ExceptionalNew York (ABC) — From the streets of Gary, Ind., to the palaces of Europe and the Middle East, to New York City’s Times Square, millions of fans are mourning the death of Michael Jackson — fiercely loyal subjects of a man known as the King of Pop.
Word that Jackson, an international superstar for more than four decades, had died Thursday quickly spread around the world, on blogs, in e-mails and through Twitter messages.
Even before it was confirmed that the pop star had died, hundreds converged outside the UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson, 50, was rushed by firefighters. Fans carried flowers, cried, consoled each other and sang songs that defined a generation of people around the world. Dozens more gathered outside Jackson’s home to remember an artist nearly unsurpassed in global popularity.
MTV switched to a Jackson-only schedule, playing the artist’s memorable videos. Radio stations across the country also dedicated the night to Jackson, only playing hits, such as “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” and “We Are the World.”
‘The Most Famous Person on the Planet’
On the UCLA campus, fraternities on the street behind the hospital blasted the “Thriller” album in his honor. Other students paid tribute more quietly, copying Jackson’s signature one-glove style.
At the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, Jackson fans gathered to pay their respects. They played his greatest hits, danced in the streets, chanted his name and prayed for Jackson and his family.
“For a long time, he was unquestionably the most famous person on the planet,” said Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, who worked with Jackson for years while at Sony. “He was remarkable to work with.”
Jackson began his career in Gary as a 4-year-old in the Jackson Five, a soul group made up of his siblings, and garnered a generation of fans who grew up with him. His rare talent garnered him multiple accolades, his accolades garnered him outsized fame and his fame earned him a rabidly devoted international fan base.
Three-quarter of a million of those fans bought tickets to see Jackson’s first tour in 12 years, which was to start in London in less than a month. All 50 shows in Jackson’s “This Is It!” tour sold out.
Fans Around the World Pay Tribute to Jackson
Newspapers around the world led with the news of Jackson’s passing. Italy’s “Corriere della Sera” compared him to Elvis Presley, saying both musical icons lived with “excesses and phobias.” Another Italian newspaper, “La Stampa” called him “The Devil and Peter Pan” rolled into one.
French newspapers, “Le Parisien” and “Le Figaro” also led with the news of his death, and all the 24-hour TV and radio stations switched to “special edition” mode when the news was made public.
In Paris, Daniela Pierre, 23, said, “he will remain the king of pop forever.” 43-year-old Francois Marnez said, “He was a tormented soul, just like every artist is, but he was a great artist above all.”
Jackson fans in Moscow left flowers in memory of the star at the American embassy.
Alexander Greve of the Michael Jackson fan club in Magdeburg, Germany, told German broadcaster N-TV, “It’s devastating, I cried when I first heard it, now I just feel completely empty – a day I will never forget.”
In Mumbai, radio DJs Jaggu and Tarana paid tribute to the star’s popularity across India, saying “Jackson was the first international pop singer that many Indians heard.”‘ Superstar choreographer turned Bollywood director, Farah Khan told Indian TV channel, CNN-IBN that she considered Jackson her ‘guru’. “I officially had no training in dance and whatever I learnt was from watching Michael Jackson by watching his videos, especially Thriller over and over again. I consider him as my guru,” she said.
Across the border in Pakistan, the country’s most popular English language radio station, City FM 89, played Jackson songs all day. The station’s general manager, Munizeh Sanai, told ABC News, “There are many people in Pakistan who don’t know that the world is round but know who Michael is.”
Back when there were no private news channels and all televisions were tuned to the sole, state-run channel, almost everyone in the country watched a skit show called “Fifty-Fifty,” basically the equivalent of Saturday Night Live in its heyday. One of the all-time great scenes is being passed around today via You-Tube: a skit featuring Ismail Tara, one of Pakistan’s most famous comics in the 80s, dancing to the sounds of Billy Jean. His props include a couple of suitcases, a pan, and a pair of very tight pants.
“Michael impacted us on every level. He transcended everything countries, religion, boundaries, everything,” said Mashaal Gauhar, a self-professed “huge” Jackson fan and the editor of a business magazine in Islamabad.
In Japan, TV commentator Dave Spector said, “Many Japanese fans were not just loyal to Michael – they worshipped him. This is going to be a tremendous loss especially to them.” Jackson visited the country in March, 2007 to attend several events including one called “The Premium V.I.P. Party with Michael Jackson” where guests paid $3,500 for dinner, cocktails, and the opportunity to meet, shake hands and have a photo taken with the King of Pop.
Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication, Tsutomu Sato told reporters, “I grew up listening and watching The Jackson Five. Therefore the news of his death leaves me with a feeling of sadness.”
In Kenya, several radio stations have been playing Jackson songs and the local broadcasts are leading with the news of his death. One Kenyan said that many Africans considered Jackson to be “bigger than Elvis.” A weekly show devoted to Michael Jackson and his brothers was shown on Kenya’s local state-run television station in the 70’s and early 80’s.
Denis Ndavi, the commercial manager for Kenya’s Homeboyz Radio told ABC News that the station was interrupting its normal hip-hop programming to devote the weekend to Jackson’s music. “Even though our audience is just in their 20’s, there’s a lot of shock, there’s grief even from them,” Ndavi said. “For a black artist, no-one had been that big ever. Everybody liked the fact that there was a black man running the pop charts. Bruce Springsteen was big too, but he didn’t resonate as much with Africans.”
Across the continent there are reports of Africans devastated by the news. In Nigeria a local radio anchor broke down when she heard the news and couldn’t continue her program. In Ghana, a woman began wailing after a BBC reporter told her about Jackson’s death.
Michael Kendege, 37, a Kenyan financial consultant said that he he feels, like many in the rest of the world, as though “A section of my childhood is lost.”
Jackson’s celebrity-studded video, “We are the World” was made to raise funds in the wake of an Ethiopian famine in 1985, but in the country itself, his death has surprisingly not made any ripples yet. A few radio stations are playing his music, but Ethiopian state television news has yet to acknowledge his death.
Abu Dhabi-based Faisal Al Qassimi, 26, told ABC News that Jackson was “the epitome of cool,” adding that “He represented a taste of something else, all of these places we hadn’t been to. He represented music, America, MTV, youth culture, sex appeal…everything a young man here would aspire to.”
Self-proclaimed Jackson superfan, Nadeem Bibby echoed Al Qassimi’s words, saying, “In Abu Dhabi in the 80s, which was very boring and gray, he was a colorful larger than life figure we could relate to. He was our hero here.”
Bibby, 26, said fans in Abu Dhabi “were very shielded from the tabloid smack. We never held him in such a low esteem,” adding, “I don’t think he’ll ever die.”
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Bahraini lawyer who brought Jackson to the Gulf after the pop star’s 2005 child molestation trial, and who eventually sued the star for breach of contract, could not be reached for comment.
In London, the tabloid The Sun had a picture of Jackson on its front page, showing him in London just 2 days before his untimely death. Jackson was on a visit to the city, preparing for a series of eagerly-awaited concerts next month. His death was a huge blow for his fans in the U.K., especially those who had managed to get tickets to watch what was tipped to be his curtain call, as he termed it.
Jackson hadn’t performed any major concerts since 2001, and previous plans were abandoned due to concerns over his ill health.
Fans on Twitter, Facebook Honor King of Pop
As reports came in about his death, those who had seen him perform live remembered how he could command a stage.
“He was famous for being on our ‘Amateur Night’ that we celebrated the 75-year [anniversary,]” said Cheryl Briggs, who works at the Apollo Theatre in New York City where a young Jackson performed. “Losing him is really sad.”
Mark Pope, a 47-year-old from New York who, with his brothers, grew up listening to and copying the Jackson Five, said, “With the death of Michael Jackson, the world loses today, I mean, I can speak for a lot of people, we are losing a musical genius.”
Ronald Thomas of New York said, “It meant a lot to me. Its hard to believe. He meant the world to music, that’s my opinion. He was so important because he did things that other entertainers wouldn’t even dream of doing.”
Those fans who couldn’t show their devotion in real life mourned their loss online.
Soon after reports started filtering in about Jackson’s hospitalization, “Cardiac Arrest” and “RIP Michael Jackson” quickly shot into the trending terms on Twitter, according to the TweetStats.com.
Less than an hour after Jackson’s death had been confirmed, more than 500 groups remembering Michael Jackson appeared on Facebook, some with more than 10,000 members.
Hundreds of Facebook Groups Form to Celebrate Artist
Immediately after hearing reports that Jackson had stopped breathing, Amish Gandhi, a 31-year-old New Yorker, started the group “Michael Jackson RIP.” He said it wasn’t long before he noticed that about 100 people were joining the group every minute. By 9 p.m. Thursday the site had more than 11,000 members.
