LOS ANGELES – The curtain is slowly rising on Michael Jackson’s last show.
Jackson’s casket was to be taken to the singer’s star-studded memorial in downtown Los Angeles, adding to the spectacle that promised to be among the biggest celebrity sendoffs of all time.
“Mr. Jackson’s remains will be going to the Staples Center. We’re not giving any details,” Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said Tuesday.
Police blocked off roads and warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get close to the downtown venue. Some fans were allowed past street barriers into the immediate area around the Staples Center early Tuesday.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to Jackson’s memorial. A total of 8,750 people were chosen to receive two tickets each.
A few dozen people, some wearing the gold wristband that will allow them into the service, gathered early Tuesday at the perimeter set up outside the Staples Center among those without passes.
“They’re touching us and saying, ‘Can you bring the love in for us?”‘ said Mishelle Van, 37, who said she drove in early to spend the early morning hours meeting other Jackson fans.
Among the memorial participants will be Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Martin Luther King III.
About 50 theatres across the country, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., were planning to broadcast the memorial live, for free.
All those involved say the heart of Los Angeles will become a circus. In one way, that characterization became literal early Tuesday.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum&Bailey starts a run at Staples Center on Wednesday, a booking long planned in advance. In the pre-dawn hours before Jackson’s memorial, the elephants walked from the train station to the arena, arriving some five hours before the memorial.
Jackson died at age 50 with hundreds of millions in debts. But a court filing estimates his estate is worth more than $500 million (U.S.). His assets are destined for a trust, with his three children, his mother and charities as beneficiaries.
Early Tuesday, roads were closed and media massed at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. The night before, activity had been spotted there involving the Jackson family.
La Toya Jackson, wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, was seen being driven away from the cemetery. KCAL-TV showed helicopter footage of a hearse backing up to the Hall of Liberty – a circular building at the cemetery that contains a 1,200-seat auditorium – to deliver a casket.
A few hours later, the casket was reloaded into the hearse and delivered to another nearby building, this time covered in a blue cloth.
Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, had planned to attend Tuesday’s memorial but backed out Monday. “The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction,” her attorney Marta Almli said in a statement.
ABC News on Tuesday aired portions of a 2003 interview with Rowe that was largely unaired in which she called Jackson’s children “the ultimate love children.”
“If it hadn’t been for how much I love him, I would have never had children,” she said. “People make remarks, ‘I can’t believe she left her children.’ Left them? I left my children? I did not leave my children. My children are with their father, where they’re supposed to be.”
She said Jackson was upset when his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley broke up because he wanted to be a father, so she told him “let me do this.”
Rowe said Jackson was not a pedophile.
“He would not do anything inappropriate with a child, ever,” she said. “It’s not in him. I believe there are people who should be parents, and he’s one of them. Always. From the day I met him. I could do something for him, and this is what I wanted to do.”
The legal manoeuvring that marked Jackson’s extraordinary and troubled life also continued Monday, with his mother losing a bid to control his enormous but tangled estate. And in one of the few reminders of Jackson’s darkest hours, a New York congressman branded Jackson a “pervert” undeserving of so much attention.
British Airways reported a surge of bookings as soon as the memorial arrangements were announced. Virgin’s trans-Atlantic flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were all packed with fans and VIPs, spokesman Paul Charles said.
But the memories of Jackson’s problems were far from the minds of fans preparing to say goodbye.
“It’s the passing of a great soul,” said Matt Tyson, 31, of Ojai, Calif. “He brought people together, helped express something that’s in us all.”