The death of Michael Jackson brings to a sudden end the life of a performer who captivated pop audiences with the Jackson 5 and matured into a performer of electric charisma and unprecedented crossover appeal, before living out his final years as a virtual recluse.
Jackson died June 25 after reportedly being found unconscious in his Bel Air, Calif., home. Paramedics rushed the 50-year-old icon to UCLA Medical Center, where he was declared dead. Jackson was in Los Angeles rehearsing for a 50-date run of concerts at London's O2 Arena that was to begin July 13.
Born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind., Jackson was the seventh of nine children born to Katherine and Joseph Jackson. Along with older siblings Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, Jackson first rose to fame as the pint-sized lead singer of the Jackson 5. Formed in 1964 and signed to Motown in 1968, the group quickly scored four back-to-back No. 1 pop and R&B hits, beginning with its 1969 debut single, "I Want You Back." That was followed by "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There."
Jackson's expressive tenor, electric dancing and natural charisma soon made him the group's popular focal point, so much so that he began moonlighting as a solo artist early in the group's tenure at Motown. He recorded four solo albums for the label, scoring his first top five pop/R&B hit with "Got to Be There" in 1971. One measure of Jackson's unique talent was his ability to turn a song about a rat, "Ben," into another top five smash.
In 1976, the Jackson 5 left Motown in a quest for more artistic freedom, signing with Epic Records and rechristening themselves the Jacksons. The group remained with that label until 1984, scoring seven top 40 hits during that time, including "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" and "State of Shock."
It was during this time that Jackson began to come into his own as a creative force. Teaming with legendary producer Quincy Jones, Jackson released his first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," in 1979. It was a pivotal step in Jackson's evolution into "the King of Pop." But it was on his second solo album, the 1983 mega-hit "Thriller," when Jackson left his contemporaries in the dust. The album earned the singer a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984. His 1983 performance of "Billie Jean" on the "Motown 25" TV special became an iconic moment when he introduced his James Brown-inspired moonwalk to a national audience.
Beyond music, Jackson showed his humanitarian side on the 1985 benefit song "We Are the World," which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie. Proceeds from the song were donated to the charity USA for Africa.