5 years ago this month, Michael Jackson died unexpectedly at his home in California. MJ is a TMFW favorite - the easter egg from his "Thriller" video was the main feature in TMFW 6 - and news of his death came as a shock and surprise to me. I remember that I was at work at the time I first heard, and so I took to Google for confirmation of the news.
Many, many others had the same instinct. Google's servers - seeing the almost instantaneous tidal wave of searches for Jackson's name - assumed that the site was under attack and kicked back an error screen. The screen (which can be seen above) noted that "your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can't process your request right now." Google quickly realized that the searches were legitimate, and the site was back to fully functional just less than 30 minutes later.
As best as my research can tell, Jackson's death is the one and only time that a legitimate search "broke" Google. It was sufficiently newsworthy that Wired, CNET, and even Foreign Policy all featured short stories about the event. Even in death, Michael Jackson was setting new records.
BONUS FACT: In the wake of the racism fiasco involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, a market research company recently released poll findings that proclaimed Sterling the "most hated man in America." Sterling had a 92% disapproval rating. Looking at the top ten (bottom ten?) list, it is impressive to see that even five years later, Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray placed third (tied with O.J. Simpson). Murray was tried and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Jackson.
BONUS FACT 2: Michael Jackson holds a huge number of awards, including 13 Grammy awards, 26 American Music Awards, and 8 Video Music Awards. But it may surprise you that Jackson was also awarded a United States patent. In 1993, Jackson and two co-inventors filed for and were issued a patent for a pair of shoes that can be used to create the illusion of anti-gravity. Those shoes are what enabled Jackson to create his famous lean in "Smooth Criminal" (the dance move can be seen at 7:13 in that video). Basically, the heel of the shoe had a hidden opening that allowed it to hook into a post that would come up from the floor, and the shoe had a built-in "sock" that gave the dancers support at their shins. Once the dancers were hooked on to the post, they could lean waaaaay forward and return upright, as though by magic.
BONUS FACT 3: The lyric "Annie are you okay" or a variant of it is repeated over forty times throughout "Smooth Criminal." For anyone who has taken CPR class, the phrase is a familiar one: it comes from the 50+-year-old rescue mannequin Resusci Anne, which was introduced in Norway in 1960 and became the worldwide training standard. The first step in CPR is to "establish unresponsiveness," and so asking a patient whether they are okay - ideally, using their name and asking insistently and repeatedly - is part of training. Because the rescue doll was named "Anne," millions of people learned CPR by repeatedly asking "Annie, are you okay?"
BONUS FACT 3.5: The head of Resusci Anne was modeled off of the "death mask" for "L'Inconnue de la Seine," an unidentified young woman who was found in the Seine river in Paris in the late 1800s. The mask was very popular in European culture and the woman's history and circumstances were a subject of intrigue and speculation. The Resusci Anne creator allegedly made the mannequin a young woman out of fear that male CPR students would resist applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a male dummy.
BONUS FACT 4: One of the most popular YouTube videos of the last several weeks - with 15.7 million views in just two weeks - is a montage of highlights from a high school talent show. The winning entry among various garage bands, gymnasts, and balladeers was a young man who reenacted MJ's famous "Billie Jean" performance from the Motown 25 television special. Here is Jackson's original performance. Here is the talent show highlight video (the dance starts at 1:11). The kid does MJ proud.