Within minutes of Mr. Jackson's arrival by ambulance at UCLA Medical Center people began arriving by the hundreds, the crowd quickly filling a grassy entrance outside the hospital. As word spread that Mr. Jackson had been pronounced dead, several people burst into tears. Others simply stood in disbelief. Still others whipped out cell phones and began calling or texting friends.
During Los Angeles' notoriously slow-paced rush-hour commute, Mr. Jackson's music could be heard blaring from several cars along busy Wilshire Boulevard.
"I'm in shock. He's gone. The legend of music," Becky Williams said in disbelief as she stood outside Mr. Jackson's home in Los Angeles' tony Holmby Hills neighborhood. Ms. Williams, 26, of Salt Lake City, had been visiting her sister, who lives down the street.
Another neighbor, Roxana Radnia, was driving past Mr. Jackson's home when she saw an ambulance.
"I was just listening to his music, to Thriller , yesterday on my iPod," said Ms. Radnia, 21. "And now this. It's surreal."
Outside the hospital, as news spread that Mr. Jackson had died, Seth Casteel pulled out an iPod and began playing Mr. Jackson's song Heal the World at full volume.
Across the country, reaction poured in from all corners.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson has just died," a woman boarding a bus in New York City's borough of Manhattan called out to fellow riders, who immediately grabbed their cell phones to learn more.
On Hollywood's Walk of Fame, fans gathered to pray around a sidewalk star bearing the name "Michael Jackson," but it was the star for a local radio personality of the same name. Mr. Jackson's own star, in front of the historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre, was unreachable because of a movie premiere taking place there. After the premiere the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce planned to put flowers on it.