In a surreal start to the day, 11 elephants and seven horses paraded past the Staples Center, waking fans sleeping on the roofs of their cars outside. The animals were from the Ringling Bros Circus and were making the traditional journey from the circus train to the performance arena – taking advantage of a bit of free publicity along the way.
The Rev. Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena greeted fans on the same stage where Michael Jackson had been rehearsing for a concert series in the days before his June 25 death at age 50. Acting as pallbearers, Jackson’s gold coffin was carried on to the Staples Center stage by Jackson’s brothers acting as pallbearers- each wearing a gold necktie and, in a touch borrowed from their brother, a single crystal white glove and sunglasses. The coffin was taken to the centre to a chorus of cheers and screams from tens of thousands of fans after family members bade farewell in private at a funeral service at the city’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Smokey Robinson opened the memorial with tributes from Nelson Mandela and Diana Ross, before Pastor Lucious Smith spoke on behalf of the Jackson family.
Mariah Carey sang the opening performance with a rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad “I’ll Be There,” a duet with Trey Lorenz. Mariah Carey was the first artist to appear on stage. In a moving tribute actress Queen Latifah then shared her memories of Jackson, saying she was there to represent the fans who ‘grew up loving Michael from a distance’. Somehow, when Michael Jackson sang, when he danced, he never felt distance,’ she said. ‘He felt like he was right there.’ She laughed as she remembered purchasing the Jackson 5 single Dancing Machine, before reading a poem by author Maya Angelou.
Millions of fans around the world gathered at odd hours to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast by the major TV networks and cable channels from Tokyo to Paris to New York and streamed everywhere online in one of the biggest celebrity send-offs ever seen.
Among those who saluted Jackson were Motown music mogul Berry Gordy Jr., Brooke Shields, the Rev. Al Sharpton, basketball greats Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Jennifer Hudson sang Jackson’s hit “Will You Be There” and John Mayer played guitar on a whisper-light rendition of “Human Nature.”
“This is a moment that I wished I didn’t live to see, but as much as I can say that and mean it, I do know that God is good,” Stevie Wonder said before he serenaded Jackson’s coffin with the song Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, which featured in the movie “Poetic Justice,” starring Janet Jackson. ‘And I do know that as much as we may feel, and we do, that we need Michael here with us, God must have needed him far more.’ Usher broke down in tears after singing “Gone Too Soon.”
Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson then gave a moving gospel performance of Jackson’s “Will You Be There,” from the album Dangerous. The eight-months pregnant star, looked fabulous on stage and glowed as she honored the King of Pop.
Actress Brooke Shields, who once attended the Oscars with Jackson, broke down as she paid tribute to her friend. ‘To us it was the most magical and easiest of friendships. I was 13 when we first met and from then on our friendship grew. We had a bond. And maybe it was because we both understood what it was like to be in the spotlight from a very young age. Both of us needed to be adults very early, but when we were together we were two little kids, having fun. We never collaborated together, we never performed together or danced on the same stage, although he did try to teach me the moonwalk… but what we did do was laugh…When he started wearing the glove, I was like “What’s up with the glove?” He just loved to be teased… He was a lover of life.’
Gordy said that despite what he called “some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part,” the title King of Pop wasn’t good enough for Jackson. “I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived,” Gordy said. Sharpton delivered a fiery eulogy saying: “There wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy,” he said later, addressing Jackson’s three children in the front row. “It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!” After he left the stage, chants of “Mi-chael! Mi-chael!” filled the arena.
The ceremony wrapped up with group performances of “We Are the World” and “Heal the World” sung by Lionel Richie, Hudson and Jackson family members – including the singer’s devastated children Prince Michael, Paris, and Blanket – before a backdrop of symbols of religions from around the world. Then members of Jackson’s family took the stage to thank the crowd and share their own thoughts, barely able to hide their emotion as they hugged in the ceremony’s final moments.
Moments earlier Jermaine Jackson sang his brother’s favorite song in an emotional tribute to the King of Pop. Jermaine, 54, performed “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin as he fought back tears at the star-studded Los Angeles service. The overwhelmed audience gave Jermaine a standing ovation after the heartfelt performance.
An estimated 20,000 people were in the Staples Center as Jackson’s flower-draped casket was brought to the venue in a motorcade under law enforcement escort. Fans with a ticket wore gold wristbands and picked up a metallic gold program guide on their way in.
Jackson’s hearse had been part of a motorcade that smoothly whisked his body 10 miles across closed freeways from a private service at a Hollywood Hills cemetery to his public memorial and awaiting fans.
The traffic and logistical nightmares that had been feared by police and city officials did not materialize. Traffic was actually considered by police to be lighter than normal. “I think people got the message to stay home,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano. Deputy Police Chief Sergio Diaz, operations chief for the event, said authorities had expected a crowd of 250,000. Besides reporters and those with tickets to the memorial service, the crowd around the Staples Center perimeter numbered only about 1,000, he said. More than 1.6 million people registered for the lottery for free tickets to Jackson’s memorial. A total of 8,750 were chosen to receive two tickets each.
It is not clear what will happen to Jackson’s body next. The Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills cemetery, believed to be the burial site of Jackson, is the final resting place for such stars as Bette Davis, Andy Gibb, Freddie Prinze, Liberace and recently deceased David Carradine and Ed McMahon. Jermaine Jackson has expressed a desire to have him buried someday at Neverland, his estate in Southern California.
The Jackson family collectively thanked well-wishers for their support, dedicating the traditional funeral poem Perhaps You Sent a Lovely Card to Michael Jackson’s fans.