LOS ANGELES — For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But now he is gone.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center after arriving in a coma, according to a city official. He was 50 years old.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 1:07 p.m. He had been rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented mansion in which he was living, shortly after noon. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest.
At Jackson's peak, he was the biggest star in the world and has sold more than 750 million albums.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson 5 to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson was responsible for a string of hits like "I Want You Back," "I'll Be There," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean" and "Black and White."
As a solo performer, Jackson ushered in the age of pop as a global product — not to mention an age of spectacle and pop culture celebrity.
His early career with his brothers gave way to a solo act in which he became more character than singer: His sequined glove, his whitened face, his Moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
But after his entertainment career hit high-water marks, it started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molestation charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then sexually fondled him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, but Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
Started singing at age 5
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958.
The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at the age of 5 in a group that their father, Joe, had organized the previous year. In 1968 the Jackson 5 was signed by Motown Rec- ords.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group's first four singles — "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" — all reached No.1 on the pop charts in 1970.
In 1971, Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers.
The brothers left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Three years later, Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz."
Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," released in 1979, yielded four No. 1 singles and sold 7 million copies.
"Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age.
Jackson's next album, "Bad," released in 1987, sold 8 million copies and produced five No. 1 singles and another state-of-the-art video.
It was at this point that Jackson's bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would release several more albums and occasion- ally stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
Even with the millions Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe fi- nancial toll. In 1987, Jackson paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
But a forensic accountant who testified at Jackson's molestation trial in 2005 said that Jackson's annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland. By at least the late 1990s, he began to take out huge loans to support himself and pay debts.
After his child molestation trial, Jackson largely left America for Bahrain, where he was the guest of a royal family member. He remained in Bahrain, Dubai and Ireland for the next several years, managing his increasingly unstable finances.