Michael Jackson was a global superstar whose legacy was defined by astonishing celebrity, informed by his gifted voice, mesmerizing dance moves and tabloid-worthy eccentricities.
His life was a pop-cultural, operatic narrative, from his start as the big-Afroed, spinning frontman of the Jackson Five, to the iconic, sequined-gloved, 13 Grammy Award-winning King of Pop, to the accused suspect in child molestation cases.
The father of three died Thursday of cardiac arrest in Los Angeles. He was 50.
"You are talking about someone who made the largest impact globally on the culture of music," said Marvet Britto, a celebrity strategist and Jackson friend based in New York. "He is one of the biggest stars to die in our lifetime."
Jackson's unexpected death brought to a tragic end a winding, sometimes self-destructive, often bizarre lifetime – but not one without immeasurable highs – in the public eye.
Jackson's pure, almost angelic voice, helped put himself and his brothers – the Jackson Five – on the map in the 1960s. Collectively, they became teeny-bopper sensations, topping the charts with hits I Want You Back, ABC and I'll Be There.
But from the beginning, Michael was different.
"I remember him being this shy, quiet boy. When all the other boys were wrestling and shooting hoops, he would be off somewhere watching or drawing pictures," said Regina Jones, former publisher of SOUL Magazine, one of the first publications to cover the Jackson family. "Very polite when you engaged him, but he kept to himself. I think he thought of himself as an artist."
As a solo performer, Jackson revolutionized American pop music with his performances, his kinetic, crotch-grabbing dance moves, and a falsetto voice that brought fans to tears.
Jackson's remarkable reign over the 1980s was cemented with his 1982 album Thriller, which remains the second-biggest-selling record of all time. The video for Beat It shattered the race barrier on MTV in 1983. With Billie Jean, Jackson debuted the "moonwalk" move that had kids around the world sliding backward in their living rooms. And the album's titular song, Thriller, had a 14-minute video that included graveyard scenes filmed in Coconut Grove's old Bahamian cemetery.
"Rarely has the world received a gift with the magnitude of artistry, talent and vision as Michael Jackson," said Neil Portnow, president of the The Recording Academy. "Michael's career transcends musical and cultural genres, and his contributions will always keep him in our hearts and memories."
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