I normally write and report on war and human rights issues. Not being able to travel to Iran in time before the election, I've been blogging it from afar like so many others. CNN took a break, albeit a temporary one, from celebrity/reality TV pseudo-news to set up its "Iran Desk," filing reports from YouTube and gleaning headlines off of Mir Hussein Mousavi's Facebook page. On Thursday, June 25, it reverted back to what the cable stalwart seems most often more comfortable with these days. A friend called and said he'd just come from a hospital visit here in Los Angeles where he'd heard from hospital staff that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, had just died.
© Derek Henry Flood
A grieving fan holds up a sign just after the death of Michael Jackson was announced at UCLA Medical Center.
I checked the BBC online and switched on CNN and all I saw was that Jackson had been hospitalized after he'd stopped breathing. I then checked the notorious celebrity gossip Web site tmz.com and they had single-handedly pronounced Jackson dead. I figured TMZ's guru, Harvey Levin, wouldn't risk his reputation and the accompanying lawsuits if Jackson's passing was not verifiable. I texted friends and relatives from coast to coast with the news. They shot back that they were flipping between CNN and MSNBC and that there appeared to be a chance Jackson was still alive and that perhaps TMZ was wrong. But it was not to be.
© Derek Henry Flood
A fan in Los Angeles grieves just after the death of Michael Jackson was announced at UCLA Medical Center.
An old classmate in Manhattan then texted me and asked me if I could hustle over to the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center and file a few photos for the press agency in NYC that he works for. I replied that I was already on my way. He'd recently been promoted and was looking for a big story. "Sure," I said. Why not? Still trying to digest the news of actress Farrah Fawcett's passing, I borrowed my roommate's car and his backup camera and sped from Koreatown to Westwood not knowing what I would find or who I would discover. This was unlike any story I've ever covered. A mix of local and global media competed for space amongst shameless paparazzi and grieving fans. I've been more accustomed over the years to being around the BBC and RTL rather than "Access Hollywood" and the "E!" channel. But here everyone wanted a piece of this story no matter what facet of the media you considered yourself to be a part of.
I arrived on the hospital grounds minutes after Michael Jackson had been pronounced dead. No one knew what was going on or what to say. To my surprise (somewhat) there were more press than fans milling about. Los Angeles was gleaming as I walked around, firing off my 35mm camera with nervous fury. I'd moved to Southern California after the L.A. riots and the O.J. trial of the dismal early '90s and had generally, purposefully stayed clear of such surreal life-esque events. After several hours photographing the anxiety and hysteria at UCLA, I jumped into my borrowed car to whiz home and file the photos back to New York. I called my buddy to say I was coming back and said, "You know what dude, today is the day the '80s died." It began to sink in. It had been 30 years since the 1980s began, with the death of disco and a frowning Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Tehran and embarrassing President Jimmy Carter with his arduous hostage standoff.
© Derek Henry Flood
Fans celebrate the life of Michael Jackson by imitating one of his most famous dance routines from the 1980s after he is pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center.
Michael Jackson signifies the frivolity and fun of that last tense period of the Cold War presided over by another celebrity, Ronald Reagan. Jackson helped to moonwalk our generation through an awkward period. As I photographed Michael's corpse being flown in a sheriff's helicopter off the hospital roof, it hit me with a chill that it was indeed the end of an era. Jackson was a tragic icon but will remain an icon nonetheless.
On Thursday, June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles. A part of my childhood and our culture died with him.