- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

UPDATED:

Michael Jackson, the childhood sensation whose iconic singing and dance routines electrified America’s first music video generation and earned him the title “King of Pop,” died Thursday after collapsing at his California home. He was 50.

Mr. Jackson, one of the largest-selling artists of all time, was just a few weeks from launching a worldwide tour aimed at reviving his career after years of bizarre tabloid stories and an acquittal on child molestation charges.

Mr. Jackson was pronounced dead at about 2:26 p.m. PDT after arriving at a Los Angeles hospital in full cardiac arrest, said Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. The cause of death was not known and an autopsy would likely take place on Friday, he told Associated Press.

A few hours after Mr. Jackson’s death, a throng of media awaited a press conference from the Jackson family.

Mr. Jackson’s former producer and longtime collaborator Quincy Jones said he was shocked to hear of the music legend’s demise.

“I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,” Mr. Jones told TMZ.com. “For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words.”

Mr. Jackson was rushed to a hospital by Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Capt. Steve Ruda said paramedics responded to a call at Jackson’s home around 12:26 p.m. He was not breathing when they arrived. The parademics performed CPR and took him to UCLA Medical Center, Ruda told the Times.

According to the newspaper, paramedics were called to a home on the 100 block of Carolwood Drive off Sunset Boulevard. Jackson rented the Bel Air home for $100,000 a month. It was described as a French chateau estate built in 2002 with seven bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces and a theater.

The home is about two minutes away from UCLA Medical Center.

The Guinness Book of World Records dubbed Mr. Jackson “The Most Successful Entertainer of All Time” in 2006.

“Its the most shocking death of an entertainment superstar since John Lennon in 1980,” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper wrote.

Rev. Al Sharpton recounted his long relationship with Mr. Jackson on Thursday afternoon.

“I have known Michael since we were both teens, worked with him, marched for him, hosted him at our House of Justice headquarters in New York, and we joined together to eulogize our mutual idol, James Brown,” Mr. Sharpton told TMZ.com.

The news comes as the pop icon was attempting a comeback after years of tabloid headlines, most notably his trial and acquittal on child molestation charges.

In May, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Jackson was living in a Bel-Air mansion and rehearsing for a series of 50 sold-out shows in London’s O2 Arena. Mr. Jackson had won the backing of two billionaires to get the so-called “King of Pop” back on stage.

His backers envisioned the shows at AEG’s O2 as an audition for a career rebirth that could ultimately 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 massive debt.

“As someone who served as Michael Jackson’s publicist during the 1st child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today’s tragic news,” said Michael Levine, a Los Angeles publicist. “Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress.”

Word of Mr. Jackson’s hospitalization sent millions of Americans to celebrity websites. So many rushed at once that many Internet connections were broken or slowed considerably. News channels interrupted regularly scheduled programs to go wall-to-wall with Jackson remembrances. Fox News Channel even ran Michael Jackson videos next to a live shot of crowds gathering outside the hospital in which he died in Los Angeles.

Many fans and friends expressed anger and disappointment that he will be unable to do his comeback tour. “It was clearly evident that this was going to be a whole new chapter. He was going to get back on top. I was hoping his kids would see him back on top,” Debra Opri, a family friend and attorney to Mr. Jackson, told Fox News Channel.

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, AP reported.

Musicians of all genres and generations gave praise to the man they said launched their careers.

“If it were not for Micheal Jackson I would not be where or who I am today.His Music and Legacy will live on Forever.Prayers to the fam R.I.P.” rapper Ludacris wrote on his Twitter feed.

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