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Michael Jackson Memorial: A View From Inside

The Bottom Line

With a deliberate and noticeable lack of flash, the service staddled the line between the show so many craved and the sorrow so many felt.

Venue

Staples Center,
Los Angeles
(Tuesday, July 7)

The widely watched service mostly was a somber affair, marking by alternately fiery and hushed speeches and performances.

Balancing the delicate choices about entertainment vs. eulogy, the Michael Jackson memorial worked incredibly well as both without bowing to the expectations of either.

Tuesday's event at Staples Center was under a global microscope of fans, media and harrumphers, and few in the house -- and likely at home -- could argue its elegance, sense of purpose and breadth of emotions.

At the start, the throng inside the arena was entirely unsure how to react, even behave. The mood was trepidatious. Was this to be a celebration, with attendant whoops, hollers and applause? Or was it a somber occasion to be witnessed in respectful hushed silence?

The latter prevailed before and when Smokey Robinson took the stage at 10:11 a.m. to read absentee testimonials from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. It soon became clear that he was sent out to avoid the memorial starting a half-hour late because he was followed by a break of almost 20 minutes, during which family members and others entered and were seated.

There was no glitzy entertainment in the interim, nothing really for the crowd to do -- and the concession stands were closed. It was a surreal experience to be among 17,000-plus people sitting quietly for the first dozen minutes or so, until many felt comfortable talking among themselves.

Overall, there were many more smiles and laughs than tears throughout the two-hour-plus event. There also was a deliberate and noticeable lack of flash, again straddling that line between the show so many craved and the sorrow so many felt.

STORY: Michael Jackson, Pop Icon, Dies at 50

Once the speakers and singers began, there was an unhurried pace -- far from the showbiz spectacle many expected or assumed. A performance followed each eulogy, and the song choices mostly eschewed Jackson's huge hits for lesser-known material. Few were introduced or identified themselves.

Everyone who stepped to the podium seemed to have a singular purpose and/or theme in their words. The Jackson family's pastor, Lucious Smith, offered spiritual comfort after loss. Queen Latifah spoke for the legions of Jackson's fans, recalling how she and her brother tried to master the Robot after buying the "Dancing Machine" 45. Kobe Bryant focused on the King of Pop's huge-scale humanitarian efforts.

The three most affecting speakers -- Berry Gordy, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Brooke Shields -- offered up very succinct and very different points about Jackson's life.

Motown founder Gordy focused on the man (and the boy) as entertainer. "He was the consummate student -- he studied the greats then became greater," he said. "Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of. I feel the King of Pop is not enough for him. I think he is simply the greatest entertainer who ever lived."

The crowd whooped and rose and whooped again.

There was an almost nervous buzz in the room as Sharpton took the stage. Focusing on Jackson as a bridge builder and a barrier smasher between races and cultures, the fiery orator seized the room immediately. "It was Michael Jackson who brought blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians together," he boomed, earning among the biggest cheers of the day.

He also offered one of the event's best lines in any context. Speaking directly to Jackson's three children -- and indirectly to his many detractors -- he said, "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy; it was strange what your daddy had to deal with."

Shields gave a perspective with which few can really identify: the loss of innocence of a child star. Her remembrances of their laughing together and just being "two little kids having fun" were particularly moving, driving home the fact that Jackson never really had a childhood -- and won't get a chance at golden years either.

Stevie Wonder delivered the most powerful performance of the memorial, beginning by saying, "This is a moment that I wished I didn't have to see come." He then gave a soulful, sorrowful, heart-wrenching delivery of "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"/"They Won't Go When I Go."

The service had an undeniably Christian tone, which might raise a few eyebrows because of Jackson's high-profile conversion to Islam. But it worked on so many levels: as memorial and entertainment, mourning and celebration, remembrance and farewell.

After a finale of "We Are the World" that featured a stage packed with performers, the Jackson family was alone onstage. Jermaine and Marlon lamented the loss of their brother, but it was Michael Jackson's young daughter, Paris, who left the crowd -- and the world -- with the most moving words of the ceremony.

"Ever since I was born," she began, sobbing and barely mustering the strength to speak, "Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much."

The wave of emotion washed over the room, with many audibly crying. It was an incredibly affecting end to an alternately somber and joyous day.

Program
Smokey Robinson: Testimonials from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela
Choir
Pastor Lucious Smith: Eulogy
Mariah Carey, with Trey Lorenz: "I'll Be There"
Queen Latifah: Eulogy and new poem by Maya Angelou
Lionel Richie: "Jesus Is Love"
Berry Gordy: Eulogy
Stevie Wonder: "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"/"They Won't Go When I Go"
Kobe Bryant and Earvin "Magic" Johnson: Eulogy
Jennifer Hudson: "Will You Be There"
The Rev. Al Sharpton: Eulogy
John Mayer: "Human Nature"
Brooke Shields: Eulogy
Jermaine Jackson: "Smile"
Martin Luther King III and Bernice King: Eulogy
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas: Eulogy
Usher: "Gone Too Soon"
Smokey Robinson: Eulogy
Shaheen Jafargholi: "Who's Lovin' You"
Kenny Ortega: Eulogy
Ensemble: "We Are the World"
Jermaine Jackson: Eulogy
Marlon Jackson: Eulogy
Paris Jackson: Eulogy
Pastor Lucious Smith: Benediction