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Jackson fans gather at the Apollo

July 01, 2009|Associated Press

Thousands of Michael Jackson fans converged on Harlem's famed Apollo Theater on Tuesday for a public tribute to the performer, clutching photographs, cheering and dancing to his music at the legendary venue that launched the onetime child star's career.

The Rev. Al Sharpton praised the pop star to hundreds of fans who crammed into the theater as others waited in line outside to pay their respects.

"Michael made young men and women all over the world imitate us," Sharpton said. "Before Michael, we were limited and ghettoized. But Michael put on a colorful military outfit, he pulled his pants up, he put on the one glove and he smashed the barriers of segregated music."

A black fedora with a white glove draped across its brim sat on a lone stool on the theater's stage, surrounded by elaborate arrangements of white lilies.

Fans left teddy bears, letters and homemade posters compiled from various images of the star. One carried a sign that said: "Michael we never can say goodbye: no no no no."

Among those moved to dance was film director Spike Lee, who joined Sharpton on stage to groove to "ABC" and "Rockin' Robin."

Sharpton and Lee urged the audience to remember the performer's accomplishments and disregard what they characterized as negative news coverage of him.

"Let's not wallow in the negativity that they're trying to drag us down into. We're not having it," Lee said. "It's all about the love."

The line outside stretched 10 blocks north to 135th Street at one point, organizers said. Thousands were paying their respects at the theater, which was letting in 600 people at a time to listen to Jackson's music, watch a video tribute and leave flowers and memorabilia.

The pop icon's ties to the theater go back to 1967, when the Jackson 5 won the Apollo's Amateur Night contest. The appearance is credited with helping to launch the brother act's career, which later propelled Jackson to solo stardom.

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