Fans worldwide grieve for Michael Jackson

They mourned. They memorialized. They moonwalked.

From across the globe, the tributes to Michael Jackson poured in Friday from fans who found it hard to believe that the King of Pop, a star for most of his 50 years, was no longer among them.

He was one of the most famous Americans on Earth -- certainly, with one possible exception, the most famous African American, his face recognized in even the remotest of corners. But where President Obama gets treated like a rock star by adoring crowds around the world, Jackson actually was a rock star, one whose music transcended borders and meant more to legions of fans than just danceable tunes.

"There are very few American artists or bands I am used to listening to, but Michael Jackson was definitely among them," said Hany Mwafy, 28, a dentist in Cairo. "Jackson simply symbolized the whole Western culture and music for us. American pop for us was all about him."

It was the same in Russia, once cut off from the West by the Cold War but exposed to Jackson through bootleg cassettes and videotapes.

"His songs connected our generation to the United States," said Larisa Bershotskaya, whose son spent winter afternoons as a boy copying Jackson's dance moves from music videos.

"My entire family has deep, deep love for him."

Misty-eyed, the 50-year-old gymnastics teacher added her bouquet of flowers at an impromptu shrine to Jackson outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

In Mexico City, dozens of Jackson fans hurried to the Angel de la Independencia monument, an all-purpose gathering spot on the scenic main boulevard. Dressed in Jackson-style black fedoras and reflective sunglasses, they sang his hits and placed candles and photographs at a makeshift shrine.

One of those in attendance, a Jackson impersonator who goes by the name Estefan Jackson, told the daily Milenio that fans planned an homage show "like has never been seen before, worthy of the shows he offered."

Another tribute sprang up in Paris on the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, where people engaged in sobbing group sing-alongs and gathered around break dancers and Jackson impersonators.

Holding up posters, wearing black fedoras and single sparkling white or silver gloves, they sang along in their best English accents and danced furiously to the faster tunes.

Lower lips trembled on grown men. Shy adolescents mouthed every lyric on cue, their wide eyes scanning the crowd as if trying to digest what many said was the most important historical event they had personally experienced.

"I can't take it, I've got to go to L.A.," cried out one teen.

"We're going to have to try to go on without him," said Jessica, 26, as she attempted to control her emotions.

In London, thousands of people struggled to deal with the double loss of Jackson and of the chance to see him perform once again after a decade's hiatus. The singer was booked to appear at the O2 Arena in just a few weeks for the first of 50 planned concerts at the venue.

Tickets for all the scheduled dates -- nearly a million in all -- were snapped up within hours of going on sale. Promoters had announced Wednesday that extra seats were available by lottery. But barely 24 hours later, Jackson was dead.

As envisioned by Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, the concert promoter behind Jackson's comeback, his London concerts would have been the first of a four-phase world tour, hitting Australia, Europe and Asia -- including India, China and Japan -- before heading to North America.

"We felt London was the right place to start this comeback," he said. "Do I think the international marketplace is a little less judgmental than America can be? Yes. There was a calculated reason we did that. We figured we start over there and work our way back into America."

Before Jackson's death, Elliott Wilson, editor in chief of urban music website RapRadar.com, said, "He has a more unadulterated adulation out there, a more devoted throng. European fans have been more consistent in their fandom of him than in America."

Hastily remaking their front pages, Britain's newspapers announced Jackson's death in type so large that the headlines crowded out everything but portraits of the pop artist.

The tabloids that had baited him mercilessly, dubbing him "Wacko Jacko" for his erratic behavior, increasingly strange looks and accusations of child molestation, were suddenly effusive in their praise of a man "who provided the soundtrack to a billion lives."

"The whole world was his stage and the whole of mankind his audience," the bestselling Sun said in an editorial. "Those lucky enough to have seen him will never forget it. Those with his records -- and can there be anyone who hasn't got his records -- will play them today and weep."

In London's West End, the Lyric Theater dimmed its lights and observed a moment of silence before the curtain rose on the evening's performance of "Thriller -- Live," a show based on Jackson's life and music.

He was as big in Japan as anywhere -- possibly more so -- and the recordings were flying off the shelves today.

"We were completely sold out by early afternoon," said Masayuki Ikeya, an employee at a Tower Records store in Tokyo. "We've been getting many, many phone calls asking if we have anything in stock."

Tokyo radio stations devoted much of their air time to hits such as "Black or White" and "Thriller." The same was true at a pop station in China, where Jackson's official Chinese website was bombarded with more than 27,000 postings within hours of his death, the New China News Agency said.

In Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; and other African cities; Jackson songs dominated the airwaves.

The Star, a South African daily, simply ran a photo covering most of the front page with the dates of Jackson's birth and death. Tributes poured in from devastated fans.

"He was a troubled soul that brought the world so much in music and inspiration," wrote South African fan Johan Eager on the IOL news website. "Rest in peace, Peter Pan."

Statesmen also mourned the singer's passing, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said his loss would be felt worldwide. On a tour of Africa in 1992, Jackson was crowned honorary chief of several villages, but the visit went sour when police in some of the countries beat many of the thousands of fans who waited to greet him.

"We've lost a hero of the world," said Kim Dae-jung, the former president of South Korea, whose inauguration Jackson attended in 1998.

Ten years to the day before his death, Jackson was in Seoul, singing at a charity concert to benefit needy children.

It turned out to be one of his last live performances.

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henry.chu@latimes.com

Times staff writers Megan K. Stack in Moscow, Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City, Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, Chris Lee in Los Angeles and special correspondents Amro Hassan in Cairo, Devorah Lauter in Paris, Yuriko Nagano in Tokyo and Ju-min Park in Seoul contributed to this report.

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