Los Angeles: Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder and Usher sang emotional farewells on Tuesday to Michael Jackson, who was hailed as “the greatest entertainer that ever lived” and described by his tearful 11-year-old daughter Paris as “the best father you could ever imagine.”
Some 18,000 fans, family members and friends took part in a public memorial for Jackson in the Los Angeles sports arena where the singer had rehearsed the day before his death for a highly-anticipated series of comeback concerts.
Jackson’s brothers, each wearing a single sequined glove in homage to his signature look, carried the singer’s golden casket into the downtown Staples Center.
Carey performed Jackson’s 1970 ballad “I’ll Be There”, Usher’s voice cracked as he sang “Gone Too Soon” and the King of Pop’s three children made a rare public appearance without veils used for years by Jackson to shield them from the media.
But it was Jackson himself who loomed larger than life, shown in old concert footage, music videos and news clips, singing, dancing his moonwalk and surrounded by adoring crowds.
“The more I think about Michael, and talk about Michael, the more I think that ‘King of Pop´ is not good enough,” said Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, who signed The Jackson 5 to a recording contract in 1968. “I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”
The two-hour 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.
Jackson’s sudden death from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles on 25 June at the age of 50 stunned fans across the world and sent sales of his biggest hits from albums such as “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” back to the top of music charts.
President Barack Obama, on a visit to Russia, said he was “one of the greatest entertainers of our generation, perhaps any generation,” and added: “I think like Elvis, like Sinatra, like The Beatles he became a core part of our culture.
The memorial focused on Jackson’s 45-year musical career in which he was awarded 13 Grammys, his charity work for childrens’ groups and his role in opening the mainstream pop and celebrity world to African-Americans.
It was broadcast live on US national TV networks and internet company Akamai said it was the most widely viewed event on the web since the inauguration of Obama in January.
The company, which handles 20% of the world’s web traffic, reported that it ran some 2.8 million audio and video streams during the webcast.
Gordy was among the few who referred obliquely to Jackson’s recent troubles. “Sure there was some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of,” said Gordy.
“Nothing Strange About Daddy”
Jackson was on the eve of a comeback after his career collapsed in the 1990s. The exact cause of his death is still awaiting toxicology results amid reports of abuse of prescription drugs, including the powerful narcotic Diprivan.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who has lashed out at media coverage of the bizarre aspects of Jackson’s life, had a message for the singer’s three children.
“Wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with,” he said, to cheers from the audience.
The children, Prince Michael, 12, Paris and Prince Michael II, 7, appeared with the family on stage to join in a mass chorus of Jackson’s inspirational hits “We Are the World” and “Heal the World”.
Paris, in tears, took the microphone to say: “Ever since I was born my daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine and I just wanted to say I love him, so much.”
Jackson’s family and close friends held a brief private ceremony earlier on Tuesday at a Los Angeles cemetery before bringing the singer’s body and casket to the memorial. Questions remained on where exactly Jackson would be buried.
Police had estimated that more than 250,000 people would gather outside the arena but the orderly crowds were much smaller than expected. Many fans and downtown office workers appeared to have stayed at home to watch the ceremony on TV.
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 web site asking for fans to make donations towards the cost of hosting Tuesday’s events and said that contributions had started to come in.