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Leading article: The music will be his legacy

Few of the tributes that cascaded in yesterday for Michael Jackson made reference to the performer's highly publicised troubles in recent years. The sad truth, though, is that it was these troubles, much more than Jackson's extraordinary talent, that had come to define his public persona over the past two decades.

There was the extreme plastic surgery, the erratic behaviour, the failed relationships, the health issues, the financial problems and, most damaging of all, the accusations of child abuse. Many of those who had once admired Jackson were repelled by the tawdry freak show that his life had become.

All but his most hardcore fans recognised that the creative muse had deserted Jackson some time ago. It was clear that the series of 50 shows in London that he was due to play this summer was inspired not by a genuine urge by the performer to return to the stage but from an urgent need to repay his creditors.

Some are even suggesting that the physical stress of preparing for these shows might have brought on the heart attack that killed him. None of this tragedy of wasted talent and physical decline was reflected in the warm words from fellow performers and other celebrities yesterday.

And yet it would be unfair to identify something dishonest or hypocritical in these tributes. What they reflect – and what the outpourings of sadness from huge numbers of people around the world show – is an appreciation for the extraordinary contribution Jackson made during his long career as a performer and artist.

Jackson's legacy will not be the freak show, but the music he made at the height of his powers. And what will remain in people's minds, long after memories of his sad fall have vanished, is how thrilling he was as a performer in his effervescent pomp.

Jackson touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the planet with his talent. His music reached across national borders and between generations. And, as the singer's album shot up the charts of the online retailer Amazon yesterday, it was, ultimately, to the music to which people returned upon the sad news of his premature death.