By Lawani Mikairu, with agency reports
LAGOS â€” A memorial for late pop star Micheal Jackson was held yesterday at the Staple Center, Los Angeles.
Family and closest friends attended a gathering at Forest Lawn Memorial Park friends were at the chapel, which held about 1,000 people. Seven carried the golden casket covered in red flowers from Forest Lawnâ€™s Hall of Liberty.
Thousands of people were on hand, but the atmosphere was peaceful, almost festive. People waited patiently, talking to each other, taking pictures and singing Jackson songs. Some fans were excited, others sober, as they entered the arena.
A packed Staples Center audience watched and cheered as pallbearers wheeled Michael Jacksonâ€™s flower-laden, golden casket to a lighted spot just below centre stage and a choir sang a hymn. The service in Los Angeles, California started as scheduled, with an extended pause before the hymn, Andrae Crouchâ€™s â€œSoon and Very Soon,â€ began.
The song was followed by addresses from Rev. Lucious Smith and Queen Latifah and a performance of the Jackson 5 hit â€œIâ€™ll Be There,â€ performed by Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz. Gordy and Bryant were scheduled to speak at the service. Robinson opened the event by reading messages from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela.
Fans had cheered as celebrities walked into the arena, including Verne Troyer (â€œMini-Meâ€ from the Austin Powers films), singer Tyrese, Smokey Robinson (who came in with Motown founder Berry Gordy), Lil Kim and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Parking lots in the area raised their prices, some as high as $30. Airports in Southern California saw a spike in bookings. And several movie theaters in the area announced special screenings of the event, which also was carried live by some television networks and Web sites.
Police put up concrete barriers around the Center, allowing only fans with tickets to the star-studded event to enter. The first fans â€” those holding the best seats â€” began entering the arena at 7:30 a.m.
The stage was set up on one end of the Staples Centerâ€™s converted basketball court. Wide steps lead up from both sides and two transparent podiums were posed on either side.
Drums sat in the background and small floral arrangements rest against the front of the stage, where three rows of chairs form a semicircle.
The total cost for security at the event was estimated to be between $2 million and $4 million, said Matt Szabo, spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Until the last minute, the Jackson family remained tight-lipped about where the singer will be buried, but signs pointed to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills after several carloads of people, La Toya Jackson among them, visited the cemetery Monday.
The Staples event is expected to feature singers Mariah Carey, Usher and Stevie Wonder.
Also participating will be basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson; singers Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Smokey Robinson; and activists Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton, according to an announcement released on behalf of the Jackson family.
Two notable absences will be actress Elizabeth Taylor, a longtime Jackson friend, and Debbie Rowe, Jacksonâ€™s former wife and the mother of his two older children.
Rowe planned on attending but decided against it, said lawyer Marta Almli.
â€œThe onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michaelâ€™s legacy,â€ Almli said.
On Monday, organisers used a computer to choose 8,750 names from 1.6 million people who registered for tickets online. Each received a pair of tickets, for a total of 17,500 tickets.
Just 11,000 of those are for seats inside the arena. The other 6,500 are for viewing the memorial telecast across the street at the Nokia Theater. The Jackson family set aside an additional 9,000 Staples Center seats to give out, organizers said.
It is not known where Jacksonâ€™s final resting place will be. Early reports suggested he would be buried at his infamous Neverland Ranch, but this may prove impossible due to Californiaâ€™s complex planning laws.
He could also be buried at the Forest Lawn cemetery, alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Andy Gibb, Liberace, Mary Pickford, George Burns and Clara Bow.
Who said what
My heart… my mind… are broken. I loved Michael with all my soul and I canâ€™t imagine life without him. â€” Elizabeth Taylor/Actress
I have always admired Michael Jackson. The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever!â€” Madonna/Singer
As a kid, Michael was always beyond his years, he was an innovator, he was a genius at what he did. He had a knowingness about him. â€” Berry Gordy Jr/Motown Records Founder
I am heartbroken… No artist will ever take his place. His star will shine forever.â€” Mariah Carey/Singer
Michael Jackson was my musical god.Â He made me believe that all things are possible, and through real and positive music, he can live forever. â€” Whyclef Jean/Musician
He was an extraordinary friend, artist and contributor to the world. I join his family and his fans in celebrating his incredible life and mourning his untimely passing. â€” Brooke Shields/Actress
Michael Jackson was my generationâ€™s most iconic cultural hero. Courageous, unique and incredibly talented.â€” Russell Simmon/DCF Jam Records Co-Founder.