- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

UPDATED:

An autopsy is being conducted Friday to determine what caused the death of Michael Jackson, the Motown child singing sensation who became the King of Pop and enthralled the world with his music, dancing and antics. Mr. Jackson died Thursday after suffering cardiac arrest in a Los Angeles home. He was 50.

The pop icon, who in adulthood electrified America’s first music video generation, is being mourned by family, fans and celebrities around the globe.

Mr. Jackson’s death has resulted in widespread speculation about what exactly killed him — from poor health to a possible dependency on prescription drugs.

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The British tabloid The Sun reported, citing an Emergency Room source at UCLA Medical Center, that Jackson aides had said the singer collapsed and died after an injection of Demerol — a drug similar to morphine that also can cause breathing to shut down.

Jackson family lawyer Brian Oxman told CBS: “I have said to family members that he is overmedicated.”

“I have warned that one day Michael Jackson would wake up dead, and that I would not be silent if that was the case, because of the misuse of medications,” he said.

The preliminary results of the autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office could be made available later this afternoon, but it could take weeks for any toxicology reports.

Mr. Jackson, who reportedly had a personal physician in his home Thursday, was preparing for 50 sold-out concerts at London’s 02 Arena and reportedly had to pass a lengthy physical for the concert promoters before signing up for the shows.

Mr. Jackson, named in the Guinness World Records as the “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time,” with 13 Grammy Awards, 13 chart-topping solo singles and more than 750 million albums sold worldwide, was just a few weeks away from those London performances aimed at reviving his career after years of bizarre tabloid stories and an acquittal on child-molestation charges.

He was declared dead at UCLA Medical Center at 5:26 p.m. EDT after doctors spent more than an hour trying to revive him.

His death stunned an unsuspecting nation, casting a cultural pall similar to three decades ago when an earlier generation’s iconic rock king, Elvis Presley, died an untimely death shrouded in mystery.

Hundreds of mourners streamed onto the streets near the hospital while radio stations coast-to-coast played nonstop Jackson music. Fans danced inside Harlem’s Apollo Theater to celebrate his accomplishments while Web users, young and old, pushed their favorite video remembrances onto YouTube, memorializing everything from the pop star’s famed single sequined glove and moonwalk routine to his barrier-breaking MTV video Thriller.

“For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words,” said producer Quincy Jones, who collaborated with the star on such hits as “Off the Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad.”

“He had it all - talent, grace, professionalism and dedication. 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.”

Mr. Jackson evolved from the cute, precocious child who belted out the Jackson 5’s early hits, to an MTV icon and finally a somewhat freakish-looking middle-aged man whose thin nose, girlish voice and eccentric tendencies made for incessant tabloid grist.

Mr. Jackson’s brother Jermaine, one of the Jackson 5, announced the death and pleaded for the media to give the family its privacy after years of obsessive coverage of the singer’s financial and legal troubles, his painkiller addiction and his plastic surgeries.

“We all loved being with you, Michael, always,” Jermaine said.

Mr. Jackson’s influence is vast. He broke the color barrier on MTV, becoming the first video star to be beloved by fans black and white alike. His videos for “Thriller” and “Bad” turned the genre into an art form, while his combination of musical talent and complicated dance moves changed entertainment, creating the template for the careers of multithreat entertainment giants like Madonna, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

“I can’t stop crying over the sad news,” Madonna said. “I have always admired Michael Jackson.” Teen sensation Miley Cyrus tweeted that he was “my inspiration.”

Mr. Jackson’s death came the same day as that of another icon of the 1970s and ‘80s; actress Farrah Fawcett passed away at the age of 62 after a three-year struggle with anal cancer. Earlier in the week, TV pitchman Ed McMahon died.

Mr. Jackson’s life followed the tragic trajectory of another musical icon known for combining music and sexually charged moves, Elvis - whose daughter Lisa Marie he married in 1994 and divorced in 1996. Both men rose quickly in their youth to become worldwide icons, only to see their talents overshadowed by increasingly bizarre behavior, reclusiveness and early deaths.

“I am so very sad and confused with every emotion possible. I am heartbroken for his children, who I know were everything to him, and for his family,” Miss Presley said.

Mr. Jackson spent more than four of the five decades he lived in the music business. Born on Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind., he was the seventh of nine children. Five of those - Michael, along with Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon - formed the Jackson 5, the last great Motown act, signing with the label in 1968. (Their sisters Janet and LaToya also had musical careers.) Upset at not being given more creative control over their work, the group left Motown in 1975, and signed with CBS Records, changing their name to the Jacksons, and Michael became their lead songwriter.

He often formed close friendships with other celebrities whose childhoods were all but taken away from them. One, Elizabeth Taylor, said she was “too devastated by the passing of her dear friend Michael Jackson to issue a statement at this time.” Another, Brooke Shields, whom the entertainer briefly dated, said, “My heart is overcome with sadness for the devastating loss of my true friend, Michael. He was an extraordinary friend, artist and contributor to the world.”

Mr. Jackson starred as the Scarecrow in the “Wizard of Oz” musical film adaptation “The Wiz,” where he first met Mr. Jones. They collaborated on his next solo project, which cemented his status as a solo star - 1979’s “Off the Wall,” whose songwriters included Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.

It was the next album that made Mr. Jackson an icon. “Thriller,” released in 1982, is considered the best-selling album of all time, with worldwide sales reported to be between 47 million and 109 million. It spawned seven Billboard top 10 singles, including “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” The nearly 14-minute video for the title track, directed by John Landis, is widely considered the best music video ever made and ushered in the era in which the genre was finally treated as an art form of its own.

Around this time, Mr. Jackson developed some of his signature moves, including the moonwalk and quick crotch-grabbing. “Bad,” released in 1987, also spawned an epic video, an 18-minute one directed by Martin Scorsese.

Mr. Jackson was also known for his charitable activities. “We Are the World,” the 1985 song he co-wrote with Lionel Richie, was recorded by a collection of big stars for USA for Africa to aid the continent. He performed in the District in October 2001 as part of “United We Stand,” a benefit to raise money for recovery efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, but his attempt to recapture his “We Are the World” success was dwarfed by “The Concert for New York City,” organized by his one-time collaborator Mr. McCartney.

It wasn’t long until Mr. Jackson’s personal eccentricities emerged - including sharing his Neverland Ranch with a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles, contributing to his other nickname, “Wacko Jacko” - but it was more serious allegations that derailed his career. In 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, amid talk that the singer regularly hosted sleepovers for young males. He settled with the boy’s family, reportedly for $23 million.

Allegations continued to surface through the years. In 2005, he went on trial after being charged with molesting and conspiring to abduct a 13-year-old boy. He was acquitted of all charges, but became something of an international vagabond and recluse, spending very little time in the U.S. after that. His vast fortune - which included 50 percent ownership of the Beatles catalogue, the most valuable in the music industry - was strained by his legal troubles.

Mr. Jackson’s musical popularity never seemed to wane, though. The 50 concerts he was to have performed at London’s 02 Arena sold out within hours. He reportedly passed a 4-hour physical before signing up for the shows. He was being trained for the massive set by Lou Ferrigno, best known as the Incredible Hulk.

Mr. Jackson is survived by three children - Prince Michael I, Paris Michael and Prince Michael II. The first two children were the result of his marriage to Debbie Rowe. The singer caused controversy when he dangled the baby Prince Michael II, whose mother was a surrogate, over a hotel balcony railing in 2002.

Joe Weber contributed to this report.

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