For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the boy who refused to grow up. But he is gone.
LOS ANGELES — For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the boy who refused to grow up. But he is gone.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after arriving in a coma, according to a city official. He was 50.
Mr. Jackson had been taken to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented Holmby Hills mansion in which he was living, shortly after noon. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest.
The circumstances of Mr. Jackson’s death remain unclear. Law-enforcement sources said Los Angeles police detectives have opened an investigation into the death, although they stressed there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
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At Mr. Jackson’s peak, he was the biggest star in the world and has sold more than 750 million albums. 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.
From his days as the youngest brother in The Jackson 5 to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Jackson was responsible for a string of hits such as “I Want You Back,” “I’ll Be There,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” and “Black and White” that exploited his high voice, infectious energy and ear for irresistible hooks.
As a solo performer, he ushered in the age of pop as a global product, not to mention an age of spectacle and pop-culture celebrity.
His early career with his brothers gave way to a solo act in which he became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his moonwalk-dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
But after his entertainment career hit high-water marks, it started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment came in 2003, when he was indicted on child-molesting charges.
A 13-year-old cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then sexually fondled him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., but Mr. Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
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. Rowe filed for divorce in 1999.
He is survived by three children: sons Prince Michael, 7, and Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., 12, and daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11.
The news comes as Mr. Jackson was attempting a comeback after years of tabloid headlines, most notably his trial and acquittal on child-molestation charges.
Mr. Jackson had been living in Holmby Hills and rehearsing for a series of 50 sold-out shows in London’s O2 Arena after winning the backing of two billionaires to get the so-called King of Pop back on stage.
The concerts had been scheduled to begin July 13.
Johnny Caswell, a principal at Centerstaging, the Burbank soundstage where Mr. Jackson rehearsed for his London concerts, watched many of the run-throughs and said he was “absolutely shocked” by the performer’s death.
Mr. Jackson, he said, was “very frail” but approached the rehearsals with boundless energy.
His backers envisioned the London shows as an audition for a career rebirth that could encompass a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum, musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau, and even a “Thriller” casino.
Such a rebound could have wiped out Mr. Jackson’s debt, estimated at $400 million.
He was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958. The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at age 5 in a group that their father, Joe, had organized. In 1968 the group, originally called the Jackson Brothers but transformed into The Jackson 5, was signed by Motown Records.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group’s first four singles — “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” — all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970. And Michael was the center of attention: He handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age. The Jackson brothers were soon a fixture on television-variety shows.
Mr. Jackson’s long career never brought him to Seattle. He toured with The Jacksons in the continent-crossing Victory Tour, which stopped in Vancouver, B.C., in October 1984.
Longtime former Seattle Times music critic Patrick MacDonald reviewed the performance, saying the “impressive” choreographed stage show had plenty of good dancing and visual tricks, but “I strained to hear his [Michael Jackson’s] tender voice over the highly amplified synthesizers and the murmurs and occasional screams in the crowd.”
Four years later, Mr. Jackson got closer to Seattle, sort of. He was scheduled to appear at the Tacoma Dome in October 1988 — selling more than 70,000 tickets over three nights — but canceled the day before the opening show, due to “the flu.”
In 1971, Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of “Ben,” the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers left Motown in 1975 and, re-christened The Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Three years later Mr. Jackson made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical “The Wiz.”
His first solo album for Epic, “Off the Wall,” released in 1979, yielded four No. 1 singles and sold 7 million copies. “Thriller,” released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age.
The video for the album’s title track, directed by John Landis, was a horror-movie pastiche that was more of a minimovie than a promotional clip and helped make MTV a household name.
His next album, “Bad,” released in 1987, sold 8 million copies and produced five No. 1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else’s standards, but an inevitable letdown after “Thriller.”
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson’s bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would release several more albums and occasionally stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
As years went by, he 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 surrounded himself with children at his Neverland ranch, often wore a germ mask while traveling and kept a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions.
Even with the millions Mr. Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1987, he paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theater, at a cost of $35 million, according to reports, and the ranch became his sanctum.
But Neverland, and Mr. Jackson’s lifestyle, were expensive to maintain. A forensic accountant who testified at his molestation trial in 2005 said Mr. Jackson’s annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland.
By at least the late 1990s, he began to take out huge loans to support himself and pay debts.
The child-molestation trial attracted media from around the world to watch as Mr. Jackson, wearing a different costume each day, appeared in a courtroom in Santa Maria, Calif., to listen as a parade of witnesses spun a sometimes-incredible tale.
The case ultimately turned on the credibility of Mr. Jackson’s accuser, then 15, who said the defendant had gotten him drunk and molested him several times. After weeks of testimony, the jury returned not-guilty verdicts on all 14 counts against Mr. Jackson.
After his trial, Mr. Jackson largely left the United States for Bahrain, where he was the guest of a royal family member. He remained in Bahrain, Dubai and Ireland for the next several years.
By early 2009, Mr. Jackson was living in a $100,000-a-month mansion in Holmby Hills, to be closer to “where all the action is” in the entertainment business, his manager at the time, Tohme Tohme, said.
Material from the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.