Saying Goodbye

Luminaries Pay Tribute To A Legend, And A Daughter Speaks Of Her Beloved Father, Michael Jackson

July 08, 2009|By Geoff Boucher and Cara Dimassa | Geoff Boucher and Cara Dimassa,Tribune Newspapers

LOS ANGELES - Music legends, sports figures and civil rights leaders paid tribute to Michael Jackson as a music pioneer and a barrier-breaking cultural figure during an emotional, song-filled service Tuesday at Staples Center.

Audience members danced along to musical performances and stifled tears at some of the many tributes to the singer. There were shouts from the audience of "Power to the people," "Long live the king" and "We miss you Michael!"

The most poignant moment came at the end, with Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson - in tears - telling the audience from the stage, "I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can imagine. I just wanted to say I love him so much."

The service began as Jackson's gilded casket, carried by a group of pallbearers each wearing a sequined glove, was brought into Staples Center to a standing ovation. Many in the audience snapped pictures with their cell phones. A gospel choir sang in front of a backdrop made to resemble a stained-glass window.

Event producer Ken Ehrlich said the service was showing all of the many facets of Jackson's influence. "All the colors of his life are coming out, everyone is saying something different and authentic," he said.

Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz sang Jackson's "I'll Be There." Jennifer Hudson sang his hit "Will You Be There." And John Mayer performed "Human Nature" on his guitar. Lionel Richie sang his Commodores song "Jesus Is Love." And Jackson's brother Jermaine sang what actress Brooke Shields called Jackson's favorite song: "Smile," from the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. Holding back tears, Shields told the crowd that the two former child stars were always "two little kids having fun" when they were together. She recalled Jackson trying to teach her, unsuccessfully, to do the moonwalk. "He was caring and funny, honest, pure, nonjaded and a lover of life," she said.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant called the singer a "true humanitarian, who gave as much offstage as he did onstage." Queen Latifah read a poem from Maya Angelou that praised the singer's global influence, from Japan to Ghana. "We are missing Michael Jackson," the poem read. "But we do know we had him, and we are the world."

Motown founder Berry Gordy said that Jackson - who began his career as part of the Jackson 5 for Motown - "was like a son to me. Gordy called Jackson "the greatest entertainer who ever lived."

"He was driven by his hunger to learn," Gordy said, "to confidently top himself, to be the best, the consummate student. He studied the greats and became greater. He raised the bar and then broke the bar."

Gordy made note of Jackson's problems, which included allegations of child molestation. "Sure, there were sad times and questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of."

Jackson's three children were seated in the front row, next to his mother, Katherine Jackson. They stood up and applauded with the crowd as the Rev. Al Sharpton praised Jackson as a trailblazer for African-Americans.

The service was televised live around the world. Fans started gathering outside Staples Center as early as 1 a.m. The lucky ones wore gold and silver wristbands, which designated them as holders of one of approximately 17,500 tickets to the memorial service, given out through an online lottery.

The service was attended by celebrities representing Jackson's range of influence on American entertainment and culture. The Revs. Louis Farrakhan and Jesse L. Jackson arrived within minutes of each another. Mickey Rooney, Don King, Barbara Walters, Wesley Snipes, directors Brett Ratner and Spike Lee, and TV stars Lou Ferrigno, Tyler Perry and Omarosa were all spotted entering or inside the Staples Center.

The Los Angeles Police Department deployed 3,200 officers for a private service at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills and the public ceremony at Staples Center. But Police Chief William J. Bratton said the crowd appeared to be smaller than initial estimates.

Inside

Fans in Baltimore and around the country share their grief. PG 12

Through all the pomp, the memorial service remained moving and elegant. PG 12

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