Thriller, Captain EO star Michael Jackson dead at 50

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Michael Jackson, the legendary King of Pop, passed away earlier today after having been discovered in his Holmby Hills home, unconscious, apparently having suffered from cardiac arrest. Paramedics report that the 50-year-old music icon had no pulse upon their first arrival and that they were unable to revive him once they reached the hospital.

Jackson's 1982 album Thriller not only became the world's largest-selling album of all time, producing seven number-one hits and selling more than 50 million copies, but it was also accompanied by a 14-minute music video that set a precedent for the creation of future industry videos.

More short horror film than music video, it was directed by John Landis, and depicted Jackson as a teenage werewolf and then a zombie followed by a legion of horrific ghouls. It was the biggest-budget music video of its time, featuring Jackson's trademark choreography and utilizing the latest makeup effects technology.

Jackson's music career spanned an impressive 45 years, beginning in 1964, when a 5-year-old Jackson acted as the lead singer of the Jackson 5. They were an instant success, and the first four singles they recorded for Motown Records, "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There," all became U.S. No. 1 hits.

Michael Jackson also ventured into the film world, playing the Scarecrow in 1978's The Wiz, the musical version of The Wizard of Oz, alongside Diana Ross starring as Dorothy and Richard Pryor as The Wiz. While working on the set of The Wiz, Jackson met music mogul Quincy Jones, who was producing the score for the film. Under the guidance of his new mentor, Jackson went on to deliver his first solo album for Epic, Off the Wall. However, it wasn't until the 1982 release of the Thriller album that the already musically prolific Jackson cemented his place in modern cultural history as the "King of Pop."

1983 was the year that Jackson invented one of his most memorable dance moves, the "Moonwalk," performing it for the first time on the Motown 25 anniversary show. The following year, Jackson stunned television audiences when he took home eight Grammys in a single evening for his work on the Thriller album and his work on the narrative for the E.T. Storybook. "We Are The World" was written by Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones in 1985, bringing together 45 American pop stars to record the song in an effort to raise money to reduce hunger in the United States and Africa.

After the "We Are The World" project, Jackson experimented with film once again with the 3-D science fiction musical film entitled Captain EO, which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas. Though never officially released, the film was shown as an attraction in the Disney theme parks around the world. In the movie, Jackson plays the part of Captain EO, a spaceship commander who visits a planet ruled by an evil leader played by Anjelica Huston. Captain EO and his crew deliver to the world a "message of love and happiness" through the power of dance and song.

The '80s continued to be his most career-defining decade, with the launch of his first world tour in 1988, following the release of the album Bad, a tour whose grosses set a world record, with more than $124 million generated between September 1987 through December 1988. Michael Jackson: Moonwalker debuted in 1988 as Jackson's second foray into movies. Directed by Jerry Kramer and Colin Chilvers, and starring Joe Pesci as Mr. Big and Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker and Brandon Adams, Moonwalker is a bizarre musical fantasy film that portrays Jackson as a sort of pop superhero. By the end of the 1980s, Jackson had officially been dubbed "Artist of the Decade."

In 1997, Michael released the remix album Blood on the Dance Floor. The new album was supported by a 38-minute short film entitled Ghosts, in which Jackson performed a total of five roles. Ghosts was based on a short story written by Jackson and Stephen King and was directed by Oscar winner Stan Winston, the genius behind the creatures in films such as The Terminator, Aliens and Jurassic Park. In the film, Jackson plays the role of Maestro, a strange recluse who lives in a haunted mansion.

Jackson made a return to films in 2003 with the release of Men in Black II, in which he had a small comedic cameo as the character Agent M. The last years of Jackson's life were spent in failing health and facing controversy that led increasingly into the courtroom. While he continued to release a few hit singles from time to time, under the pressure of the media and world scrutiny, Jackson retreated, spending less and less time in the public eye.

Whatever one's personal opinion may be of the man himself, Michael Jackson's incredible imprint on the soul of modern music is indisputable. His passion for pushing the artistic envelope has inspired generations of fans and professional performers alike. His achievements helped to break down previously existing boundaries between the film and music industries, providing a new avenue of creative experimentation that revolutionized the world.

He has been described as an "ambassador of music," bridging the gaps among all genres, from rap to country to metal to R&B. There is no doubt that the world has lost a true legend today, one who will be remembered for all time as the King of Pop.