- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

UPDATED:

The public memorial service for pop superstar Michael Jackson on Tuesday at the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles was billed as an unparalleled Hollywood-style event, but it unfolded into a largely somber farewell, with goodbyes from friends and some of the entertainment industry’s biggest stars.

“The more I think about Michael Jackson, the more I think ‘the King of Pop’ is not big enough for him,” said Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, who gave Mr. Jackson and his four brothers their big chance. “He was the greatest entertainer who ever lived.”

Mr. Gordy also recalled the mesmerizing effect of Mr. Jackson’s moonwalking and playfully chided singer Smokey Robinson about how a 10-year-old Jackson did a better version of Mr. Robinson’s own “Who’s Lovin’ You.”

“He made some unfortunate decisions but accomplished everything he dreamed of,” said Mr. Gordy, acknowledging Mr. Jackson’s troubled life, which included health and financial problems as well as allegations of drug abuse and inappropriate contact with young children.

Mr. Jackson died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on June 25. He was 50.

The sold-out event began at about 12:30 p.m. EDT with Mr. Robinson reading a tribute from Diana Ross, which was followed by the Andrae Crouch Choir singing the hymn “We Are Going to See the King.”

At the foot of the stage rested Mr. Jackson’s golden casket, carried in by dark-suited pallbearers, each wearing a sequenced glove, and adorned in red roses. Above the arena stage, bathed in blue lights, was a banner depicting Mr. Jackson’s face and the words “In Loving Memory of Michael Jackson. King of Pop. 1958-2009.”

“We had him,” said singer-actress Queen Latifah, reading from a poem Maya Angelou wrote for the occasion. “He was a gift to us and we had him. He came from the creator… . In Johannesburg and in Pittsburgh we are missing you.”

Performers who graced the stage during the memorial included Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer, Jermaine Jackson, Usher and Shaheen Jaforgholi.

“On June 25, because he was the best, I believe heaven and earth did pause to say, ‘Here lived a great entertainer who did his job well.’” Martin Luther King III said.

Bernice A. King followed, saying, “At the end of the day, it is only God’s love that will sustain you and move you to a higher ground, far above the noise of life.”

Many speakers lightened the mood by sharing personal stories of Mr. Jackson that showed his personality and charm. Magic Johnson, the former NBA player, reminisced about sharing a bucket of KFC with Mr. Jackson; Mr. Robinson told a few jokes; and Brooke Shields talked about how much she laughed with Mr. Jackson.

Kenny Ortega, director of Mr. Jackson’s planned 02 concerts in London this summer, shared the stage with 12-year-old Shaheen, a finalist on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Mr. Jackson invited Shaheen to perform with him during the London concerts after seeing his YouTube performances.

“Timeless and timely, musical and magical,” Mr. Ortega said. “Michael, we love you more.”

Miss Hudson preformed “Will You Be There” with Mr. Jackson’s original dancers, who were slated to perform the number with him during the London shows. A video montage made for concert performances was played, accompanied by Mr. Jackson’s spoken voice reciting the lyrics of the song.

The two-hour event came to an end with Mr. Jackson’s family filling the stage to thank his fans and supporters. Before walking off the stage, Janet Jackson brought Mr. Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter, Paris Katherine Jackson, to the microphone.

Her eyes filled with tears, she said: “I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, my daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. I love him so much.”

As morning broke over the city, TV crews quietly set up their equipment as fans began lining the streets and vendors toted loads of T-shirts and other souvenirs behind police barricades, erected around the arena to control the large crowd who came to honor Mr. Jackson.

The Jackson family left their Encino estate by motorcade in midmorning for a private ceremony at the Forest Lawn cemetery in the Hollywood Hills before traveling the last 10 miles to the Staples Center.

A procession of black sport utility vehicles arrived at the arena at noon under a brilliant Southern California sun to drop off family members, including Mr. Jackson’s parents, Katherine and Joe, and his children: son Prince Michael Jackson I, daughter Paris and son Prince Michael Jackson II, whose nickname is Blanket.

“I want his children to know — wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said to a standing ovation. “It was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it anyway.”

The event was broadcast worldwide by at least 16 networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MTV, and seen by millions on live Internet streams.

The roughly 20,500 official guests inside the Staples Center included 9,000 Jackson friends and family members and 11,000 fans who received free tickets through an online application. The arena is owned by AEG, the organizers of Mr. Jackson’s planned comeback concerts in London. He last rehearsed in the arena two days before he died. The other 6,500 official guests watched a simulcast of the service at the nearby Nokia Theatre.

Helicopters whirred above the onlookers, including many wearing Mr. Jackson’s signature look of one glove.

Among them was Robert de Lariva of Marina del Rey, Calif., who was almost mobbed when he held six free tickets above his head and offered them to whoever had “come the farthest.”

“Cuba. Africa. Australia,” people yelled, trying to be the lucky winners.

“I gave them away rather than asking for money,” Mr. Lariva said. “God blessed me with six tickets yesterday. Michael taught me it’s not about money.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is scheduled Wednesday to begin a five-day show at Staples Center and continued Tuesday with its tradition of walking in the elephants and other large animals — adding to the spectacle.

Debbie Rowe, mother of two of Mr. Jackson’s three children, did not attend the event.

Elizabeth Taylor, a close friend of Mr. Jackson’s, said on her Twitter feed said she would not attend.

“I just don’t want to believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others,” she said. “How I feel is between us, not a public event.”

More than 1.6 million people applied online for tickets, which were posted for as much as $1 million on the Web site eBay, despite efforts by site administrators to remove the postings.

In addition to establishing the quarter-mile perimeter around the arena, the Los Angeles Police Department provided security at the Bel Air home where Mr. Jackson died, the Jackson family’s Encino compound and Dodger Stadium, where the free tickets were distributed.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has joined in the police investigation into whether Mr. Jackson possessed or was given illegal prescription drugs, amid rumors he was addicted and received an injection on the narcotic Demerol or Diprivan before his death.

On Monday, a Los Angeles judge ruled that Mr. Jackson’s 2002 will, which named attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain as executors, is valid. Mr. Jackson’s mother had been appointed temporary executor.

At Flower and 11th streets in downtown Los Angeles, one of the entry points for the lucky ones with tickets, Thierry Marceau, a performance artist from Montreal, stood tall and slender under a black umbrella. He drew onlookers who for a moment reacted as though Mr. Jackson was among them.

Mr. Marceau, decked out in a black fedora, dark shades and the signature black handkerchief across his mouth, was surrounded by media and visitors from all over the world. He said he was working on some character portrayals, including Mr. Jackson, for some of his shows in Montreal, so he wanted to dress the part.

Julie Pendray reported from Los Angeles.

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