Michael Jackson, Pop Icon, Dies at 50

3:29 PM PST 06/25/2009 by Erik Pedersen
Barry Schultz/SUNSHINE/Newscom
Dick Clark interviews a young Michael Jackson on "American Bandstand."

The King of Pop was not breathing when paramedics arrived at his rented Bel-Air home. He died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood.

Michael Jackson, the erstwhile King of Pop who went from child star to one of the world's biggest celebrities before his career was derailed by legal problems and personal issues, died Thursday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood. He was 50.

Jackson was not breathing when paramedics responding to a 911 call arrived at his rented home in Bel-Air at about 12:25 p.m. They tried to resuscitate the singer for nearly 45 minutes before rushing him to the hospital, where he died at 2:26 p.m., according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

No further details of his death were immediately available, and reps for Jackson could not be reached for comment.

"It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home," his brother Jermaine said. "However, the cause of his death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known."

Los Angeles Police said in a late-afternoon news conference that because of Jackson's high profile, its robbery/homicide division is investigating the case.

Large crowds began gathering near the hospital as the afternoon wore on, and Twitter crashed amid the deluge of posts.

In the wake of the singer's death, the filmmakers behind Bruno, which had its Los Angeles premiere Thursday at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, made the quick decision to cut a reference to Jackson in the film. The sequence shows Sacha Baron Cohen's title character encountering LaToya Jackson and begging for her brother's phone number.

Before the screening, director Larry Charles said the reference to Jackson had been cut -- at least for Thursday's premiere. But he declined to specify whether the cut would be made for the film's general release. "We will assess the situation later on," he said.

The red carpet for the Bruno premiere covered Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so to pay their respects many fans there gathered around the star of longtime Los Angeles talk-radio personality Michael Jackson.

Stunned reaction to the breaking news of his transport to the hospital began almost immediately, culminating hours later with statements from a number of celebrities, executives and associates with whom Jackson interacted over the years.

"Rarely has the world received a gift with the magnitude of artistry, talent and vision as Michael Jackson," Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow said. "He was a true musical icon whose identifiable voice, innovative dance moves, stunning musical versatility and sheer star power carried him from childhood to worldwide acclaim. Michael's career transcends musical and cultural genres, and his contributions will always keep him in our hearts and memories."

Said BMI chief Del Bryant: "Michael Jackson was clearly one of the greatest entertainers of our era. ... (But) often overlooked are his spectacular skills as a songwriter, composing both music and lyrics for his immense body of work."

ASCAP released a statement saying, "Michael leaves behind a legacy of trend-setting innovation, not only musically but with dance, fashion and media as well."

A rep for Elizabeth Taylor said Thursday that the actress "is too devastated by the passing of her dear friend Michael Jackson to issue a statement at this time."

On Friday, Taylor released the following statement: "My heart ... my mind ... are broken. I loved Michael with all my soul and I can't imagine life without him. We had so much in common and we had such loving fun together. I was packing up my clothes to go to London for his opening when I heard the news. I still can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. It can't be so. He will live in my heart forever but it's not enough. My life feels so empty. I don't think anyone knew how much we loved each other. The purest most giving love I've ever known. Oh God! I'm going to miss him. I can't yet imagine life with out him. But I guess with God's help ... I'll learn. I keep looking at the photo he gave me of himself, which says, 'To my true love Elizabeth, I love you forever.' And, I will love HIM forever."

News of Jackson's death came as the pop star was preparing for a major comeback after years of tabloid headlines, notably surrounding his 2005 trial and acquittal on child molestation charges in Santa Barbara. The singer had booked 50 sold-out concerts at London's O2 arena that were set to begin July 16 and run through March. They were to be his first public performances in a dozen years.

Jackson had done a dress rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and had the arena booked for rehearsal Thursday and today, along with Monday through Wednesday next week.

His sudden death leaves a mountain of questions unresolved: There are issues of probate, custody of his three children, along with numerous pending and active lawsuits. And there could be many more regarding the scheduled London concerts, which were being billed as This Is It.

With more than $85 million already in the bank from ticket sales for the London shows, Jackson's death could have massive repercussions for AEG Live. The producer-promoter footed the bill for a $20 million production, and Jackson's take on ticket sales alone was estimated to be north of $50 million. Premium and VIP packages and secondary market sales were to have boosted the gross to more than $100 million. Merchandise sales could have brought in another $15 million.

AEG's yearly financial results might now depend on the cause of Jackson's death. One entertainment insurance industry insider said that if Jackson died from a drug overdose or a pre-existing condition, the producer could be on the hook for any loss.

AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips said last month that his company was well-insured for the event. "We have one policy in place, and we're negotiating for an even larger binder," he said in a May 12 interview. "We have insured the production costs. In order to get the first part of the insurance in place, Jackson had to have a physical, and he passed it with flying colors."

