium. Elizabeth Taylor and Bob Dylan were said to be among the stars in attendance.

Jackson was back on tour in Europe – and Switzerland – in 1992, but rumours about his health largely overshadowed his performances. He cancelled an appearance in Germany and after a show in Lausanne, was taken back to his hotel by ambulance. He cancelled other concerts during that tour, including a show in Basel.

He was believed to have been again in Switzerland a year later – this time on holiday – to spend a few days at film star Taylor's chalet in the alpine resort of Gstaad.

He spent two weeks in Montreux in 1997 where he put the finishing touches to songs for his "Blood on the Dance Floor" album.

Jackson also used his time in Switzerland, as he said in interviews, to write the song, Elizabeth, I Love You, which he sang at the actress's 65th birthday party.

HIStory

Later the same year Basel and Lausanne were once again the Swiss concert sites for his HIStory tour.

In 2000, Jackson made a stop in Zurich where he attended a performance with his children of the Swiss national circus, Knie.

He also apparently spent time around the Lake Geneva shores that year, looking at various properties, including a small castle in Gland near Geneva.

"One can compare [Jackson's passing] to the death of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe," Zahner said. "He achieved so much as a musician, artist – he's one of a kind. He had such a special life, never had a childhood – was always in show business. He's a phenomenon."

Dale Bechtel, swissinfo.ch and agencies

Michael Jackson

Aug. 29, 1958: Michael Joseph Jackson is born in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children.

1963: After several years of training, The Jackson 5 begin to perform in public.

1972: While still singing with the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson puts out his first solo album, "Got to Be There."

1979: Jackson's first solo album as an adult, "Off the Wall," is released. He becomes the first solo artist to place four singles from the same record in the top 10.

1982: His album "Thriller" wins a record eight Grammys and becomes the world's biggest selling record of all time.

1984: During production of a Pepsi-Cola commercial, Jackson's scalp sustains burns when an explosion sets his hair on fire.

1985: Jackson and Lionel Richie write what becomes one of the fastest-selling singles ever with "We Are the World." The song was produced to raise money for victims of the Ethiopian famine. Jackson also pays $47.5 million for the rights to more than 250 songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

1993: Jackson reveals in a TV interview that he had an inherited disorder that caused his skin pigmentation to fade. He was also accused of molesting a boy who often stayed at his home. The singer denied any wrongdoing, reached a settlement with the boy's family, reported to be $20 million, and criminal charges were never filed.

1994: Jackson marries Lisa Marie Presley. They divorce two years later.

1995: Releases the album "HIStory: Past, Present, and Future Book I." The song "You Are Not Alone" becomes the first single in pop music history to enter the Billboard chart at No. 1.

2003: ABC airs the British documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson." Jackson's comments about allowing kids spend the night in his bedroom prompted authorities to look into his relationships with children.

2005: A judge clears Jackson of charges he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003.

2006: Plagued by financial problems since his trial, Jackson closes the house on his 2,600-acre (1,052-hectare) Neverland Ranch estate in California.

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