Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson kept his most stunning performance for the very end. Always able to command an audience, he knew how to bring whole arenas to fits of exultation with his moves and then silence them to the point of tears with his poetry. He was brilliant, excessive, maudlin, tacky and possibly criminal, but you could never ignore him. So it was fitting that in death, he momentarily silenced the largest arena humanity has ever known, the Internet.

News of this middle-aged man's sudden passing nearly broke the Web. Google's news section malfunctioned under the weight of "Michael Jackson" searches. The volume of Jackson-related tweets reached 5,000 per minute the day he died; Twitter was so overwhelmed that some users couldn't get into their accounts. Wikipedia buckled temporarily after hundreds of edits were made to Jackson's page. Across the Internet, more than 24,000 Jackson collectibles were offered for auction or sale. Jackson was crowned the King of Pop back before new media helped crack the monolith of radio pop into innumerable subgenres, from hip-hop and house to praise rock and adult contemporary. But the old-media monarch showed, one last time, that he still reigned: the world stopped for him for a few hours on June 25.

—John Cloud

This originally appeared in a Michael Jackson special commemorative issue of TIME.