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Jackson's Public Memorial Strikes a Spiritual Note

Jesse Washington | 7/8/2009, 8:39 p.m.

Michael Jackson was eulogized in words and song on Tue., July 7 by an all-star list of musicians, athletes and other celebrities during a mournful ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. with the most poignant moment delivered by his sobbing 11-year-old daughter.

"I just want to say ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much," Paris-Michael Jackson said before almost collapsing in the arms of her aunt Janet Jackson.

Watched by millions around the world, the memorial struck a tone more spiritual than spectacular Tuesday, opening with a church choir serenading his golden casket and continuing with somber speeches and gospel-infused musical performances.

The Rev. Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena, Calif. gave the greeting on the same stage where Michael Jackson had been rehearsing for a concert series in the days before his June 25 death at age 50. Then, Mariah Carey sang the opening performance with a rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad "I'll Be There," a duet with Trey Lorenz.

"We come together and we remember the time," said Smith, riffing on one of Jackson's lyrics. "As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us."

Millions of fans around the world gathered at odd hours to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast by the major TV networks and cable channels from Tokyo to Paris to New York and streamed everywhere online in one of the biggest celebrity send-offs ever seen.
Among those who saluted Michael Jackson were Motown music mogul Berry Gordy Jr., Brooke Shields, the Rev. Al Sharpton and basketball greats Earvin Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

Jennifer Hudson sang Jackson's hit "Will You Be There" and John Mayer played guitar on a rendition of "Human Nature."

"This is a moment that I wished I didn't live to see," Stevie Wonder said before his performance. Usher broke down in tears after singing "Gone Too Soon."

Although the event was billed as a celebration, some speakers took the occasion to come to the defense of Jackson, whose life was marked as much by criticism and scorn as talent.

Gordy said that despite what he called "some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part," the title King of Pop wasn't good enough for Jackson. "I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived," Gordy said.

Courtesy Photo
Emotions rose when Sharpton delivered a fiery eulogy highlighting all the barriers Jackson broke and the troubles he faced.

"Every time he got knocked down, he got back up," Sharpton said, and the applauding crowd jumped to its feet.

Sharpton rode the moment, building to a crescendo. "There wasn't nothing strange about your daddy," he said later, addressing Jackson's three children in the front row. "It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!" After he left the stage, chants of "Mi-chael! Mi-chael!" filled the arena.

The ceremony wrapped up with group performances of "We Are the World" and "Heal the World" sung by Lionel Richie, Hudson and Jackson family members - including his children - before a backdrop of symbols of religions from around the world. They were joined onstage by children in white and several other people who had participated in the ceremony. Then, members of Jackson's family took the stage to thank the crowd and share their own thoughts, barely able to hide their emotion as they hugged in the ceremony's final moments.

An estimated 20,000 people were in the Staples Center as Michael Jackson's flower-draped casket was brought to the venue in a motorcade under law enforcement escort. Those who gathered, constituted a visual representation of his life: Black, White and everything in between, wearing fedoras and African headdresses, sequins and surgical masks.

Fans, with a ticket, wore gold wristbands and picked up a metallic gold program guide on their way in. Acting as pallbearers, Michael Jackson's brothers each wore a gold necktie and, in a touch borrowed from their brother, a single spangly white glove and sunglasses.
Brother Jermaine Jackson took the stage and sang the standard "Smile" as he fought back tears.

Michael Jackson's hearse had been part of a motorcade that smoothly whisked his body 10 miles across closed freeways from a private service at a Hollywood Hills cemetery to his public memorial and awaiting fans.

AP Entertainment writer Sandy Cohen, AP Music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch, Associated Press writers Solvej Schou, Christina Hoag, Amy Taxin, Andrew Dalton, Anthony McCartney, Danica Kirka, and AP researcher Monika Mathur contributed to this report.