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Michael Jackson hailed during emotional memorial service

Celebrities praise the late singer's life, and his daughter, Paris Katherine Jackson, delivers a tearful statement to the Staples Center crowd: 'Daddy has been the best father you can imagine.'

July 07, 2009|By Geoff Boucher and Cara Mia DiMassa

Music legends, sports figures, and civil rights leaders paid tribute to Michael Jackson today during an emotional, song-filled service at Staples Center that was part polished entertainment, part revival meeting.

Jackson was praised as a music pioneer and a barrier-breaking cultural figure, who the Rev. Al Sharpton said paved the way for other black entertainers to reach superstardom.

"Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other," Sharpton said.

Audience members -- dancing along to some musical performances, and stifling tears at some of the many tributes to the singer. There were also shouts from the audience of "Power to the people," "Long live the king," and "We miss you Michael!"

The service culminated with Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson -- in tears -- telling the audience from the stage, "I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can imagine. I just wanted to say I love him so much."

It began as Jackson's gilded casket -- borne by a group of pallbearers each wearing sequined glove -- was brought into Staples Center to a standing ovation. Many in the audience snapping pictures with their cellphones. A gospel choir sang in front of a backdrop made to resemble a stained glass window.

Event producer Ken Ehrlich said that the service was showing all of the many facets of Jackson's influence. "All the colors of his life are coming out, everyone is saying something different and authentic," he said as the show was under way.

Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz sang Jackson's "I'll Be There." Jennifer Hudson sang his hit "Will You Be There." And John Mayer performed "Human Nature" on his guitar.

Lionel Richie sang his Commodores song "Jesus Is Love." And Jackson's brother, Jermaine Jackson, sang what actress Brooke Shields called Jackson's favorite song: "Smile," from the Charlie Chaplin movie "Modern Times."

Holding back tears, Shields told the crowd that the two former child stars were always "two little kids having fun" when they were together. She recalled Jackson trying to teach her unsuccessfully -- to do the moonwalk.

"He was caring and funny, honest, pure, non-jaded and a lover of life," she said.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant called the singer a "true humanitarian, who gave as much off stage as he did onstage."

Queen Latifah read a poem from Maya Angelou that praised the singer's global influence, from Japan to Ghana. "We are missing Michael Jackson," the poem read. "But we do know we had him, and we are the world."

Motown founder Berry Gordy said that Jackson -- who began his career as part of the Jackson 5 for Motown -- "was like a son to me. Gordy called Jackson "the greatest entertainer that ever lived." The pronouncement was greeted with massive applause.

"He was driven by his hunger to learn," Gordy said, "to confidently top himself, to be the best, the consummate student. He studied the greats and became greater. He raised the bar and then broke the bar."

Gordy made note of Jackson's checkered past--which included a series of allegations of child molestation. "Sure there were sad times and questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who said that she honored Jackson's "American story," also appeared to refer Jackson's legal troubles.

"We understand the Constitution, and we understand laws, and we know that people are innocent until proven otherwise. That is what the Constitution stands for," she said.

Near the end of the service, the immediate Jackson family, clad in black, gathered on the stage. Most of Jackson's brothers wore matching yellow ties, with red roses on their lapels.

Brother Jermaine Jackson thanked the people in the arena for coming to the service. "As you know," he said, "I am lost for words. I was his voice and his backbone. I had his back. So did the family. But we thank you. That's all I can say. We thank you very much. "

Brother Marlon said that "we will never understand what he endured, never being able to walk across the street without a crowd gathering."

"Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone," he said.

Jackson's three children were seated in the front row, next to his mother, Katherine Jackson. They stood up and applauded with the crowd as Sharpton praised Jackson as a trailblazer for African Americans.

The service was televised live around the globe. Fans started gathering outside Staples Center as early as 1 a.m. this morning. The lucky ones wore gold and silver wristbands, which designated them as the holders of approximately 17,500 tickets to the memorial service, given out through an online lottery.

Those who streamed into a cordoned-off area around the Staples Center included Savoy Brown, 42, an educator from Diamond Bar, said he almost missed attending because he was serving as a deliberating juror for a trial in Pomona.

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