LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson saw his musical versatility and head-turning dance moves propel him from child prodigy to solo superstar before child sex abuse scandals tarnished his reputation and his career.
News of Jackson’s death, which media reports said was caused by cardiac arrest, broke as the 50-year-old singer was poised for a come-back with a string of 50 concerts scheduled to start in London on July 13.
They were to be his first concert series for 12 years and were expected to earn Jackson more than $400 million according to concert promoters AEG Live.
Jackson’s fame reached a climax in 1982 with the iconic album and music video “Thriller”. He sold an estimated 750 million records and won 13 Grammys throughout a career that spanned four decades.
But the moon-walking, sequin-gloved performer was beset by eccentricities that in 2008 had turned him into a virtual recluse with a mountain of financial woes.
Concerns about his health had been rampant during his 2005 trial in California on charges of child sex abuse — at which he was acquitted — and in 2008 when he was photographed in Las Vegas in a wheelchair for reasons that were never explained.
AEG Live said Jackson had passed a lengthy physical exam in early 2009, before the London concerts were announced.
Jackson was credited as the first black entertainer to gain a strong crossover following on music channel MTV.
Music videos such as “Thriller,” featuring dancing zombies, and “Beat It,” pushed the boundaries of the fledgling art of music videos, while his spectacular stage performances created armies of devoted fans around the world.
After the release of “Thriller,” Time magazine described him as “the hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley” and said he was a “star of records, radio, rock video.”
But Jackson’s belief that “I am Peter Pan in my heart”, his preference for the company of children, his friendship with a chimp called Bubbles, his high-pitched voice and numerous plastic surgeries earned him the name “Wacko Jacko.”
The gradual change in his skin color to a pale white — which he said was caused by the skin pigmentation condition vitiligo — and his penchant for wearing surgical masks and shrouding his children with veils in public, added to his reputation as an eccentric.
After two, ultimately unproved, allegations in 1993 and 2003 of sexually abusing young boys during sleepovers at his Neverland Ranch in California, Jackson never recovered the exuberance and musical creativity that marked his youth.
After his acquittal in 2005 on charges of sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy, Jackson shut the gates of Neverland and began a nomadic lifestyle in Bahrain, Dubai, Ireland and Las Vegas while battling lawsuits over his dwindling finances.
Jackson said repeatedly that he loved children and would never harm them but he was often forced to defend his views on sharing his bed with children. “Children love me. I love children ... They want to be with me. But anybody can come in my bed. A child can come in my bed if they want,” he said in a 1996 U.S. television interview.
Born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana, Jackson started singing as the youngest member of brother group the Jackson 5, which clinched its first record deal in 1968 when he was 11.
Hits like “ABC” and “I’ll Be There” helped the brothers become the first group in pop history to have their first four singles top the U.S. pop charts, and by 1972 Jackson released his first solo album.
Those early years, under a strict father, took their toll. Jackson said later that he built his home Neverland, with a zoo, train rides, movie theater and carousel, because he “wanted to have a place that I could create everything I never had as a child.”
He teamed up with producer Quincy Jones to make “Off the Wall” (1979) which yielded four hit singles and then “Thriller” with its dance, rock and pop tunes that produced seven Top Ten singles and stayed on U.S. charts for over two years. By 2009 it had sold more than 45 million copies worldwide.
In 1985, he wrote the famine relief charity single “We Are The World” with Lionel Richie, which became one of the fastest selling singles of that era.
The hit albums “Bad” and “Dangerous” followed and Jackson began calling himself the “King of Pop” as rumors mounted about his odd private life. In 1994, he made an out-of-court payment to settle accusations that he molested a boy in California.
A few months later, he stunned the world by marrying Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley, but the couple divorced in 1996. The same year, he married former nurse Debbie Rowe and had two children — Prince Michael Jackson I and Paris Michael Katherine. They split up in 1999. Four years later he had another son, Prince Michael Jackson II with an unidentified surrogate mother.
Editing by David Storey