It was supposed to be the year of his greatest comeback and maybe in some ways it was. But along the way, the saga of Michael Jackson’s tragic demise became the biggest showbiz story of 2009.

It was a Hollywood parable of excess and eccentricity, of genius and weakness. But most of all it was the sad tale of a strange but brilliant man-child trapped in the glare of a celebrity-obsessed world.

Jackson started 2009 a shadow of his former self — a man who many believed was on an irreversible downward spiral. It had been years since he had released any significant music. But he still made headlines with reports of his impending financial ruin and bizarre state of mind.

All that changed in March when Jackson, 45, announced that he would perform an unprecedented 50-appearance comeback engagement at London’s 02 Arena.

If it went well, the London gig would solve all the problems and dispel all the doubts about the former King of Pop. But few outside his most loyal circle of fans and advisors believed he had the mental and physical strength to complete the arduous challenge.

So when the first reports came in June 25 that Jackson had collapsed at his rented Bel Air mansion and been rushed to hospital, initial speculation was that it was a Jackson gambit to extricate himself from a challenge he was too frail to meet.

But within hours those suspicions turned to shock when it was revealed that Jackson was dead. In Los Angeles thousands of fans gathered at the hospital where Jackson’s body lay, at the house where he collapsed and at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Across the world millions of other fans took to the streets to mourn. All were asking the same questions: How did he die? Was he really set to perform in London? And was the former King of Pop really on the verge of bankruptcy?

By now many of those questions have been answered. The coroner’s report found that Jackson’s death was caused by an overdose of the hospital anaesthetic propofol administered to him by his personal physician Murray Conrad. The case is still under investigation.

The release of the documentary movie This Is It, gleaned from rehearsal footage for the London tour, appeared to corroborate the assertions of his advisers and producers that Jackson had created an amazing show and that he seemed energized and capable of handling the gruelling schedule.

Information about his estate revealed meanwhile that despite a mountain of debt, the Jackson business empire was a financial powerhouse that was generating huge amounts of cash — for example, from the rights he held to much of The Beatles repertoire.

Ironically, with the huge public interest that followed his death, Jackson’s business empire became even stronger. The three best-selling albums in the US in the weeks after his death were all Michael Jackson CD’s. Demand was so strong that many stores ran out of stock.

Meanwhile This Is It was one of the most successful movies of the year, and one of the most successful concert movies of all time, earning some $200 million at the worldwide box office.

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