In Death, as in Life, Jackson Owns Spotlight

June 26, 2009 at 3:45 PM EDT
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Fans across the globe mourned the death of pop icon Michael Jackson, who died at the age of 50 Thursday following an apparent heart attack. Jeffrey Brown reports on the worldwide response to the passing of the King of Pop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The passing of pop music icon Michael Jackson touched off a worldwide wave of mourning and celebrations of his life today. It also prompted investigations into the questions surrounding his death.

Jeffrey Brown has our lead story report.

JEFFREY BROWN: Around the nation today, tributes ranged from quiet reverence for a star gone silent to dancing to his music in the street outside the Jackson family home in Gary, Indiana.

Jackson, one of the world’s most influential entertainers, died yesterday at age 50, apparently of cardiac arrest. As the news spread, fans came out.

There was an all-night vigil with dancing and song at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where in 1969 the Jackson Brothers, as they were then known, won amateur night.

Later, as the Jackson 5, with Michael as lead singer, they would have a string of popular hits. Billy Mitchell, now the Apollo’s historian, was there to see the little boy with dimples and the perfect afro.

BILLY MITCHELL, Apollo Theater Historian: The choreography was tight. The harmony was tight.

First solo albums huge success

JEFFREY BROWN: Jackson's first solo albums, beginning with "Off the Wall" in 1979, turned him into the biggest star in the world. "Thriller" in 1982 has sold more than 45 millions copies worldwide, still a record.

Quincy Jones, who produced those albums, talked with us by phone from Luxembourg this afternoon.

QUINCY JONES, Music Producer: One of the greatest that ever lived. You know, number one, he had the right attitude. He looked at all -- he looked at the Sammy Davises, the Gene Kellys, the Fred Astaires, everybody that'd ever done it, and he took it on past that, the same with the singing and everything else. You know, he was influenced by James Brown, a lot of other people. But his personality came through, and that's how our music has truly grown.

Jackson's controversies

JEFFREY BROWN: Jackson's image -- his sequined glove and tight military-style jacket -- were worldwide trademarks and his changing appearance -- his facial features and lighter skin -- a matter of ongoing curiosity.

Michael Jackson reached a level of popular stardom that few ever achieve, but his death also brought a tragic end to a long and at times bizarre decline from his peak in the '80s.

He was charged and then acquitted of child sexual abuse in 2005 at his Neverland Ranch and stayed out of the public eye for years, sparking stories of bad health, possible prescription drug abuse, and a lost fortune.

Today, the investigation of Jackson's death began in earnest. Police towed the car of a doctor who lived at the singer's home. He was being sought because he might have medications or other evidence linked to the cause of death.

The Los Angeles coroner opened a second investigation. He said it would be likely six to eight weeks before any toxicology reports come back.

LT. ED WINTER, L.A. Assistant Chief Coroner: The likelihood is very slim that we'll have any results to release today. We're conducting it as we do every other exam on all coroner cases.

Strong emotions from fans

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, for most people, today was one for memories and eulogies, including in the U.S. House of Representatives.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D), Illinois: Michael "Joe" Jackson would touch and change the world. His heart couldn't get any bigger, and yesterday it arrested. I come to the floor today on behalf of a generation to thank God for letting all of us live in his generation and in his era.

And with that, Madam Speaker, we would ask members to please stand for a moment of silence.

URI GELLER, Friend of Jackson: I think he was a happy man when fans were around him. He drank their love. He knew how to absorb their affection, the energy that they were emitting to him. He loved dancing. He loved creating. He was a genius.

JEFFREY BROWN: And around the world, fans as far away as Nairobi, Kenya, shared their thoughts.

MICHAEL JACKSON FAN: As a pop star, he's always been my inspiration ever since I was a small boy, ever since I was 10 years. I've always -- I've been a keen follower of his music, and, you know, he's just a special kind of a pop star. He's in a class of his own, so for me his demise means a lot to me, as in I will not be seeing any more of him. I really miss him.

Jackson had tour planned

JEFFREY BROWN: Jackson was scheduled to begin a 50-concert comeback tour next month in London. And today, British fans gathered after seeing messages via social networks to show up and sang "Thriller" together.

Jackson himself spoke recently about his planned re-emergence on the concert scene.

MICHAEL JACKSON, Pop Singer: This is it. I mean, this is really it. This is the final -- this is the final curtain call. OK? And I'll see you in July.

JEFFREY BROWN: There's been no word yet on funeral arrangements.