No. 1: Michael Jackson

News that Michael Jackson had been rushed to UCLA Medical Center had just broken when doctors called the King of Pop’s death at 2:26 p.m. Within hours, searches on Yahoo! transitioned from “breaking news Michael Jackson” and “is Michael Jackson dead” to “r.i.p. Michael Jackson.” The telling query “Elvis died” showed that the icon’s shocking, premature death evoked another’s.

Although Jackson’s death was ruled a case of homicide, that final indignity didn’t define his end: A spectacular show of mourning matched his supersized life but reminded onlookers that Jackson had been a son, brother, and a good father. His death took him out of tabloids’ tales of scandal and back into the affections of the public, who honored him in costume, music, and film. Jackson had been denied his comeback, but not the spotlight. VC