M.J. Honored in Star-Studded Tribute

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Originally published on Advocate.com July 06 2009 11:00 PM ET

Check out our Twitter coverage of the Michael Jackson Memorial Tribute.

This much, we now know:

There is perhaps only one person among the 6.8 billion of us whose death preempts cable news coverage of the sham Iranian presidential election, whose funeral procession can close three of the world's busiest freeways, and who can turn Los Angeles -- a city where it's hard to learn a good lesson and easy to forget that race still deeply divides its 3.8 million inhabitants -- into a momentary monolith, one now ready to get on with things.

The life and music of Michael Jackson were honored Tuesday in a public memorial that failed to draw curious crowds in the hundreds of thousands as estimated by some, yet delivered in its stirring eulogies and musical tributes from multiple generations of pop legends. Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, and others paid their respects to Jackson's gold-plated casket, adorned with a mountain of red roses.

It's still unclear where the late entertainer will be buried. Jackson family members left the arena for a private service in Beverly Hills shortly after final musical tributes that included both "We Are the World" and "Heal the World."

"In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure," said Queen Latifah, reading a poem about Jackson recently written by poet Maya Angelou. "He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his."

A near-capacity Staples Center audience alternated between laughter, abject grief, and a collective compulsion to record the entire event with an army of cell phone cameras. In contrast to the chaos and hysteria that historically accompanied many of Jackson's enormous concerts, there were no immediate reports of misconduct during or after the event. Ambulance stretchers positioned at arena exits remained empty.

According to the Los Angeles Times , the LAPD had planned to deploy 3,200 officers for crowd control -- its largest showing since the 1984 Olympics. But fewer than 1,000 fans and onlookers showed up on area street corners.

Fans lucky enough to nab the gold wristbands needed to get within two blocks of the arena arrived from all over the world in rhinestone-studded, funereal black garb. "When I heard my friend got tickets, I was like, 'I'm booking it. Red eye. I'm out. Let's go,'" said Alejandra Peña, a fashion stylist who flew in from Venezuela to attend.

Not everyone shared her enthusiasm. Several protesters stood beyond the Staples Center barricades carrying signs with slogans like "STOP USING MY TAXES 4 MILLIONAIRES." The memorial could cost the already cash-strapped city up to $4 million. Though Jackson's sister LaToya thanked "the city for all its support," it's unclear whether the family plans to reimburse Los Angeles for expenses incurred.

"He's not a role model," said Larry, who declined to give his last name and held a sign reading 'NAMBLA Salutes Michael' in a crush of fans on Olympic Boulevard. "His proclivities are not what I think deserves honor. And this is a waste of taxpayers' money."

Onstage, family members and celebrities defended Jackson and sang his praises with vigor. Speaking to Jackson's children in the front row, the Reverend Al Sharpton said, "There wasn't anything strange about your daddy. What was strange was what he had to deal with."

The memorial culminated with a tearful tribute from Jackson's 11-year-old daughter, Paris Katherine. "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said. "And I just wanted to say I love him so much."

The 11-year-old girl and her older brother, Prince Michael, may be the subject of a future custody battle between Jackson's mother, Katherine, and his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe.