SYDNEY The news stunned nearly everyone, from the young man in Colombia who was named after the King of Pop, to Malaysians who named a soy drink for him, to a generation of people around the world who have tried to moonwalk.
Michael Jackson’s death Thursday in California prompted broadcasters from Sydney to Seoul — where the news came early Friday — to interrupt morning programs, while fans remembered a “tortured genius” whose squeals and sliding moves captivated a generation and who sparked global trends in music, dance and fashion.
Even world leaders weighed in. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called it “lamentable news,” though he criticized the media for giving it so much attention. Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who had met Jackson, said: “We lost a hero of the world.”
Within minutes of Jackson’s arrival by ambulance at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, people began arriving by the hundreds. A crowd remained at sunset, hours later, some dancing while passing cars blasted out Jackson tunes. A group of entrepreneurs sold T-shirts reading, “In Loving Memory of Michael Jackson.”
The grief crossed all borders.
“My heart is heavy because my idol died,” said Byron Garcia, security consultant at a Philippine prison who organized the famous video of 1,500 inmates doing a synchronized dance to “Thriller.” The video has had 23.4 million hits on YouTube.
Garcia said the inmates in Cebu will hold a tribute for Jackson on Saturday with their “Thriller” dance and a minute of prayer.
The flamboyant former Philippine first lady, Imelda Marcos, who cheered Jackson’s acquittal on child molestation charges in 2005, said she cried on hearing the news.
“Michael Jackson enriched our lives, made us happy,” she said in a statement. “The accusations, the persecution caused him so much financial and mental anguish. He was vindicated in court, but the battle took his life. There is probably a lesson here for all of us.”
In Bogota, Colombia, a 24-year-old tattoo artist named Michael Tarquino said his parents named him after Jackson. He recalled growing up with electricity rationing for hours at a time and waiting for the power to return.
“When the light came back on I would play my Michael Jackson LP, and I’d stand at the window and sing along,” he said.
Japanese fans were always among Jackson’s most passionate supporters, and news of his death came as a huge shock. Michiko Suzuki, a music critic who met Jackson several times in the 1980s, said the country was likely to be mourning for some time.
“Everyone was imitating his ‘moonwalk’ when it was a hit. He was a true superstar,” she said.
Jackson also had a huge fan base in Seoul, South Korea, where his style and dance moves were widely emulated by Korean pop stars.
“He is my master and the prime mover to make me dance,” pop star Rain told the South Korean sports and entertainment daily Ilgan Sports. “Even though he is dead, he is an eternal performer.”
Aaron Kwok, one of Chinese pop’s most accomplished singer-dancers, said he was deeply saddened by the news.
“It’s so sudden. I can’t accept the news as fact,” Kwok said in a statement. “No one can replace Michael Jackson’s contributions to pop music.”
In central Mexico City, Jackson impersonator Esteban Rubio, 30, organized an impromptu tribute to the musical star.
“I feel sad, as if a part of my life were torn away,” said Rubio, who wore a black fedora and aviator-style sunglasses and held a bouquet of sunflowers. “He changed the world. … His legend begins today.”
Online communities across the world posted tributes.
“I had tears in my eyes when I found out,” Charles Winter, 19, from Adelaide, Australia, told The Associated Press. He led a Facebook group of more than 60,000 members that was petitioning Jackson to add Australia to his concert tour planned for this year. “He was such an inspiration. It doesn’t matter if you’re 40, 60 or 20, his music appeals to everyone.”
In Malaysia, a drink mixing soy milk with strips of dark jelly is named after Jackson’s “Black or White” song, and locals just ask for “Michael Jackson” or “MJ” when they order.
Yet the government nearly banned Jackson’s 1996 HIStory concert tour for being too raunchy for the conservative, predominantly Islamic nation.
The international arts community mourned the loss of a unique performer.
Peter Kam, a prominent pop composer in Hong Kong, said he learned from Jackson the importance of a catchy melody.
“Every one of his songs is easy to remember. He was great at leaving a deep impression in a simple way,” Kam said.
In Brazil, movie director and musician Felipe Machado called Jackson “perhaps the best performer that ever existed.” Singer-composer and former Culture Minister Gilberto Gil also expressed his sorrow.
“It makes me very sad to see such a great and incredible talent leave us so soon — a talent that provided all of us with some wonderful moments,” he told Folha Online news service. “I’ll miss the King of Pop.”