Ahn Young-joon, Associated Press
LONDON — Michael Jackson was due to make his triumphant return to the stage in London next month — but instead his sudden death has left millions of fans feeling they've lost a lifelong friend.
The dramatic death of the brilliant singer seemed to obscure his recent controversies and kindle warmer memories of Jackson the child star and Jackson the show-stopping, moonwalking headliner.
The worldwide chorus of grief united the famous — statesmen and superstars alike — and the legions of ordinary people who grew up with "Thriller" and "Beat It."
Word of Jackson's death jolted nearly everyone, from a young man in Colombia who was named after the King of Pop, to Malaysians who named a soy drink for him, to a generation of people around the world who have tried, in vain, to moonwalk.
"It's horrible news, so unexpected," the Italian actress Sophia Loren told The Associated Press by telephone. "The world has lost an icon and music has lost treasures. He wrote songs that generations of yesterday, today and tomorrow will all keep on singing. What he wrote was amazing."
Loren and her children had been frequent visitors to Jackson at his Neverland ranch in California, developing an enduring friendship.
"I hope that Michael will find that peace that maybe he did not have in the last 15 years."
In London, shocked fans gathered at the Lyric Theatre, where a live show based on Jackson's record-selling album "Thriller" is being performed, and waited for news about refunds for some 750,000 tickets to his sold-out, 50-night run.
A spokeswoman for AEG Live — the promoters for the London concerts — declined to say how ticket refunds would be handled. She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was not authorized to speak to the media.
There were poignant memories of his final public appearance when he came to London for a March news conference to announce his "This is it" concerts, which he said would mark his farewell to the London stage. A candlelight vigil at London's Trafalgar Square was planned to honor the singer.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela issued a message through his foundation saying Jackson's loss would be felt worldwide.
Jackson sang at a birthday concert for Mandela in 1998. In 1999, according to local media reports at the time, he lunched with Mandela at a small gathering at which the South African anti-apartheid leader celebrated both his 81st birthday and his and wife Graca Machel's first wedding anniversary.
The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, UNESCO and the Red Cross were given proceeds from a huge benefit concert in Germany in 1999 that featured Jackson and other international stars.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney, who recorded with Jackson before they had a falling out over ownership of the Beatles catalog, said his prayers went to Jackson's family and fans.
"It's so sad and shocking," he said. "I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones."
In Ireland, where Jackson made his temporary home in a castle south of Dublin in 2007, people remembered him as a kind and loving man. Eugene Lambert, Ireland's best-known puppeteer, recalled his son's puppet performance at a birthday party for Jackson attended by the singer's three children.
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