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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reports: Pop Megastar Michael Jackson Dies at 50

The Los Angeles Times, citing city and law enforcement officials, reported late this afternoon that the singer was dead after being rushed to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles around 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Other news sources and Web sites also reported the death. The Times reported that the singer was not breathing when paramedics arrived at the singer's home, at 12:26 p.m. Pacific time.

Authorities were closing down the streets around UCLA and the hospital and were expected to make an announcement shortly.

As news spread, a large crowd gathered outside the hospital awaiting word on the performer who had sold 750 million albums, was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received 14 Grammy Awards, including one for lifetime achievement. People snapped photos and called friends. His music blared from a fan's boombox.

Jackson was planning to appear in a sold-out series of concerts in London next month that would have run until March. Promoters of the concerts had recently said that the singer had passed a physical examination to assauge any doubts he was ready for a comeback.

Alan Light, former editor of Vibe and Spin magazines, said, "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 was the ultimate crossover figure, bringing black music and rock-and-roll together."

For all his many successes as a child and young man, Jackson's later life devolved into a series of tabloid headlines, bizarre plastic surgeries, and more courtroom appearances than hit songs. After he was acquited of child molestation charges in 2005, Jackson has led an increasingly reclusive life. He traveled the world with his three children, and the family's whereabouts were rarely known, as they jumped from hotels to rental homes around the world. His Neverland ranch north of Santa Barbara, Calif., is no longer the scene of private amusement fairs for needy children. He narrowly avoided having many of his belongings from the ranch sold at auction this year.

"Everybody had the sense that there was not going to be a happy ending to this story," Light said.

Michael Joseph Jackson was born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind., a steel-manufacturing center near Chicago. He was the fifth of nine children born to Joe Jackson, a crane operator in a steel plant, and Katherine Jackson, a Sears employee. His sister Janet also became a major pop star.

Jackson's father, the dominant figure in the household, had been a guitarist in the 1950s with a short-lived Chicago rhythm-and-blues group called the Falcons, and his mother nurtured a love of singing in her children.

From an early age, Michael and his four older brothers -- Jermaine as bassist and lead singer, Jackie as choreographer, Tito and Marlon -- were molded by their demanding father into a singing group. Michael, originally on bongos, proved the charismatic dynamo and replaced Jermaine as lead singer. He was said to have a prodigy's knack for imitating the dance moves of James Brown and other leading R&B performers of the day. In short, he was hypertalented and angelically cute.

As the Jackson 5, the group moved in comparably short time from local talent contests to a professional date at a Gary nightclub and then to national stardom, with the encouragement of established artists including Glays Knight. Driven by their father in a borrowed Volkswagen van, the Jackson 5 appeared in Chicago, at New York's Apollo Theatre and as the opening act for such top Motown stars as Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. At Knight's urging, Motown owner Berry Gordy signed the group to a contract in 1968.

Two years later, when Michael was 12, the Jackson 5 had four No. 1 hits, "ABC" (which won a Grammy Award as best pop song), "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There." Under Gordy's intensive grooming, the Jackson 5 achieved an astounding degree of mass popularity among black and white audiences. Their concerts caused near-riots, with young Michael, singing songs like "Shake it Baby," becoming an unlikely prepubescent sex symbol.

Around this time, the Jackson 5 became the subject of an animated Saturday morning television series on ABC, which featured their singing voices. Michael Jackson, meanwhile, began to emerge as a solo artist with the album "Got to Be There" (1971), which inclued the hit song "Rockin' Robin." When he turned 15, his voice broke, giving the boy soprano a mature tenor voice. At the same time, the Jacksons began to chafe under the strict artistic control Gordy and demanded greater artistic freedom.

According to Michael Jackson's autobiography, he confronted Gordy with a family ultimatum: "Let us have creative control or we're gone." In 1975, the Jacksons left Motown for CBS's Epic label, but Gordy managed to keep the rights to the Jackson 5 name. Brother Jermaine also stayed with Gordy, having married his daughter Hazel.

In 1982, Jackson released his next album, "Thriller," which was also produced by Jones. It became an instant phenomenon, selling more than 40 million copies and yielding seven Top 10 hits, including "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and the title track. It remains a record for a single album.

The album won eight Grammy Awards, but it was Jackson's breathtaking performances on music videos accompanying the album that helped cement his fame. He choreographied the exciting dance routines, which featured his showstopping "moonwalking," acrobatic moves and uncanny precision.

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