Goodbye, Mike

The Wall Street Journal
JUNE 26, 2009, 11:26 A.M. ET  

Death of a Pop Music Icon

Michael Jackson’s Life of Fame and Scandal Ends at 50 on Eve of Comeback Concerts


[Michael Jackson performs at the Super Bowl XXVII during the halftime show, on January 31, 1993.] Associated PressMichael Jackson performs at the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show, on January 31, 1993.

LOS ANGELES — Music fans around the world mourned the death of pop icon Michael Jackson, who died at a hospital Thursday after suffering cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles home.

An autopsy was planned for Friday afternoon, though results weren’t likely to be final until toxicology tests are completed, a process that takes several days and sometimes weeks.

Mr. Jackson, age 50, was one of the most successful, visible and influential pop singers in history. His albums sold hundreds of millions of copies and his music videos helped define the medium.

Associated PressFans stage an impromptu celebration of the life of Mr. Jackson outside UCLA Medical Center.

He gained equal attention for his personal life. He was known for his flashy, theatrical dressing style, his repeated recourse to plastic surgery, which significantly altered his look over his career, and, in later years, two accusations of child molestation.

Mr. Jackson’s 1980s habit of wearing a single white glove inspired a short-lived fashion trend, while his signature moonwalk dance became nearly as iconic as his music and look.

Mr. Jackson spent many years at his 2,600-acre ranch, Neverland, in Los Olivos, Calif., which was outfitted as a kind of playground for a child with an unlimited allowance, with carnival rides, a movie theater and two working railroad lines.

His death fell on the eve of what was to be an ambitious and potentially lucrative rehabilitation of his career after several years of controversy during which he stopped performing or releasing new music. Mr. Jackson’s last major moment in the spotlight had occurred in 2005, when he was acquitted of criminal child-molestation charges. But even before then, his career had been stuck in a holding pattern.

King of Pop Michael Jackson Dies

0:34Pop star Michael Jackson has died at age 50 after being rushed to UCLA Medical Center.

A profligate lifestyle and his massive legal fees had also left the singer with $500 million in debt, and he defaulted on a $24.5 million loan backed by Neverland. However, Mr. Jackson had made a few key business decisions early on that kept him afloat through the tabloid-fodder madness that eventually engulfed him. By acquiring and holding lucrative music-publishing he assets, including the rights to many Beatles songs, he was able to maintain a modicum of financial stability.

Nevertheless, by early 2009, Mr. Jackson was so overextended financially that he was in a panic about money, people close to him said.

In March, concert promoter AEG Live announced that Mr. Jackson would perform a series of shows at its O2 arena in London. Demand for tickets proved to be enormous, and the run was eventually extended to 50 concerts, with hundreds of thousands of tickets sold. The dates were spread over several months, starting in early July and stretching well into 2010.

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Mr. Jackson’s agreement with AEG Live, owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, included an option to extend the concert series even further into a world-wide tour over three years or more. All told the tour could have earned him $400 million.

In preparation for the London performances, Mr. Jackson had undergone a five-hour physical examination. AEG Live Chief Executive Randy Phillips said in March that Mr. Jackson had “passed with flying colors.”

But signs of trouble arose even as the singer was preparing for the initial concerts. The first four dates were postponed, ostensibly because the singer needed more time for dress rehearsals in the venue. Some people close to the singer expressed doubt whether he would be able to pull off so many concerts.

Born in 1958 in Gary, Ind., Mr. Jackson was quickly pushed into the limelight. Even at a very young age he was the star of the Jackson Five, the singing group his father, Joseph Jackson, assembled with five of the Jackson sons.

The Jacksons quickly graduated from local talent shows to the national stage. They signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records and enjoyed a string of hits that included “ABC” and “I Want You Back.” But life under their hard-charging father and manager took its toll, and Mr. Jackson had anything but a normal childhood.

After striking out on his own, Mr. Jackson’s fame grew. His 1982 “Thriller” is one of the best-selling albums in history.

Thursday afternoon, the sidewalks outside UCLA Medical Center were overflowing with people. Some onlookers burst into tears even before an official announcement of his death had been made. Other impromptu Michael Jackson memorials popped up around the country, including one outside Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater.

Associated PressMr. Jackson performed before a sold-out crowd at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in November 1988.

In 1993, he faced a child-abuse investigation after a 13-year-old named Jordan Chandler accused the pop star of inappropriate behavior. The child’s family sued Mr. Jackson for $22 million. The singer later paid a multi-million-dollar settlement while maintaining his innocence.

A brief marriage to Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Maria Presley, ended in divorce. Another marriage, to Debbie Rowe, produced two children but also ended in divorce. He had a third child, Prince Michael II, whose mother he never identified publicly.

In 2003, new problems began to surface for Mr. Jackson after he said during the filming of a British documentary that he shared his bed with boys. The next year, Jackson faced an arraignment in California after a teenage cancer survivor said that the pop star had gotten him drunk and molested him.

In 2005, a trial began in Santa Maria, Calif., where Jackson defended himself against charges of child molestation and providing alcohol to minors, and faced a possible 20-year prison sentence. Though he was acquitted on all counts, the three-month trial exposed many details of Mr. Jackson’s personal life.

—Sabrina Shankman and Nicholas Casey contributed to this article.

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