LOS ANGELES/LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Jackson’s death dominated news bulletins, radio airwaves and websites the world over on Friday as tributes poured in for a man called the “King of Pop” and “natural heir to Elvis.”
The 50-year-old, whose towering legacy was tarnished by often bizarre behavior and sex scandals, was pronounced dead on Thursday in Los Angeles after going into cardiac arrest.
An autopsy was conducted on Friday, and while investigators will not know results of toxicology tests for six to eight weeks, speculation turned to his prescription drug use as a culprit.
Mourning his death were legions of fans around the world, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who called the “Thriller” singer a “spectacular performer” and offered his condolences to Jackson’s family.
Ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley posted a blog on her MySpace page telling people their brief marriage was “not a sham” as portrayed in the media. She also said Jackson predicted he might die in the same, sudden manner as her father, Elvis Presley.
Across the United States, fans set up shrines, played and danced to Jackson hits such as “Billie Jean,” “Rock With You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” in nightclubs and on sidewalks.
Along Hollywood Boulevard, near Jackson’s star on the Walk of Fame, police set up barricades to control the crowd and thousands of fans lined the block to walk past his star.
Tassa Hampton, 32, knelt to light a white candle she considered a “symbol, so souls can find their way home.” She said, “his music was the soundtrack of my childhood.”
In New York City’s Times Square, giant screens played Jackson videos repeatedly. Elise Erickson, 28, visiting from Hansville, Washington, said, “Everyone’s a fan, he’s the king of pop.”
Jackson died less than three weeks before he was due to launch a series of comeback concerts in London, and his lasting appeal — despite being a virtual recluse since his acquittal of child abuse charges at a 2005 trial — was underlined when 750,000 fans of all ages bought tickets for the sellout gigs.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney said in a statement: “It’s so sad and shocking. I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever.”
Around the world, local politics and global affairs were bumped off the front pages of newspapers, trading rooms were abuzz with the news and websites saw a surge in traffic.
“The King of Pop is Dead” read the main headline of Britain’s Independent newspaper, below a full-page portrait.
Ray Cordeiro, an octogenarian radio disc jockey in Hong Kong who has been on air for around half a century, called Jackson “a genius” and a “legend in our lifetime.”
Jackson sold an estimated 750 million records, a figure that is likely to rise with the expected posthumous re-release of his hits. “Thriller,” which came out in 1982, remains the best-selling album of all time.
Jackson also won 13 Grammy Awards, made boundary-breaking music videos and his slick dance moves were imitated by fans and pop stars around the world.
His sudden death came as a surprise and elicited reactions from a who’s who of the music world, including McCartney.
Quincy Jones, who worked closely with Jackson on some of his most successful recordings, led tributes from the music world. “I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,” he said.
Pop star Madonna said: “I can’t stop crying over the sad news ... I have always admired Michael Jackson. The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever.”
Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux, Michelle Nichols in New York and Laura Isensee in Los Angeles