Friday, 26 June 2009


Pop star Michael Jackson dead at 50

Jermaine Jackson praises the 'heroic efforts' of doctors who tried to revive his brother. The singer's manager says he was in great spirits at rehearsal the night before his death.
By Andrew Blankstein, Carla Hall and Harriet Ryan
8:07 PM PDT, June 25, 2009
Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead today after paramedics found him in a coma at his Holmby Hills mansion.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Steve Ruda told The Times that paramedics responded to a 911 call from the home. When they arrived, Jackson was not breathing. The paramedics performed CPR and took him to UCLA Medical Center, Ruda said.

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"It was a very serious situation when we arrived," he added. The paramedics "knew who they were working on. They performed the highest level of care as they would, whether a celebrity or anyone else."

Hundreds of reporters gathered at the hospital awaiting word on his condition. The sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, said family members rushed to the hospital, where he was in a deep coma.

The circumstances of Jackson's death remain unclear. Law enforcement sources said that LAPD robbery-homicide detectives have opened an investigation into the death, though they stressed there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The detectives plan to interview relatives, friends and Jackson's doctors to try to figure out what happened. The L.A. County coroner's office will determine a cause of death.

LAPD Lt. Gregg Strenk told reporters outside the mansion that police Chief William J. Bratton assigned detectives to the case because of Jackson's high profile. "Don't read anything into it," he said.

Strenk said paramedics got to the house in the 100 block of Carolwood Drive off Sunset Boulevard about 1 p.m., and the singer was pronounced dead at 2:30 p.m.

A Los Angeles Fire Department source told The Times that Jackson was in full cardiac arrest when rescue units arrived on scene. A doctor was in the house performing CPR on him, said the source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Jermaine Jackson told reporters at the hospital that medical personnel made a heroic effort to revive his brother.

"His personal physician, who was with him [at the house] at the time, attempted to resuscitate my brother, as did paramedics," he said. "A team of highly skilled doctors, including emergency physicians and cardiologists, attempted to resuscitate him for a period of more than one hour, but were unsuccessful."

Frank DiLeo, Jackson's manager and friend of 30 years, said he was with Jackson in the hospital.

"I got to kiss him and tell him goodbye," DiLeo said, his voice breaking. "I lost a very dear friend. Someone who I admired, someone who was the greatest talent I ever met or worked with."

At the end of a rehearsal the night before his death, DiLeo said, Jackson departed the stage ebullient about the progress of the show.

"He just told me how happy he was and that things were finally working out the way he wanted," he said.

He said he didn't know what caused Jackson's death.

"We don't know. That will be for the coroner to say," he said.

The news comes as Jackson, 50, was attempting a comeback after years of tabloid headlines, most notably about his trial and acquittal on child molestation charges.

In May, The Times reported that Jackson was living in a Holmby Hills mansion and rehearsing for a series of 50 sold-out shows in London's O2 Arena. Jackson had won the backing of two billionaires to get the so-called King of Pop back on stage.

The concerts were scheduled to kick off July 13.

Johnny Caswell, a principal at Centerstaging, the Burbank soundstage where Jackson rehearsed for his London concerts, watched many of the run-throughs and said he was "absolutely shocked" by the performer's death.

Jackson, he said, was "very frail" but approached the rehearsals with boundless energy.

"He was working hard. Putting four days a week in here. Six hours a day. Working hard. Dancing," Caswell said. "We're in shock over here."

The performer moved from the Burbank facility to the Forum in Inglewood earlier this month, Caswell said.

Rand Phillips, chief executive of promoter AEG Live, said in an interview last month that a medical screening of Jackson uncovered "no issues whatsoever."

Screeners "declared him healthy," Phillips said. "His cholesterol level is better than mine."

But a physical may not have revealed a looming heart attack, said Dr. John Harold, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cardiologist.

"This is the type of patient who could have a stress test the day before and it could be completely normal, and the next day could have a plaque rupture and a fatal heart attack," said Harold, who did not treat Jackson.

His backers envisioned the London shows as an audition for a career rebirth that could ultimately encompass a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum, musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau and even a Thriller casino.

Such a rebound could wipe out Jackson's massive debt, estimated at $400 million.

Jackson needed a comeback to reverse the damage done by years of excessive spending and little work. He has not toured since 1997 or released a new album since 2001, but he has continued to live like a megastar.

To finance his opulent lifestyle, he borrowed heavily against his three main assets: his Neverland Ranch, his music catalog and a second catalog that includes the music of the Beatles that he co-owns with Sony Corp. By the time of his 2005 criminal trial, he was nearly $300 million in debt and, according to testimony, spending $30 million more annually than he was taking in.

Compounding his money difficulties were a revolving door of litigious advisors and hangers-on. Jackson has run through 11 managers since 1990, according to Frank DiLeo, his manager and friend of three decades.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement praising Jackson.

"Today, the world has lost one of the most influential and iconic figures in the music industry. From his performances with the Jackson 5, to the premiere of the 'moonwalk' and 'Thriller,' Michael was a pop phenomenon who never stopped pushing the envelope of creativity," the governor said. "Though there were serious questions about his personal life, Michael was undoubtedly a great entertainer, and his popularity spanned generations and the globe."

Outside the white walls of the UCLA emergency center, valets stood idle as dark-suited men moved back and forth between the entrance and a number of parked black SUVs.

In the circle driveway a woman, who identified herself as Jackson's cousin, waited with a friend. A harried man in a suit got out of his car and barked into his cellphone, "Did Latoya come in?"

Jackson's music blares from speakers on the balcony of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house across the street.

"Oh, now they're playing Michael Jackson," the man in the suit said into his phone.

As the music played, a gaggle of crying young girls gathered in the emergency room driveway until police moved them and other bystanders back onto the sidewalk.

Seth Casteel, 28, a photographer who lives in Westwood Village, was among hundreds of fans and spectators gathered outside the hospital this afternoon. He said Jackson was his favorite artist and that "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" were among his favorite songs.

"He's just an icon of music," said Casteel, who was playing the Jackson song "Heal the World" on his iPod. "He's created music that has changed the world. I think his music has brought people together."

At the Jackson family compound in Encino, rapper Flava Flav, a reality television star, stopped by to see the family about 4 p.m.

"Music has lost a king, music has lost an icon, music has lost a friend," he said, his eyes welling. "It's unbelievable, but we don't have any choice but to believe it."

At the gates of Neverland Ranch, Jackson's former estate in Santa Barbara County, a handful of fans gathered late in the afternoon and more were trickling in.

"It's a huge tragedy," said Kristen Esparza, 28, a recently laid-off teacher from Santa Maria. "With the economy, it's been one thing after another."

In Hollywood, fans wanting to honor Jackson could not get to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame because it was blocked by a movie premiere. Instead, many went to the star of former KABC radio talk show host Michael Jackson.

Times staff writers Richard Winton, Raja Abdulrahim, Garreck Kennedy, Chris Lee, Phil Willon, Ari B. Bloomekatz, Anna Gorman, Steve Chawkins and Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.

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