Michael Jackson died on Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest, sending shockwaves sweeping across the world and tributes pouring in for the tortured music icon revered as the "King of Pop."
Jackson, 50, collapsed at his rented mansion in the exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood of Holmby Hills and was rushed to hospital by paramedics before being pronounced dead at 2:26 pm (2126 GMT).
Jackson, one of the most influential figures in pop music history whose four-decade career included the highest-selling album of all-time, "Thriller," had been preparing for a concert comeback in London next month he had dubbed "the final curtain."
News of Jackson's death triggered an outpouring of grief as shocked pop music superstars, foreign governments and devoted fans paid tribute to the troubled star who struggled to rebuild his career after a 2005 acquittal for child abuse.
Los Angeles County Coroner's spokesman Lieutenant Fred Corral said an autopsy would likely be carried out on Friday and would not speculate on the exact cause of death.
Jackson's brother Jermaine, the family's official spokesman, later revealed physicians had battled for more than an hour to revive the star after his arrival at the UCLA Medical Center before he was pronounced dead.
"Our family requests that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time," Jermaine Jackson said. "May Allah be with you, Michael, always."
As the sun began to sink over Los Angeles, a coroner's office helicopter bearing Jackson's body took off from the UCLA Medical Center, where hundreds of media and fans had gathered throughout the day.
Meanwhile police motorcycle riders surrounded Jackson's gated mansion as crowds of tourists and fans gathered, snapping photographs of the property's wrought iron gates.
Pop diva Madonna was among dozens of celebrities who struggled to cope. "I can't stop crying over the sad news," the singer said in a statement. "The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever!"
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also posted his thoughts on micro-blogging site Twitter. "Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low. RIP Michael," Miliband wrote.
Lana Brown, a 49-year-old tourist from Dallas, broke down in tears as she digested the news. "Right today I can't believe we might have lost the best entertainer this world has ever seen," she told AFP.
Jackson's death came as the singer prepared to make a keenly anticipated concert comeback in London, his first series of shows in more than a decade and the first since his 2005 child molestation trial.
However those concerts were thrown into doubt after Jackson pushed back the opening dates last month, although organizers insisted the delay was not linked to Jackson's health.
Randy Phillips of concert backers AEG Live said at the time: "I would trade my body for his tomorrow. He's in fantastic shape."
But Jackson attorney and family spokesman Brian Oxman said he had harbored concerns over the singer's condition, revealing that he had taking prescription medication as he prepared for his comeback.
Oxman compared Jackson's fate to the overdose death of Playboy centerfold Anna-Nicole Smith, voicing concern over "enablers" in his entourage.
"The people who have surrounded him have been enabling him... if you think that the case of Anna-Nicole Smith was an abuse, it was nothing to what we have seen in Michael Jackson's life," Oxman told CNN.
"When you warn people that this is what's going to happen and then it happens -- where there's smoke there's fire."
While Jackson ruled the charts and dazzled audiences with electric dance moves like the backwards "moonwalk" in the 1980s, his once-stellar career was overshadowed by his colorful public behavior, his startling physical transformation and multiple allegations of child abuse.
Jackson lived as a virtual recluse following his 2005 acquittal on charges including child molestation and plotting to kidnap his young accuser.
Despite his acquittal, the trial was a body blow from which the pop music superstar, who named his ranch for Peter Pan's "Neverland" of perpetual childhood and furnished it with Disney-inspired rides, struggled to recover.
Four years later, Jackson was still worshipped by fans for revolutionizing music, dance and music videos at the peak of his success.
The attention paid to him in recent years was less flattering, focusing on apparent cosmetic surgery -- which he denies -- his baby dangling antics and a decade of swirling child abuse allegations.
Born on August 29, 1958, Jackson made his show business debut with four of his older brothers in the Jackson Five pop group, and went on to lead the stage clan with a piping soprano and dazzling dance moves.
By 1969, the group had signed a contract with Motown Records, becoming one of the last great acts to emerge from the legendary label.
The Jacksons produced seven platinum singles for Motown, selling over a million, and three multi-platinum albums, selling more than two million. They moved to CBS's Epic Records in 1976.
Despite the early success, Jackson was to recall those years as unhappy and lonely ones. Eventually the family act broke up, as Jackson went solo.
In 1979, Quincy Jones produced Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," a huge disco-oriented success that sold 10 million copies.
They teamed up again in 1982 for what would be Jackson's breakthrough album as a composer and co-producer, "Thriller," which became the top-selling album of all time, with sales exceeding 41 million.
Jones reacted with shock after being informed of Jackson's death Thursday.
"I'm absolutely devastated at this news," he said. "I just don't have the words. Divinity brought our souls together and allowed us to do what we could do through the '80s," Jones said.
"To this day that music is played in every corner of the world, and the reason is because he had it all -- talent, grace, and professionalism. I've lost my little brother today and part of my soul has gone with him."
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