Los Angeles braces for fallen star’s final act as Michael Jackson memorial grips downtownBy Jesse Washington, AP
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Los Angeles braces for Michael Jackson’s final act
LOS ANGELES — The curtain is slowly rising on Michael Jackson’s last show.
As in Jackson’s life, Tuesday’s public memorial at the downtown Staples Center includes the spectacle surrounding the show — legal drama, screaming fans, star power, live worldwide broadcast, unsavory accusations, even a parade of elephants — all adding up to what could be the biggest celebrity send-off of all time.
On the eve of the memorial, activity was spotted late Monday at the Forest Lawn Cemetery involving the Jackson family. The cemetery is the location where relatives were expected to hold a private funeral.
La Toya Jackson, wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, was seen being driven away from the cemetery. KCAL-TV showed helicopter footage of a hearse backing up to the Hall of Liberty — a circular building at the cemetery that contains a 1,200-seat auditorium — to deliver a casket.
A few hours later, the casket was reloaded into the hearse and delivered to another nearby building, this time covered in a blue cloth.
It wasn’t immediately known if the casket would be at the memorial service. Jackson family spokesman Ken Sunshine said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show that the family would not comment on it.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to Jackson’s downtown memorial. A total of 8,750 people were chosen to receive two tickets each.
“I got the golden ticket!” one fan screamed out of his car window in a Willy Wonka moment as he drove out of the parking lot.
The family announced that participants will include Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Martin Luther King III. Sunshine told ABC that Queen Latifah also will be performing.
Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said Tuesday on CBS’ “The Early Show” the department would have more officers on the streets of downtown for the memorial service than it had for last month’s Lakers victory parade.
Bratton said officers “really just do not know how may people will actually show up” and that officers “are prepared for anything.”
“Crowds have not materialized so far, and that was the one unknown,” Bratton told KTLA-TV early Tuesday morning. “We ramped up very significantly in anticipation of very large crowds, but cost-saving wise we’ll try to ramp down very quickly if those crowds don’t materialize.”
A few dozen people, some wearing the gold wristband that will allow them into the memorial service, gathered early Tuesday at the perimeter set up outside the Staples Center.
“They’re touching us and saying, ‘Can you bring the love in for us?’” said Mishelle Van, 37, who said she drove from Hesperia to spend the early morning hours meeting other Jackson fans.
The legal maneuvering that marked Jackson’s extraordinary and troubled life also continued Monday, with his mother losing a bid to control his enormous but tangled estate. And in one of the few reminders of Jackson’s darkest hours, a New York congressman branded Jackson a “pervert” undeserving of so much attention.
British Airways reported a surge of bookings as soon as the memorial arrangements were announced. Virgin’s trans-Atlantic flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were all packed with fans and VIPs, spokesman Paul Charles said.
About 50 theaters across the country, from Los Angeles to Topeka, Kan., to Washington, D.C., were planning to broadcast the memorial live, for free.
In Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge appointed Jackson’s longtime attorney and a family friend as administrators of his estate over the objections of his mother, Katherine. Attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain had been designated in Jackson’s 2002 will as the people he wanted to oversee his empire.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys expressed concerns about McClain and Branca’s financial leadership. “Frankly, Mrs. Jackson has concerns about handing over the keys to the kingdom,” said one of her attorneys, John E. Schreiber.
Branca and McClain will have to post a $1 million bond on the estate, and their authority will expire Aug. 3, when another hearing will be held.
“Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain for the next month are at the helm of the ship,” the judge said.
Jackson died at age 50 with hundreds of millions in debts. But a court filing estimates his estate is worth more than $500 million. His assets are destined for a trust, with his three children, his mother and charities as beneficiaries.
Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, had planned to attend the memorial but backed out Monday. “The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction,” her attorney Marta Almli said in a statement.
ABC News on Tuesday aired portions of a 2003 interview with Rowe that was largely unaired in which she called Jackson’s children “the ultimate love children.”
“If it hadn’t been for how much I love him, I would have never had children,” she said. “People make remarks, ‘I can’t believe she left her children.’ Left them? I left my children? I did not leave my children. My children are with their father, where they’re supposed to be.”
She said Jackson was upset when his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley broke up because he wanted to be a father, so she told him “let me do this.”
Rowe said Jackson was not a pedophile.
“He would not do anything inappropriate with a child, ever,” she said. “It’s not in him. I believe there are people who should be parents, and he’s one of them. Always. From the day I met him. I could do something for him, and this is what I wanted to do.”
In New York, Republican Rep. Peter King released a YouTube video calling Jackson, who was acquitted of child molestation charges, a “pervert” and a “low-life.”
But the memories of Jackson’s problems were far from the minds of fans preparing to say goodbye.
“It’s the passing of a great soul,” said Matt Tyson, 31, of Ojai, Calif. “He brought people together, helped express something that’s in us all.”
Downtown hotels were quickly filling. Police, trying to avoid a mob scene, warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get close to the Staples Center.
All those involved say the heart of Los Angeles will become a circus. In one way, that characterization will be literal.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey starts a run at Staples Center on Wednesday, a booking long planned in advance. In the pre-dawn hours before Jackson’s memorial, the elephants started walking from the train station to the arena. They were set to arrive some five hours before the memorial.
Associated Press Writers Amy Taxin, Andrew Dalton, Anthony McCartney, Danica Kirka and Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.
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