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The Reaction: Fans and Foes Have Strong Opinions on Icon's Death
The Reaction: Fans and Foes Have Strong Opinions on Icon's Death

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009

In the weeks before his death, we might have said we didn't know how we felt about Michael Jackson. He'd become so bizarre, so pale, so foreign and different from the musical genius some of us once worshipped. We thought that we hardly thought about him, except perhaps as a punch line. We felt that we felt nothing. But when news of Jackson's death broke yesterday, it turned out that we were wrong. Fans and unfans alike, all around the world, all felt something, and sometimes very deeply.

"He was my first love," said Alesia Crawford, 48, a dentist who lives in Wheaton. "I used to sleep with his album covers." She had come to the Fye music store in Wheaton Mall to buy his music, as had many other fans. By 7 p.m. all that was left in the Jackson section was a black music divider reading "Top Selling Artists of All Time."

"I'm crushed," said Jordan Lloyd, 18, also shopping at Fye. "I watched all his videos: 'Thriller,' 'Beat It.' 'Dangerous' was the best."

The music types always respected him, always appreciated what he'd brought to their world. "You know, in a generation of completely, almost 100 percent disposable music and disposable artists, he definitely defines the true artist in the music industry," said John Sproul, who works for CD Warehouse in Georgetown. "I have played a Michael Jackson song every day for the last 20 years," said Memphis radio announcer Leon Gray. "He leaves behind the best music ever recorded in the industry."

On the other side of the world, in Japan, people woke up to the news that Jackson was gone, and immediately went online to share their feelings. Chatters on one popular site called him "the greatest entertainer in the 20th century." One user called his reign as the King of Pop "a page in our youth filled with shine and hope."

In New York City, a crowd of people assembled in Times Square to watch news unfold on large screens, audibly reacting when his death was announced.

In Los Angeles, where Jackson died, a crowd of people stood outside the UCLA Medical Center where he was brought by ambulance, and watched as a helicopter lifted his body into the air, bound for a medical facility, just a few hours later.

Sam Mujica, a musician from Glendale, Calif., bought $10 bouquets of roses after hearing about Jackson's death from a friend via text message. "I moved out to California a year ago because I was inspired by him. He was a huge inspiration so we came out here to pay our respects. It feels a lot more personal than it should, like a family member died. I'm more upset now than when my grandmother died."

"People love Michael Jackson," said Seth Casteel of California. "He touched so many people over the years. He's an icon, not just in our culture, but all over the world."

Touched so many people. It's the kind of Jackson remark we would have giggled at a few days ago. Jackson's bizarreness means that his death doesn't prompt simple emotions. He was not loved easily even by those who loved him unconditionally.

"Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low," British foreign minister David Miliband Tweeted.

The Twitterverse exploded with reactions of ambivalence, if not outright anger: "Hopefully there are child rape survivors out there shouting down this worship of Michael Jackson," wrote a Twitterer known as ConservativeLA. "Infuriating. Unacceptable!"

But other people, the type of people who believe that death absolves everything, or at least smooths it over, saw Jackson's passing as a time to make peace with the man's troubled legacy.

Ronlyn Dandy, 42, began her fandom as a 5-year-old who carried a portable record player and a 45 single of "I Want You Back."

She loved him "when he was black. When he had a 'fro and a nose like mine," the teacher said, as she, too, hunted for discs at a College Park record store.

"He was a genius. Maybe strange to some, but most geniuses are a little strange," Dandy said.

"The world has lost a hero," said former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for improving relations with North Korea. "And Korea also lost a beloved friend, who showed continued interest and supported unification of Korean peninsula. Korean people are sad. I am especially shocked for having lost a friend, with whom I have shared friendship."

In the end, sometimes our reactions were divorced from reason and rationale, and had nothing to do with how we felt about him. They were reactions born of the raw emotion that comes when a seam in the fabric of our culture unravels, when someone as undeniably monumental as Michael Jackson dies.

"When I heard the news, " Dana Bullitt of Silver Spring says, "I cried and cried and cried."

Staff writers Ashley Surdin in Los Angeles, Blaine Harden in Tokyo, Karla Adam in London and DeNeen L. Brown, Clarence Williams and Catherine Cheney in Washington contributed to this report.

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