June 25, 2009 in Features, Nation/World

‘King of Pop’ dies in Los Angeles hospital

Andrew Blankstein, Phil Willon and Harriet Ryan Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

In this March 5, 2009 file photo, singer Michael Jackson is shown at a press conference in London, announcing plans to appear at the London O2 Arena in July. A fire department official tells the Los Angeles Times June 25, 2009, that Michael Jackson has been rushed to the hospital, with paramedics performing CPR on him.
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LOS ANGELES – Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead Thursday after paramedics found him in a coma at his Bel-Air mansion, city and law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times.

Jackson died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Ed Winter, the assistant chief coroner for Los Angeles County, told the Associated Press his office had been notified of the death and would handle the investigation.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Steve Ruda said that paramedics responded to a 911 call from the home. When they arrived, he said, Jackson was not breathing. The paramedics performed CPR and took him to UCLA Medical Center, Ruda said.

Hundreds of reporters gathered at the hospital awaiting word on Jackson’s condition. The sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said family members rushed to Jackson’s bedside, where he was in a coma.

The circumstances of Jackson’s death remain unclear. Law enforcement sources said Los Angeles police detectives have opened an investigation into the death, although they stressed there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The detectives plan to interview family members, friends and Jackson’s doctors to figure out what happened. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office will determine a cause of death.

Paramedics were called to a Bel-Air home – described as a French chateau built in 2002 with seven bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces and a theater – that Jackson rented for $100,000 a month. The home is about a six-minute drive from UCLA Medical Center.

Jackson has three children – sons Prince Michael, 7, and Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., 12, and daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11.

The news comes as Jackson, 50, was attempting a comeback after years of tabloid headlines, most notably his trial and acquittal on child molestation charges.

In May, the Times reported that Jackson was living in a Bel-Air mansion and rehearsing for a series of 50 sold-out shows in London’s O2 Arena. Jackson had won the backing of two billionaires to get the so-called King of Pop back on stage.

The concerts had been scheduled to begin July 13.

Johnny Caswell, a principal at Centerstaging, the Burbank soundstage where Jackson rehearsed for his London concerts, watched many of the run-throughs and said he was “absolutely shocked” by the performer’s death.

Jackson, he said, was “very frail” but approached the rehearsals with boundless energy.

“He was working hard. Putting four days a week in here. Six hour a day. Working hard. Dancing,” Caswell said. “We’re in shock over here.”

The performer moved from the Burbank facility to the Forum arena in Inglewood at the beginning of June, Caswell said.

His backers envisioned the London shows as an audition for a career rebirth that ultimately could encompass a three-year world tour, a new album, movies, a Graceland-like museum, musical revues in Las Vegas and Macau, and even a “Thriller” casino.

Such a rebound could wipe out Jackson’s massive debt, estimated at $400 million.

Jackson needed a comeback to reverse the damage done by years of excessive spending and little work. He had not toured since 1997 or released a new album since 2001 but continued to live like a megastar.

To finance his opulent lifestyle, he borrowed heavily against his three main assets: his Neverland Ranch, his music catalog and a second catalog that includes the music of the Beatles that he co-owns with Sony Corp. By the time of his 2005 criminal trial, he was nearly $300 million in debt and, according to testimony, spending $30 million more annually than he was taking in.

Compounding his money difficulties were a revolving door of litigious advisers and hangers-on. Jackson had run through 11 managers since 1990, according to Frank DiLeo, his manager and friend of three decades.

Staff writers Richard Winton, Chris Lee, Carla Hall, Ari B. Bloomekatz, Anna Gorman and Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.

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