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Kentuckians mourn "King of Pop"

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop" who once
moonwalked above the music world, died Thursday as he prepared for
a comeback bid to vanquish nightmare years of sexual scandal and
financial calamity. He was 50.
Jackson died at UCLA Medical Center after being stricken at his
rented home in Holmby Hills. 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 even more 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.
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, and people began
relaying the news to friends by cell phone.
"No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow," Michael Harris, 36, of
New York City, read from a text message a friend had sent him.
"It's like when Kennedy was assassinated. I will always remember
being in Times Square when Michael Jackson died."
The public first knew him as a boy in the late 1960s, when he
was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson 5, the
singing group he formed with his four older brothers out of Gary,
Ind. Among their No. 1 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.
"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, and 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 weirdly 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 traveling,
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."
"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. He called Jackson a "disciple of P.T. Barnum"
and said the star appeared fragile at the time but was "much more
cunning and shrewd about the industry than anyone knew."
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.
In 2005, he was cleared of charges 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 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.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary. He was 4
years old when he began singing with his brothers - Marlon,
Jermaine, Jackie and Tito - in the Jackson 5. After his early
success with bubblegum soul, he struck out on his own, generating
innovative, explosive, unstoppable music.
The album "Thriller" alone mixed the dark, serpentine bass and
drums and synthesizer approach of "Billie Jean," the grinding
Eddie Van Halen solo on "Beat It," and the hiccups and falsettos
on "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'."
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."
The audience stood and roared. Jackson raised his fist.
By then he had cemented his place in pop culture. He got the
plum Scarecrow role in the 1978 movie musical "The Wiz," a
pop-R&B version of "The Wizard of Oz," that starred Diana Ross as
Dorothy.
During production of a 1984 Pepsi commercial, Jackson's scalp
sustains burns when an explosion sets his hair on fire.
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 behavior 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, and Paris Michael
Katherine Jackson. Rowe filed for divorce in 1999.
Cardiac arrest is an abnormal heart rhythm that stops the heart
from pumping blood to the body. It can occur after a heart attack
or be caused by other heart problems.
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."
---
Associated Press Writers Derrik J. Lang, Solvej Schou and Thomas
Watkins in Los Angeles and Virginia Byrne, Hillel Italie, Nekesa
Mumbi Moody and Jocelyn Noveck in New York contributed to this
report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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