“He’s an icon of pop music. And there are so many people at a loss today,” he said.
As he moved from Africa as a child to India as a teenager and, eventually, to the United States, he said Michael Jackson was a constant.
“I grew up listening to his music,” he said. “There’s just something about him that no pop icon matches.”
He wanted the Facebook page to celebrate his life, and give fans one central place to exchange messages, share information and mourn.
Other fans — from all over the world — expressed their shock and sadness via Twitter.
“MICHAEL JACKSON CAN NOT DIE! HE’S MICHAEL JACKSON,” wrote audreyjana from Singapore. Then, “I think im gonna cry.”
JulianE Angeles from Mayorazgo, Perú, celebrated the beloved artist by posting his favorite Michael Jackson song, The Jackson Five’s “Who’s Loving You,” to his Twitter page.
Watching Michael Jackson do the moonwalk for the first time, convinced Austin-based musician Nakia Reynoso that performing was for him.
There were more than 10,000 blog postings on one Chinese website alone. Both Sina.com and Sohu.com, the two biggest portals in China had Michael Jackson’s death as the lead story on their home pages, and by 4 pm local time, more than 33000 bloggers on the two Web sites paid tribute to the King of Pop.
One of them described him as the “most outstanding person in the world, the person who loved children the most, the person who loved Peter Pan, a big kid who liked to climb trees with other kids.” Another said, you are “The memory of a generation, [we] will remember you forever.”
Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor also tweeted about Jackson’s death. Recalling a meeting with him when he worked as the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Communications under Kofi Annan, Tharoor said Jackson had “Wanted to be U.N. goodwill ambassador but we couldn’t recommend it.”
His “songs and impact will of course outlast the recollections of his oddities,” Tharoor added.
Jackson Possessed Ability to Connect
As reports filtered in about Jackson’s death, Nakia posted to Twitter, “RIP The Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson – I still remember the day I bought my red leather zipper coat, sequin socks and glove.”
“As a fan, I can certainly say that Michael Jackson’s music — his career — certainly contributed to my love of music. And as a performer — as an artist myself — there’s no way for me to really do the math on how much I looked at him as someone to follow,” said the 34-year-old. “His level of showmanship is legendary and it certainly rubbed off on me. I thought if he can get up there and do that, then I could do that.”
The Internet nearly buckled under the strain of all the traffic generated by interest in Jackson’s death. During late Thursday afternoon Pacific Time, major news sites, including those for the Los Angeles Times, CBS, ABC and AOL, slowed considerably, according to San Mateo, Calif.-based Keynote Systems Inc., which monitors the performance of Internet and mobile networks.
Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations, said, “Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET, the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds. During the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100 percent to 86 percent. The index returned to normal by 9:15 p.m. ET.”
Despite persistent allegations that Jackson had inappropriate relationships with children, bizarre and erratic behavior, fans remained loyal.
“I was very surprised, very saddened. I can’t imagine the world without him,” said Anita Austin of New York. “I didn’t always agree with his lifestyle but I loved his music and every time it comes on I’m happy to listen to it again, or dance to it.”
Hilly of the Americana Music Association said, “He had the ability from the time he was 6-years-old to connect with a vast incredible amount of people. [It was] sad what happened to his whole life.”
Chris Connely, an ABC News contributor was the last to interview Jackson, lives about a mile from the UCLA Medical Center and said he heard nothing but helicopters and sirens all afternoon Thursday.
“It’s a sharp contrast to when I interviewed him on the phone last year for his 50th birthday, when his voice would fade in and out like a radio station you desperately wanted to keep listening to,” he said.
He was only allowed to ask the pop star three questions, and his daughter suggested that he ask him whether the AARP had tracked him down yet.
“My favorite memory of our brief interview was his laugh after that question,” he said. “In an all-too-short life that in so many ways was filled with enigmatic emotions, or troubling ones, his laugh sounded fresh, clear and altogether genuine. If only there had been more of those.”
ABC News’ Christina Caron contributed to this report, as did Sonia Gallego in London, Dana Hughes in Nairobi, Cao Jun and Beth Loyd in Beijing, Christel Kucharz in Passau, Noriko Namiki in Tokyo, Nick Schifrin in Pakistan, Christophe Schpoliansky in Paris, Lara Setrakian in Abu Dhabi, Tanya Stukalova in Moscow, and Ann Wise in Rome.