By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson, the child star turned King of Pop who set the world dancing but whose musical genius was overshadowed by a bizarre lifestyle and sex scandals, died on Thursday. He was 50.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. PDT (9:26 p.m. EDT) after arriving at a Los Angeles hospital in full cardiac arrest, said Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County Coroner's office. The cause of death was not known and an autopsy would likely take place on Friday, he said.
Jackson was taken ill at home and his personal physician tried to resuscitate him but could not, his brother Jermaine told reporters. He was taken by paramedics to the hospital, where doctors worked for more than an hour to try to revive him before pronouncing him dead, the brother said.
Late Thursday, his body was flown by helicopter from the hospital to the coroner's office.
The self-styled "King of Pop," whose hits included "Thriller" and "Billie Jean," leaves behind a mountain of debt and an unfulfilled series of comeback concerts set for London in July. Many hoped the shows would rake in millions and erase his financial troubles.
Jackson's dramatic, one-gloved stage presence and innovative dance moves were imitated by legions of fans around the world who mourned his death.
His lifetime record sales tally was believed to be around 750 million. With his 13 Grammy Awards and boundary-breaking music videos he was one of the most successful entertainers of all time.
But Jackson's belief that "I am Peter Pan in my heart," his preference for the company of children, his friendship with a chimp, his high-pitched voice and numerous plastic surgeries also earned him critics and the nickname "Wacko Jacko."
Jackson led a reclusive life after his acquittal in 2005 on charges of child molestation, the second time he had faced ultimately unproved allegations of abuse of young boys.
"I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news," said Quincy Jones, who helped arrange the music on the album "Thriller" and produced the "Off the Wall" album, said in a statement.
Celebrity tributes poured in for the singer who was one of the first black entertainers of the MTV generation to gain a big crossover following.
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."
JACKSON'S HEALTH A QUESTION
Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery Homicide division searched Jackson's home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, saying they had been directed to do so by Chief William Bratton because of the media frenzy.
Police called the investigation an "every day" event and said they were assigned due to the high profile nature of it.
But Jackson was plagued by ill health throughout his adult years leading to speculation about his condition when he died.
As Jackson grew older he appeared to lighten his skin to a pale white -- which he said was caused by the skin pigmentation condition vitiligo. Last year he was photographed in Las Vegas in a wheelchair for reasons that were never explained.
Yet, even as he seemed to be sick, Jackson planned the series of comeback concerts in London starting July 13 to help erase debts that the Wall Street Journal reported ran to $500 million, citing people familiar with Jackson's finances.
He had been rehearsing for the past two months, including Wednesday night at Los Angeles' huge Staples Center arena.
Brian Oxman, a spokesman for the Jackson family, told CNN that the family had been concerned about the pop star's health and had tried in vain to take care of him for months.
"Michael appeared at rehearsals a couple of times, he was very seriously trying to be able to do those rehearsals. His use of medications had gotten in the way, his injuries which he had sustained performing, where he had broken a vertebrae and he had broken his leg from a fall on the stage, were getting in the way," Oxman told CNN.
But the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March that Jackson had passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors.
CHILD STAR TO MEGASTAR
Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children. Five Jackson boys -- Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael -- first performed together at a talent show when Michael was 6. They walked off with first prize and went on to become a best-selling band, The Jackson Five, and then The Jackson 5.
Jackson made his first solo album in 1972, and released "Thriller" in 1982, which became a smash hit that yielded seven top-10 singles. The album sold 21 million copies in the United States and at least 27 million worldwide.
The next year, he unveiled his signature "moonwalk" dance move, gliding across the stage and setting off an instant trend, while performing "Billie Jean" during an NBC special.
But his personal life was troubled.
In 1993, Jackson was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, but no charges were filed against him and the matter was settled out of court in 1994 with the boy's family.
The same year, Jackson announced he had become addicted to painkillers and abruptly canceled a world tour to promote his album, "Dangerous."
In 1994, Jackson married Elvis Presley's only child, Lisa Marie, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996.
"I'm so very sad and confused with every emotion possible. ... This is such a massive loss on so many levels, words fail me," Presley said in statement.
Jackson married Debbie Rowe the same year and had two children, before splitting in 1999, and he later had another child with an unidentified surrogate mother.
He is survived by three children named Prince Michael I, Paris Michael and Prince Michael II, known for his brief public appearance when his father held him over the railing of a hotel balcony, causing widespread criticism.
Dozens of fans gathered near Jackson's modest boyhood home in Gary, to pay their respects to the entertainer who left the city long ago. Some deposited flowers or toys and others blared his hit songs from their car stereos.
In Los Angeles, fans waited outside the hospital, the coroner's office, and in New York, people gathered at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, singing Jackson hits and dancing in celebratory tribute.
(Additional Reporting by Jill Serjeant, Dan Whitcomb, Alex Dobuzinskis and Laura Isensee in Los Angeles, Andrew Stern in Chicago and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry, editing by Anthony Boadle)