Michael Jackson has died 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).
One of the most influential figures in pop history whose career included the highest-selling album of all-time, "Thriller," Jackson had been preparing for a concert comeback in London next month he had dubbed "the final curtain."
News of his death triggered an outpouring of grief as shocked celebrities, foreign governments and devoted fans from Beijing to Beverly Hills paid tribute to the troubled star.
Lieutenant Fred Corral, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, 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 congregated.
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!"
The star's first wife Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley, said his death had left her speechless.
"I am so very sad and confused with every emotion possible. I am heartbroken for his children, who I know were everything to him, and for his family," Presley told MTV News in a statement.
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.
In China, Jackson's death was the top news item on popular Internet portals Soho.com and Sina.com, which called him the "most remarkable singer ever."
The story dominated US television throughout Thursday, relegating tensions in Iran and the death of another celebrity, Farrah Fawcett, to brief mentions.
Crowds continued to throng near the UCLA Medical Center and Jackson's home late Thursday, while street vendors selling hastily designed commemorative t-shirts for 25 dollars sought to cash in.
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.
"This is it, this is the final curtain call," Jackson had told adoring fans in London after announcing his comeback.
But those concerts were thrown into doubt after Jackson pushed back the opening dates last month, although organizers insisted the delay was not linked to his health.
However Jackson family attorney 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. The family act eventually 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.
Tommy Mottola, the former head of Sony Music who released Jackson's records for 16 years, said the singer had a place in the pantheon of American music icons, alongside Elvis and Frank Sinatra.
"It's one of the greatest losses," Mottola told the Los Angeles Times.
"In pop history, there's a triumvirate of pop icons: Sinatra, Elvis and Michael, that define the whole culture.
"His music bridged races and ages and absolutely defined the video age. Nothing that came before him or that has come after him will ever be as big as he was."
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