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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Fans around the world are mourning the death of Michael Jackson. The child star who grew up to become the king of pop was both enormously talented and deeply flawed. Yesterday, he was rushed to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at his home in LA. He was 50 years old.
NPR's Lynn Neary has this remembrance.
LYNN NEARY: We watched him grow up. A baby-faced boy with a captivating smile and an amazing voice who stole the show right out from under his big brothers. We saw him morph into a modern day song-and-dance man so light on his feet, he seemed to be moving on air. We danced to his beat until he began to change, and we weren't sure what to make of it. Then we witnessed his long, strange fall from grace.
Ms. ANN POWERS (Music Critic, Los Angeles Times): He's like Elvis, you know? He's that big.
NEARY: Ann Powers, music critic at the Los Angeles Times. For her, the death of Michael Jackson has a special poignancy.
Ms. POWERS: The first album I bought was Jackson 5's "Maybe Tomorrow." I grew up with him as an icon. The thing in my head right now is "I'll Be There," you know, that tender, delicate, yet strong voice of Michael Jackson's.
(Soundbite of song, "I'll Be There")
Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Singer, Performer): (Singing) You and I must make a pact. We must bring salvation back. Where there is love, I'll be there.
The JACKSON 5 (Pop Group): I'll be there.
NEARY: Michael Jackson was not even six years old when his father set out to make his sons famous singers. By 1968, the Jackson 5 had been signed on to the Motown label and had a string of hits. But Michael was clearly the star, and eventually, he set out for a solo career. While making the film version of "The Wiz" in 1978, Jackson met music producer Quincy Jones, who recalled the experience in an interview with NPR.
Mr. QUINCY JONES (Music Producer): He knew everybody's songs. He knew everybody's steps. I'd never seen somebody that could just absorb so much so quickly and so involved. And then I said I'd like to take the shot on your album.
(Soundbite of song, "Thriller")
NEARY: The collaboration with Jones unleashed Jackson's creativity as both a singer and a dancer, culminating with the 1982 release of the hugely popular album "Thriller."
(Soundbite of song, "Thriller")
Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) You know it's thriller, thriller night. You're fighting for life inside a killer, thriller tonight.
NEARY: "Thriller" stayed atop the Billboard chart for 37 weeks. And Jackson's performances of the songs on video and on television were, well, thrilling.
Professor JASON KING (Music, New York University): I think the word that you've got to use is electrifying. It was absolutely electrifying. He wasn't just singing about "Thriller." He actually was a thriller in every sense of that term.
NEARY: Jason King is a music professor at New York University.
Prof. KING: And I think it's the voice in conjunction with that incredible sense of rhythm and timing and innovation that made him the icon that he'll always be.
NEARY: "Thriller" provided the dance beat of the 80s with hit singles like "Beat It" and "Billie Jean."
(Soundbite of song, "Billie Jean")
Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene. I said don't mind, but what do you mean I am the one?
NEARY: Jackson's next album, "Bad," sold 22 million copies around the world. But despite his fame and wealth, Jackson was never able to duplicate the success of "Thriller." In the 1990s, his strange behavior began to draw as much attention as his talent. Finally, in 2005, he was tried on charges of child molestation. Though acquitted, Jackson's reputation and finances never fully recovered. The LA Times' Ann Powers.
Ms. POWERS: He didn't seem able to live in the world. That does not, you know, exempt him from anything he did that was a horrible thing. But at the same time, I think we feel uncomfortable even thinking about that aspect of Michael Jackson because there is a sense of like, did we do this to him? Did we damn him to this fate?
NEARY: Jackson had hoped his concert tour, scheduled to begin next month, would be the start of a comeback.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And you can see a photo gallery of Michael Jackson through the years and share your memories at our Web site: npr.org.
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