As news of Michael Jackson’s death spread yesterday, stunned fans took to the streets of his adopted L.A. hometown and New York to grieve together, listen to music and pay tribute to one of the most iconic pop stars of all time. Click here to read Chris Willman’s report from Los Angeles, where a makeshift memorial was erected at the wrong Walk of Fame star and dance parties broke out at UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson was declared dead. Our report from the streets of New York is below:
“What’s going on out here?” A boy asked, approaching a woman in a crowd surrounding a news camera last night in New York’s Times Square, where hundreds gathered and roamed under the bright lights in disbelief. “Michael Jackson died,” The woman motioned to a digital billboard banner repeatedly rolling: MICHAEL JACKSON, KING OF POP, DEAD AT 50. “Oh my God, I didn’t know!” The young man gasped, almost grabbing the woman, then turning away, shocked.
Around the corner on 42nd, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum put MJ on display in the front window. “We love you Michael!” a passerby shouted. “It’s kinda eerie,” Delma Noel Pratt from Miramar, Florida, 39, said, staring at the statue after snapping a few photos.
“Everybody tries to be like him. All these little young R&B boys, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown — carbon copies,” Melvin, 33, from Brooklyn by way of Akron, Ohio said. “Weak carbon copies!”
“Part of me, even right this second, thinks he’s going to come back like, I fooled them!” said Rod Gailes from Detroit, celebrating with cast members from his upcoming Broadway play about Richard Pryor. “Even people who were throwing arrows and slings were doing it because they felt he was tough enough to take it. And now he doesn’t have to take it anymore.” Rod choked up. “You wonder how much of the passing is illness and how much is sadness and just being tired of fighting.”
Some 80 blocks uptown, an impersonator — a 25-year-old white woman channeling “Dirty Diana” in a white button down and black pants — posed for pictures outside the Apollo Theater where Jackson first performed with the Jackson 5 at age nine. “This was a Halloween costume,” the impersonator, Sophie Ricketts from Texas, explained. “Michael was making me nervous the last several years so when I heard today, it didn’t surprise me. It just made me sad because now there will be no more chances for redemption. Now it’s legend.”
A few hours earlier, Rev. Al Sharpton addressed an audience outside the Apollo, but the fans had long taken over as midnight passed. Across the street, a teenager held an iPod with speakers over his head like a boom box while fans danced to hit after hit. “I know he live forever,” Susanna from Argentina said with an accent almost as thick as her makeup, clutching a T-shirt with Jackson’s photo, kissing Michael’s face. Susana started to cry when asked how she felt upon hearing the news. “I die,” she said, “I die too.”
“My parents took me to somebody’s house that had cable to see the ‘Thriller’ video and it changed my life,” said Harlemite Justin Williams, 31, wearing a white glove, fist in the air. Williams spent the day blasting “Enjoy Yourself,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” and “Ben,” from his car, others honking and cheering as he passed. “We celebrate life in Harlem, it’s what we do,” he said, smiled, winked.
Standing against a wall holding a photograph of Mike in his glory days, Al Peterson, 75, observed. “Everybody’s talking about his passing but I’m talking about his living. His great brilliance; So much brilliance that in 50 years they’ll still be discovering brilliance that he produced,” said Peterson of Westchester County. “I guess they’ll compare him with Bob Marley and Elvis but so many of these young people don’t really know who Michael was. They dance to his music but they don’t know the spark behind him.”
“Michael! Michael! Michael!” A pocket of people eager to be captured on camera chanted for CNN after 1:00 a.m.
Under the theater marquee reading “In Memory of Michael Jackson, A True Apollo Legend 1958-2009,” four brown boxes lay flattened on the sidewalk. Covered with hundreds of farewell messages scrawled in marker, fans knelt to add more: “Thank You Mike” with a heart around “RIP Brother” We’ll Never Forget You.” “Motown Detroit Will Always Love You.” “You Changed the World.” “You’re the Best Ever,” with Ever underlined three times for emphasis.