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Fans worldwide grieve for Michael Jackson

Ordinary citizens and political leaders talk about feeling connected to him through his music and dance moves.

June 27, 2009|Henry Chu

LONDON — They mourned. They memorialized. They moonwalked.

From across the globe, the tributes to Michael Jackson poured in Friday from fans who found it hard to believe that the King of Pop, a star for most of his 50 years, was no longer among them.

He was one of the most famous Americans on Earth -- certainly, with one possible exception, the most famous African American, his face recognized in even the remotest of corners. But where President Obama gets treated like a rock star by adoring crowds around the world, Jackson actually was a rock star, one whose music transcended borders and meant more to legions of fans than just danceable tunes.

"There are very few American artists or bands I am used to listening to, but Michael Jackson was definitely among them," said Hany Mwafy, 28, a dentist in Cairo. "Jackson simply symbolized the whole Western culture and music for us. American pop for us was all about him."

It was the same in Russia, once cut off from the West by the Cold War but exposed to Jackson through bootleg cassettes and videotapes.

"His songs connected our generation to the United States," said Larisa Bershotskaya, whose son spent winter afternoons as a boy copying Jackson's dance moves from music videos.

"My entire family has deep, deep love for him."

Misty-eyed, the 50-year-old gymnastics teacher added her bouquet of flowers at an impromptu shrine to Jackson outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

In Mexico City, dozens of Jackson fans hurried to the Angel de la Independencia monument, an all-purpose gathering spot on the scenic main boulevard. Dressed in Jackson-style black fedoras and reflective sunglasses, they sang his hits and placed candles and photographs at a makeshift shrine.

One of those in attendance, a Jackson impersonator who goes by the name Estefan Jackson, told the daily Milenio that fans planned an homage show "like has never been seen before, worthy of the shows he offered."

Another tribute sprang up in Paris on the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, where people engaged in sobbing group sing-alongs and gathered around break dancers and Jackson impersonators.

Holding up posters, wearing black fedoras and single sparkling white or silver gloves, they sang along in their best English accents and danced furiously to the faster tunes.

Lower lips trembled on grown men. Shy adolescents mouthed every lyric on cue, their wide eyes scanning the crowd as if trying to digest what many said was the most important historical event they had personally experienced.

"I can't take it, I've got to go to L.A.," cried out one teen.

"We're going to have to try to go on without him," said Jessica, 26, as she attempted to control her emotions.

In London, thousands of people struggled to deal with the double loss of Jackson and of the chance to see him perform once again after a decade's hiatus. The singer was booked to appear at the O2 Arena in just a few weeks for the first of 50 planned concerts at the venue.

Tickets for all the scheduled dates -- nearly a million in all -- were snapped up within hours of going on sale. Promoters had announced Wednesday that extra seats were available by lottery. But barely 24 hours later, Jackson was dead.

As envisioned by Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, the concert promoter behind Jackson's comeback, his London concerts would have been the first of a four-phase world tour, hitting Australia, Europe and Asia -- including India, China and Japan -- before heading to North America.

"We felt London was the right place to start this comeback," he said. "Do I think the international marketplace is a little less judgmental than America can be? Yes. There was a calculated reason we did that. We figured we start over there and work our way back into America."

Before Jackson's death, Elliott Wilson, editor in chief of urban music website, said, "He has a more unadulterated adulation out there, a more devoted throng. European fans have been more consistent in their fandom of him than in America."

Hastily remaking their front pages, Britain's newspapers announced Jackson's death in type so large that the headlines crowded out everything but portraits of the pop artist.

The tabloids that had baited him mercilessly, dubbing him "Wacko Jacko" for his erratic behavior, increasingly strange looks and accusations of child molestation, were suddenly effusive in their praise of a man "who provided the soundtrack to a billion lives."

"The whole world was his stage and the whole of mankind his audience," the bestselling Sun said in an editorial. "Those lucky enough to have seen him will never forget it. Those with his records -- and can there be anyone who hasn't got his records -- will play them today and weep."

In London's West End, the Lyric Theater dimmed its lights and observed a moment of silence before the curtain rose on the evening's performance of "Thriller -- Live," a show based on Jackson's life and music.

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