SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Jackson's stunning death made him Yahoo's biggest star this year.

The quest to find out what happened to Jackson in his final hours on June 25 and celebrate his legacy elevated the late entertainer to the top of the Internet company's annual breakdown of the most frequent online search requests.

The self-proclaimed King of Pop ended singer Britney Spears' four-year reign atop Yahoo's search rankings.

The list released Tuesday is meant to provide a reading on our cultural pulse. It may not be the best barometer, given that Yahoo Inc. ranks a distant second to Google Inc. in Internet search. Google plans to release its own list of popular searches later this month.

Jackson will probably rank high on Google, too. So many inquiries poured in about Jackson within the first few hours of his death that part of Google's Web site interpreted the fusillade as an automated attack.

As usual, people using Yahoo's search engine in 2009 seemed to be most interested in celebrities and other diversions, even against the sobering backdrop of the worst recession in 70 years.

Besides Jackson, the other new entrants on Yahoo's Top 10 list this year were: No. 2, "Twilight," the vampire story that has spawned two movies, including the recently released "New Moon," that are drawing hordes of teenage girls and their mothers; No. 4, Megan Fox, an actress who starred in the movie "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen;" No. 8, Kim Kardashian, part of a family with their own reality TV series; and No. 9, NASCAR, an automobile racing league.

The other half of the list consisted of 2008 holdovers. They were: No. 3, WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment; No. 5, Spears; No. 6, Naruto, a character created for the Japanese art form known as anime; No. 7, top-rated television series "American Idol;" and No. 10, RuneScape, an online video game.

Barack Obama made Yahoo's top searches list in 2008 as a presidential candidate and the President-elect, but fell off after he took office in 2009. The others falling out of the Top 10 were all actresses: Miley Cyrus, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan and Angelina Jolie.

Although the economy wasn't as hot a topic as entertainment in 2009, the hard times clearly weighed on people's minds. "Coupons" and "unemployment" were the most requested search tied to finances, according to Yahoo.