People moonwalked outside the Apollo Theater, where Michael Jackson performed as a child, and texted their friends from around Times Square today to spread the word that the King of Pop was dead.
A low groan went up from a crowd outside Times Square as a JumboTron screen flashed the news that Jackson had died in Los Angeles at age 50.
People pulled out their cell phones to alert their friends.
“No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow,” Michael Harris read from a text message a friend sent to his phone.
“It’s like when Kennedy was assassinated,” he said. “I will always remember being in Times Square when Michael Jackson died.”
At the Apollo, where Jackson first performed with his brothers at age 9 in 1969, the billboard was cleared for the message, “In Memory of Michael Jackson. A True Apollo Legend.”
Outside the theater, the Rev. Al Sharpton, a friend of Jackson, spoke to a crowd of people who were clutching the singer-dancer’s pictures, playing his music and trying to imitate his signature moonwalk moves.
“Way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama, Michael did with music what they later did in sports and in politics and in television,” the civil rights leader said.
Sharpton, who also knew James Brown well, said he remembered how Jackson called him in the middle of the night to ask to view the soul legend’s body after his death in 2006. He said he last spoke with Jackson a few months ago.
“He talked about how many people had let him down,” Sharpton said, “but I told him it didn’t matter. He had never let the fans down.”
About a dozen people danced outside the theater to Jackson’s music, with a boom box blaring “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough.” Traffic stopped in front of the theater while cars honked.
Kevin Crute said he would remember Jackson’s music and dancing over controversy in his life.
“Who hasn’t tried to do the moonwalk?” asked Crute, 44. “Who hasn’t wanted to try on a white glove? He had kids from all over the world trying to wear that glove.”
In Times Square, throngs of people stared at the giant television screen and chatted with friends about the news.
The Madame Tussauds wax museum moved actor Nicolas Cage’s statue from its front window and replaced it with one of Jackson, in his red “Thriller” jacket and black pants. Lines of young men stood in front of the window snapping pictures. People paused briefly to smile at the entertainer’s image.
Iddos Abagaro stood quietly. The Ethiopian native recalled singing Jackson’s songs before he learned to speak English.
“He transcended cultural barriers,” Abagaro said. “His music inspired many Africans growing up.”
Arthur Murray refused to believe Jackson had died.
“I won’t believe it until I see it,” Murray said. “He’s so well preserved. He can’t die.”