Tears flowed outside a hospital overnight as hundreds of Michael Jackson fans gathered to mourn the loss of the musical legend, stunned by his sudden death at the age of 50. "Right today, I can't believe we might have lost the best entertainer this world has ever seen," sobbed Lana Brown, 49, from Dallas, overcome with emotion as she struggled to come to terms with the news. Ms Brown, who described herself as "the biggest Jackson fan ever" was on holiday with her family in Los Angeles when her friend phoned to tell her that Jackson had collapsed and was being treated at the UCLA hospital.
Like hundreds of others, she made her way to the hospital, hoping against hope that Jackson, whose music and dance thrilled generations of fans, would pull through. "I left my office. Everyone should. It's so shocking. Because you think someone like Michael Jackson will live forever, like Peter Pan," Yoshiko Plair said, clasping a sunflower for her icon. The 49-year-old real estate agent heard the news, like so many others, via a text message on her phone when she was at the bank.
Dropping her business, she rushed home, put on her 'Thriller' T-shirt and hustled her sister and two children to the hospital to stand vigil. "He changed music, he's the reason that black music is on MTV now," Ms Plair said. "I followed him from that first song. I'm going to mourn him today and probably for the rest of my life." She was going to stay, she added, until the hospital officially announced Jackson's death. "I want to hear with my own ears, I can't believe it until I hear it myself," said Ms Plair.
Ashley Leon, a 20-year-old student, also decided to come after hearing of the news of Jackson's collapse. "I called my roommate who is the extreme Michael Jackson fan because, you know, this is one of the biggest things we'll live through in our lives," she said. "We all grew up with his music." The crowd swelled through the afternoon in the bright summer sunshine waiting for news of their hero. Dan Alvillar, 31, drove an hour to the hospital from Orange County to pay tribute to Jackson, who once allowed him to chaperon a group of 12 children around the singer's Neverland ranch.
"I was floored. Today was probably one of the saddest days of my life," Mr Alvillar said, as he remembered Jackson's kindness to the kids, one of whom had suffered a family tragedy. "I felt like he touched my life in such a grand way I wanted to be with other people who felt the same thing." Most of the crowd also brushed off past scandals that had blighted Jackson's life, after he was charged with and then acquitted of child molestation.
"You know Michael Jackson has his stuff going on. You knew he's crazy. But he's Michael Jackson," said Ms Leon. Ms Brown was more emphatic, saying: "All of that did not matter to me because I knew it wasn't true." Hours after the news began to sink in, the crowds began to dwindle as they drifted away into Los Angeles and older brother Jermaine Jackson asked for privacy to allow the family to grieve.
Yet dozens remained gathered in streets surrounding the hospital and near the star's home in tribute to their hero. A few blocks from Jackson's home, fans gathered beyond police cordons set up around the property. "We've lost an international treasure," one fan said. "He was the last of the great song and dance men. This is up there with Princess Diana. The one thing people forget is that Michael had a beautiful heart."