There's famous and there's infamous, and Michael Jackson, over the past several years, had become the latter.
A tabloid fixture better known for his wacky fashions, surgically altered features and Peter Pan complex than his music, Jackson's odd life had, at age 50, almost eclipsed his extraordinary career.
But no matter what one thought of the epaulets on his shoulders, the self-bestowed "King of Pop" title or the 2005 child-molestation trial (he was acquitted), there was no denying the pure magic of Jackson the performer.
From the time he first fronted the Jackson 5 as a boy, he showed he could sing beautifully and dance like a dream, transforming songs such as "ABC" from irresistible to unforgettable.
But he had something else, something extra, that even the very famous rarely possess. When you saw Jackson spin on stage as an 11-year-old or moon-walk as a 24-year-old or heard his high register on "Billie Jean," he induced chills. And not just the first time you saw the video or heard the song. Every time.
In his preternatural abundance of what is called "star quality," Jackson was rivaled only by Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, both of whom, not coincidentally, died too young.
Jackson's death, at 50, from a suspected cardiac arrest makes you wonder whether performers as special as he - people touched by some force none of us really understands - ever can enjoy normal lives.