/ 7 July 2009

Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder sing at Jackson memorial

A Gospel choir singing We’re Going To See The King launched an emotional public memorial for Michael Jackson on Tuesday as the music world and thousands of fans bade farewell to the singer known as the ”King of Pop.”

Jackson’s brothers carried the singer’s gold-trimmed casket into the Staples Centre sports arena in downtown Los Angeles for the memorial, the same place where Jackson rehearsed the day before his death for a highly-anticipated comeback tour.

Mariah Carey performed Jackson’s 1970 hit I’ll Be There and singer Smokey Robinson read out written tributes from former South African president Nelson Mandela and Diana Ross. Singer Stevie Wonder also sang and a glossy memorial programme was filled with pictures of Jackson and testimonials from friends and family.

”Michael was the biggest star on earth,” said actress Queen Latifah, to huge applause.

About 18 000 fans and friends got tickets in the arena or at a nearby, overflow theatre for the ceremony, which took place against a large backdrop and picture of Jackson that read ”In Loving Memory of Michael Jackson King of Pop 1958 — 2009.”

Jackson’s sudden death from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles on June 25 at the age of 50 prompted a worldwide outpouring of grief and sent sales of his biggest hits back to the top of the music charts.

Usher, Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder were also expected to perform, while basketball star Kobe Bryant and civil rights leader Al Sharpton were among the other celebrity guests.

Jackson’s family and close friends held a brief private ceremony earlier on Tuesday at a Los Angeles cemetery.

Dozens of fans watched from bridges as the funeral procession made its way along highways cleared of traffic for one of the biggest celebrity events ever seen in a city accustomed to living with superstar citizens.

Police had estimated that more than 250 000 people would gather outside the arena to say farewell to the singer and one-time member of the Jackson 5.

But the orderly crowds were much smaller than expected and many fans and downtown office workers appeared to have stayed at home. The ceremony was carried live on most television networks.

Los Angeles resident Parisa Ebraihimi (28) who said she has been a Jackson fan since she was five years old, came ”to pay her final respects”.

For me, his dance moves and his music — all his songs were about a better world. He’ll live on for generations,” she said.

”This is certainly a momentous occasion that is probably as big, if not bigger than, when Elvis [Presley] passed away,” said Steve Howard, a resident of Glendale, California, who won a ticket in an online lottery.

Tuesday’s memorial focused on Jackson’s musical achievements, overshadowed in the last 10 years by the darker side of the singer’s life, including his humiliating 2005 trial and acquittal on charges of child sex abuse.

Questions persist over the cause of his death, which is being investigated by coroners, police and drug police amid reports of possible prescription medication abuse.

Police, security, escorts and sanitation for the memorial ceremony are expected to cost cash-strapped Los Angeles city council nearly $4-million. The city council on Tuesday launched a website asking for fans to make donations towards the cost of hosting Tuesday’s events.

The memorial was being shown live on US television networks, in about 37 US movie theatres, and was streamed on the internet. – Reuters