LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson , the sensationally gifted child star who rose to become the " King of Pop "and the biggest celebrity in the world only to fall from his throne ina freakish series of scandals, died Thursday. He was 50. Jackson diedat UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles . Ed Winter, the assistant chief coroner for Los Angeles County , confirmed his office had been notified of the death and would handle the investigation.
The circumstances of Jackson's death were not immediately clear. Jackson was not breathing when Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics responded to a call at his Los Angeles home about 12:30 p.m., Capt. Steve Ruda told the Los Angeles Times . The paramedics performed CPR and took him to the hospital, Ruda told the newspaper.
Jackson'sdeath brought a tragic end to a long, bizarre, sometimes farcicaldecline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music's premierall-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shatteredthe race barrier on MTV , dominated the charts and dazzled even more on stage.
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.
The public first knew him in the late 1960s, when as a boy he was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson 5 , the music group he formed with his four older brothers. Among their No. 1 hits were " I Want You Back ," "ABC," and " I'll Be There ."
He was perhaps the most exciting performer of his generation, known for his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched voice punctuated with squeals and titters. Hissingle sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviatorsunglasses were trademarks second only to his ever-changing, surgicallyaltered appearance.
"For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don't have the words," said Quincy Jones ,who produced "Thriller." "He was the consummate entertainer and hiscontributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I've lostmy little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him."
Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensations of all time. He united two of music'sbiggest names when he was briefly married to Presley's daughter, LisaMarie, and Jackson's death immediately evoked that of Presley himself,who died at age 42 in 1977.
As years went by,Jackson became an increasingly freakish figure — a middle-agedman-child weirdly out of touch with grown-up life. His skin becamelighter, 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.
"Itseemed to me that his internal essence was at war with the norms of theworld. It's as if he was trying to defy gravity," said Michael Levine ,a Hollywood publicist who represented Jackson in the early 1990s. Hecalled Jackson a "disciple of P.T. Barnum" and said the star appearedfragile at the time but was "much more cunning and shrewd about theindustry than anyone knew."
Jackson caused a furor in 2002 when he playfully dangled his infant son, Prince Michael II , over a hotel balcony in Berlin while a throng of fans watched from below.
In2005, he was cleared of charges he molested a 13-year-old cancersurvivor at Neverland in 2003. He had been accused of plying the boywith alcohol and groping him, and of engaging in strange andinappropriate behavior with other children.
Thecase followed years of rumors about Jackson and young boys. In a TVdocumentary, he had acknowledged sharing his bed with children, apractice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.
Despitethe acquittal, the lurid allegations that came out in court took afearsome toll on his career and image, and he fell into seriousfinancial trouble.
Jackson was preparing forwhat was to be his greatest comeback: He was scheduled for anunprecedented 50 shows at a London arena, with the first set for July13. He was in rehearsals in Los Angeles for the concert, an extravaganza that was to capture the classic Jackson magic: showstopping dance moves , elaborate staging and throbbing dance beats.
Singer Dionne Warwick said: "Michael was a friend and undoubtedly one of the world's greatestentertainers that I fortunately had the pleasure of working with. ...We have lost an icon in our industry."
Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital as word of his death spread. The emergency entrance at the UCLA Medical Center , which is near Jackson's rented home, was roped off with police tape.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson has just died," a woman boarding a Manhattan bus called out, shortlyafter the news was announced. Immediately many riders reached for theircell phones.
So many people wanted to verify the early reports of Jackson's death that the computers running Google 'snews section interpreted the fusillade of "Michael Jackson" requests asan automated attack for about half an hour Thursday evening.
In New York's Times Square, a low groan went up in the crowdwhen a screen flashed that Jackson had died, and people began relayingthe news to friends by cell phone.
"No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow," Michael Harris , 36, of New York City ,read from a text message a friend sent to his telephone. "It's likewhen Kennedy was assassinated. I will always remember being in TimesSquare when Michael Jackson died."
Associated Press Writers Derrik J. Lang in Los Angeles andVirginia Byrne, Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Jocelyn Noveck in New Yorkcontributed to this report.