Jackson memorial: Unity the keynote

In a spectacle befitting the ultimate entertainer, friends and fans pay tribute to a man whose music touched millions worldwide.

Gabriel Bouys/AP
Michael Jackson's siblings, from left, Tito Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson, partially obscured, Janet Jackson, LaToya Jackson and children Paris and Prince Michael Jackson stand on the stage at the memorial service for music legend Michael Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

In the end, the public memorial for the King of Pop was the pop-culture event of the decade.

It was, fittingly, a showbiz flourish for one of the most famous entertainers who ever lived – one that emphasized Jackson's achievements and his inspirational messages of global unity rather than the controversies that clung to the self-styled Peter Pan like a sewn-on shadow.

"The community of entertainment, as well as the world, came together," said Rezelle Ferguson, an Angeleno who attended the service with her husband. "Every different kind of field – politics, music, just regular people – came together and all acknowledged that Michael made a change in everybody's lives."

The service, held at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, at times resembled a Hollywood awards ceremony, with celebrities each taking their turn at the podium. Behind the stage, a big screen offered doting montages of the many faces of Michael Jackson – from the cherub-faced child star with the Afro helmet to the icon who hid behind sunglasses, a flop of Geisha hair, and militaristic suits festooned with small galaxies of glitter.

But if the production was slick, it wasn't extravagant, and what lingered in the minds of those who attended were the moments that were unscripted. "At the end, where his family was on stage, and they were all giving a little speech, and you could see it was coming from the heart and the real tears and the real emotions – that whole moment, I will never forget," said Manya Mir of Los Angeles.

Unity was a theme of the entire morning. The Rev. Al Sharpton also praised the pop star's role in bridging racial divide, a point underscored by the appearance of Martin Luther King III. "It was Michael Jackson that brought blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos together," said Mr. Sharpton, who mentioned that the singer had shattered barriers for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and President Obama.

Outside, gawkers dressed in red vinyl "Thriller" jackets or silver-tinted surgical face masks – another Jackson trademark – milled among vendors selling unofficial T-shirts and $5 issues of the June 26 issue of The Los Angeles Times, which proclaimed the entertainer's passing.

But gaudy commerce was a sideshow to the sense of communion among fans. Though massive crowds never materialized – perhaps deterred by stringent police security and gridlock traffic – those that came chatted and danced to boom box music. A few fortunate lottery winners even gave their extra tickets to complete strangers.

Angela Baker from Seattle bestowed hers upon Brendan Gales, a Hollywood man who had been playing Jackson's music through microspeakers on his Walkman. "I feel elated, I feel blessed, I feel like someone is watching over me," said Mr. Gales, visibly moved.

But the most striking symbol of the feeling of togetherness was an elaborate shrine erected by New York waitress Sherry Wright. The collage of hundreds of Michael Jackson buttons, posters, photos, and hats became a backdrop for visitors posing for photos. "I wanted to share my love for him as an expression of what he gave everyone else," said a tearful Ms. Wright. "This allows people to reflect on his life in a positive manner and really truly accept the gift he gave us for its true worth and value."

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