Los Angeles: A glittering gold-plated casket carried Michael Jackson on his final journey on Tuesday as a worldwide audience in the hundreds of millions paid an emotional farewell to the tragic ‘King of Pop’.
A day of somber but star-studded ceremonies for the music superstar got underway shortly after 8:15am as Jackson’s family gathered for a private service at a picturesque mortuary in the Hollywood Hills.
As the ceremony ended, pallbearers carrying Jackson’s golden casket swathed with red flowers emerged and loaded it into a black hearse, under the watchful eye of mourners and around 20 media helicopters hovering overhead.
A motorcade of luxury vehicles then made a stately procession to the 20,000-capacity Staples Center, where family, friends and celebrities rubbed shoulders with ordinary fans who had won tickets via an online lottery.
The service got underway with soul legend Smokey Robinson reading letters of condolence from stars and world leaders unable to attend, which included a tribute from former South African president Nelson Mandela.
“Michael was a giant and a legend in the music industry. And we mourn with the millions of fans worldwide,” Mandela’s tribute read.
Motown diva Diana Ross meanwhile — named by Jackson in his will as an alternative guardian to his children — said that she had chosen to mourn privately.
“Michael was a personal love of mine, a treasured part of my world, part of the fabric of my life,” Ross’s tribute said adding: “Michael wanted me to be there for his children, and I will be there if they ever need me.”
Veteran poet and writer Maya Angelou paid tribute to Jackson in a moving elegy read by Queen Latifah. “Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon,” Angelou wrote.
Tributes to Jackson from friends and associates were punctuated by performances from Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Hudson as Jackson’s family looked on approvingly. Jackson’s brothers all wore matching suits and their sibling’s signature solo sequined glove.
One of the biggest ovations came after remarks made by Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown records who launched Jackson’s career.
“The more I think and talk about Michael Jackson, I feel the King of Pop is not big enough for him. I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived,” said Gordy to sustained cheers.
Outside the Staples Center an additional 1,400 police officers were on duty to provide security, while several city blocks surrounding the venue were sealed sealed off for hours beforehand.
Organizers had appealed to ticketless fans to watch the event on television, fearing chaos if hundreds of thousands take to the streets but huge crowds had failed to materialize on Tuesday.
“A live feed of the service was made available free to television networks, while the event was being streamed via social networking websites Facebook and MySpace,” officials said.
Fans gathered to sing Jackson’s greatest hits and watch his music videos ahead of the event in cities across the globe.
In Tokyo, hundreds of fans flocked to Tower Records in the fashionable Shibuya shopping district for a series of free viewings of Jackson’s videos.
In Australia, fans in Melbourne were expected to brave both the pre-dawn darkness and icy temperatures to watch the memorial on a giant television screen set up in the city’s central plaza, Federation Square.
“Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers of our generation”, US President Barack Obama told CNN in an interview from Russia.
“I think like Elvis, like Sinatra, like the Beatles, he became a core part of our culture,” Obama said, acknowledging that the tragedy that was a part of the singer’s life.
“His extraordinary talent and his music was matched with a big dose of tragedy, and difficulty in his private life,” Obama said adding: “I don’t think we can ignore that, but it’s important for us to affirm what was best in him.”
Jackson (50), sold more than 750 million albums during a four-decade career that was ultimately overshadowed by repeated allegations of child abuse, his startling physical transformation and eccentric behavior.
Local and federal law enforcement agencies continue to probe the circumstances of his 25 June death.
An autopsy was carried out the day after his death, but the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office has said that it will not issue a final cause of death for several weeks when the results of exhaustive toxicology tests are known.
Lawyers meanwhile are busy untangling the labyrinth of legal issues that have emerged in the aftermath of Jackson’s death.
On Monday, a Los Angeles judge replaced Jackson’s mother as temporary administrator of his estate with two of the pop icon’s business associates, as instructed by a 2002 will.