Reality eclipsed fiction in 2009 as Michael Jackson took on mythic status in death, a dowdy Scottish woman burst into song on the world stage, and the aura of perfection around Tiger Woods shattered in a cascade of scandal.
It was the sudden death and strange, tormented life of one of America's most gifted pop singers that captivated the world for much of the year.
A child prodigy and the unrivaled "King of Pop" in the 1980s, Jackson was still in command of his talent and preparing for a comeback mega concert in London when he suddenly died June 25 in his Los Angeles mansion. He was 50 years old.
Frail and physically transformed by years of cosmetic surgery, the singer was said to have begged his personal physician to administer a powerful anesthetic, propofol, so he could sleep.
A lethal dose of sedatives, including propofol, was found to be the cause of the death, which was declared a homicide. Jackson's physician, Conrad Murray, was named a suspect although no charges have been filed.
The music legend who gave the world "Thriller" was entombed two months later in a star-studded Hollywood cemetery amid a media frenzy that followed every twist and turn of his funeral, custody proceedings for his children, and the distribution of his fortune.
In death, Jackson's once shaky fortunes soared.
A documentary of his last concert rehearsals, "This is It," reaped 200 million dollars within two weeks of its release in late October.
Even his crystal glove turned to gold: a Macau casino scooped it up at auction for 49,000 dollars.
Jackson was only the most spectacular of the year's obituaries: Just hours before his death, cancer took the life of model and actress Farah Fawcett, the most popular member of the "Charlie's Angels" 1970s TV series.
In August, a heart attack surprised John Hughes, the director whose films 30 years ago made stars of Emilio Estevez, Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald and who wrote "Home Alone," the smash hit with then child star Macauley Culkin.
In September, actor Patrick Swayze, remembered for his roles in "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," died after a 20-month-long battle against cancer of the pancreas.
The same month French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, 76, was arrested in Switzerland on a US warrant more than three decades after fleeing trial in the United States on charges of having sex with a minor.
For others, it was a lucky year - unbelievably so for Susan Boyle, the plain, single, unemployed 48-year-old from Scotland whose performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables" catapulted her from a British talent show to global sensation.
More than 300 million people watched her sing after videos of the performance took off on the Internet.
Her first album, also called "I Dreamed a Dream," topped the US and British music charts, selling 784,000 copies in its first week, the best initial sales since AC/DC's "Black Ice" in 2008, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Even before it hit record stores, the album broke Amazon.com's record as the most pre-sold album ever.
Just when the big celebrity news of the year seemed to be past, the world gasped November 27 on learning that US golfer Tiger Woods was rushed to a hospital after an automobile accident just outside his Florida mansion.
It was just the start of the biggest scandal in the once very private life of the world's number one golfer, unleashing a shattering flood of allegations that linked Woods to affairs with at least 10 women.
Left in pieces was Woods's picture-perfect image as the faithful husband of Swedish model, Elin Nordegren, with whom he has two children - Sam Alexis, age two, and Charlie Axel, born early this year.
Engulfed by the revelations, the billionaire golfer took the stunning decision to take an indefinite break from his beloved sport as he admitted publicly for the first time being unfaithful to his wife.
"It may not be possible to repair the damage I've done, but I want to do my best to try," Woods wrote on his website. "I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children."
But with rumors swirling, and mystery still surrounding the circumstances of his car crash, there was little let up in media interest. It remains the most sought after story on the Internet.