Phillips added: "Michael's in incredible physical shape. He's got tremendous stamina, he's been working out aerobically preparing for this, and he is totally engaged."

The executive could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The O2 residency was being challenged by an American promoter that claimed Jackson was committed to perform with his brothers from The Jackson 5 and their sister Janet Jackson next summer in Texas and could not give another concert before that.

Along with the London shows, Jackson's planned career rebirth was expected to including a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum, musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau and even a themed casino. Such a rebound could have wiped out Jackson's massive debt.

From the 1970s through early this decade, Jackson's singing, writing and dancing made him one of the world's biggest stars. His 1982 album "Thriller" is the best-selling set of all time.

Born on Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind., Jackson was 11 years old when he began his career as the precocious and undeniably talented lead singer of The Jackson 5, which also included his brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie. The band's first four singles hit No. 1, and it ultimately charted 11 top 10 singles from 1969-84.

Jackson had a series of solo hits throughout the '70s and starred in the hit Broadway musical The Wiz. But he came into his own with the 1979 album Off the Wall, which spawned two No. 1 singles and has sold more than 7 million units. But that was only a whiff of the success Jackson would achieve with his next release in late 1982.

Thriller was a hit out of the box, with lead single "Billie Jean" hitting No. 1 weeks later. But Jackson's popularity exploded after he performed the song on Motown 25, an NBC special commemorating the 25th anniversary of Motown Records. The crowd went wild as Jackson deployed his soon-to-be signature "moonwalk," and album sales immediately skyrocketed.

Thriller, Jackson's sixth studio album, ultimately spent 37 weeks atop the Billboard 200 and spawned a then-record seven top 10 singles. But among its biggest achievements was cracking the rotation at MTV, which was gaining popularity but featured few black artists. The cable channel embraced the "Billie Jean" video, launching a mutually beneficial relationship with the artist.

In December 1983, MTV premiered the 13-minute "Thriller" video, directed by John Landis. The horror spoof, made for a half-million dollars, was the most expensive video ever at the time and launched a fad of mini-films on the channel. "Thriller" was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1996 as the most successful music video.

"I was lucky enough to know and work with Michael Jackson in his prime," Landis said Thursday. "Michael was an extraordinary talent and a truly great international star. He had a troubled and complicated life and, despite his gifts, remains a tragic figure."

Jackson and Lionel Richie co-wrote "We Are the World," which was recorded in January 1985 by dozens of stars under the moniker of U.S.A. for Africa as a benefit for Ethiopian famine relief. The song was recorded during an impromptu session led by Quincy Jones following the American Music Awards. It topped charts around the world and raised tens of millions for the relief effort.

"I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,"said Jones, who also produced Jackson's Thriller, Off the Wall and Bad. "For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don't have the words. ... To this day, the music we created together is played in every corner of the world, and the reason for that is because he had it all -- talent, grace, professionalism and dedication."

Jackson's huge success continued through the '80s, including a reunion album and tour with his brothers. His 1987 album Bad was an instant worldwide smash, spawning an unmatched five No. 1 singles in the U.S. He ranks as Billboard's No. 1 artist of that decade.

"Michael Jackson will live forever through the thing that he put all of his life energy into: his music," R&B star Ne-Yo said Thursday. "I will do my part to keep the melody alive, to keep the energy forever changing form but never, ever dying."

His career zenithed with the album Dangerous in late 1991, but his charmed life began to unravel in 1993.

The singer was accused of child sexual abuse by the father of a 13-year-old boy who Jackson had befriended the previous year. Several seditious allegations resounded through the world media, but the case was settled out of court in early 1994.

"As someone who served as Michael Jackson's publicist during the first child-molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news," his former publicist Michael Levine said Thursday. "Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. ... A human simply can not withstand this level of stress."

Later that year, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley. Their widely publicized union ended in divorce less than two years later.

He married dermatologist Deborah Rowe in 1996 and had two children with her. They divorced in 1999.

By the late '90s, Jackson's increasingly odd behavior and mounting legal and financial troubles began to overshadow his career. The public began to focus more on such tabloid fodder as his sexuality, numerous plastic surgeries and dabblings with oddities like hyperbaric chambers. His record sales waned, but many of his legions of fans around the globe remained loyal. (Click here to read about what will happen to Jackson's lawsuits.)

Jackson won 13 Grammys during his career and amassed 28 top 10 singles in the U.S., including 13 No. 1s, and five No. 1 albums. He has sold more than 61.5 million albums in the U.S. alone, according to the RIAA.

Jackson is survived by his parents, Joseph and Katherine; brothers Jermaine, Tito, Randy, Jackie and Marlon Jackson; sisters Rebbie, LaToya and Janet Jackson; and three children. Several family members were at his side Thursday when he was pronounced dead.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Billboard executive editor Ray Waddell in Nashville, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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