‘It just seems so unreal:’ Fans around the world in shock over Michael Jackson’s death

By Tanalee Smith, AP
Friday, June 26, 2009

Fans from Sydney to Rio mourn Michael Jackson

SYDNEY — In Malaysia, they hoped he would be remembered like Princess Diana. In Mexico, one of his impersonators said part of his life had been torn away. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called it “lamentable news,” though he criticized the media for giving it so much attention.

Michael Jackson’s death Thursday in Los Angeles prompted broadcasters from Sydney to Seoul — where the news came early Friday — to interrupt morning programs, while fans worldwide remembered a “tortured genius” whose squeals and moonwalks captivated a generation and sparked global trends in music, dance and fashion.

Within minutes of Jackson’s arrival by ambulance at UCLA Medical Center, people began arriving by the hundreds outside. As word spread that he was dead, people burst into tears. Others stood in disbelief.

At Times Square in New York, the crowd groaned as the news of his death flashed across a giant TV screen.

In Sydney, where Jackson married second wife Debbie Rowe in 1996, a celebrity publicist who was a guest at Jackson’s Sydney wedding and worked on his Australian tour that year described him as a “tortured genius.”

“He was very gentle, very quiet, very shy,” Di Rolle told Sky News television. “He was a very complicated, strange man, women loved him and men loved him too. It’s such a sad day, a very sad day.”

Australia’s morning shows devoted full coverage to the Jackson’s death, alternating reporting from Los Angeles with viewers’ e-mails of memories and condolences.

“I had tears in my eyes when I found out,” Charles Winter, 19, from Adelaide, told The Associated Press. His Facebook page had been devoted to a petition to convince 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 the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur — where Jackson’s 1996 HIStory concert was nearly banned for being too raunchy for the conservative Islamic nation — fans celebrated his influence.

“Hopefully he will always be remembered like Princess Diana,” said Noh Yusof, 29, a legal adviser.

But IT specialist Ivan Ho, 48, said Jackson’s success went to his head.

“He is a weirdo,” he said. “With the kind of money he has, he could have done much more for charity” rather than have cosmetic surgery.

In Bogota, Colombia, a 24-year-old tattoo artist named Michael Tarquino, said his parents named him after Jackson.

“When I was young and there was electricity rationing and we’d go two or three hours at a time without music, without television, 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 was a star when I was little. Learning of his death, I felt like I had lost some of my own childhood memories,” said Kim Nam-kyu, 36.

In central Mexico City, Esteban Rubio, 30, organized an impromptu homage. Rubio has spent half his life as a Jackson impersonator.

“Respectfully, lovingly, I was preparing a show based on him,” he told The Associated Press. “I feel sad, as if a part of my life were torn away.”

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.”

Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra; Peter Orsi in Mexico City; Stan Lehman in Sao Paolo; Jorge Rueda in Caracas; Madeleine Bair in Bogota; John Rogers in Los Angeles; Kim Yong-ho in Seoul; and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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