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"King of pop" dies

Jackson delivers the goods at a 1997 concert in Vienna Reuters

Singer Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles at the age of 50, apparently of heart failure.

This content was published on June 26, 2009 - 07:15

He was pronounced dead on Thursday afternoon after collapsing and being admitted to hospital.

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'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.

Music lives on

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.

As word of his death spread, MTV switched its programming to play videos from Jackson's heyday. Radio stations began playing marathons of his hits. 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.

The public first knew him as a boy in the late 1960s, when he was the precocious lead singer of the Jackson Five, the singing group he formed with his four older brothers. Among their number one hits were "I Want You Back", "ABC" and "I'll Be There".

He was perhaps the most exciting performer of his generation, known for his backward-gliding moonwalk, his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched singing, punctuated with squeals and titters. His single sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses were trademarks, as was his ever-changing, surgically altered appearance.

Presley comparison

"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 of my soul has gone with him."

Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensations of all time. He united two of music's biggest names when he was briefly married to Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie. Jackson's death immediately evoked comparisons to that of Presley himself, who died at age 42 in 1977.

As years went by, Jackson became an increasingly freakish figure - a middle-aged man-child 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 travelling, kept a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions, and surrounded himself with children at his Neverland ranch, a storybook playland filled with toys, rides and animals. The tabloids dubbed him "Wacko Jacko".

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 from below.

Neverland

In 2005, he was cleared of charges of molesting 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 behaviour with other children.

The case followed years of rumours 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 financial trouble.

After his early success with bubblegum soul, he struck out on his own, generating innovative, explosive, unstoppable music.

The peak may have come in 1983, when Motown celebrated its 25th anniversary with an all-star televised concert and Jackson moonwalked off with the show, joining his brothers for a medley of old hits and then leaving them behind with a pointing, crouching, high-kicking, splay-footed, crotch-grabbing run through "Billie Jean".

Bad

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 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.

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 behaviour 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 his dermatologist.

They had two children together: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince Michael, now 12; and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11. Rowe filed for divorce in 1999.

Jackson also had a third child, Prince Michael II. Jackson said the boy, now seven, was his biological child born from a surrogate mother.

Now HIStory

Billboard magazine editorial director Bill Werde said Jackson's star power was unmatched. "The world just lost the biggest pop star in history, no matter 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."

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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