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Michael Jackson's memorial was not our proudest moment

Everyone -- including the media and myriad opportunists -- sought to cash in on the death of the pop star, with scant mention of the scandals that tainted his legacy.

July 08, 2009|STEVE LOPEZ

I got to Staples Center some time after the parade of Ringling Bros. elephants and just before a bikini-clad woman who held aloft a sign that said, "Go Vegetarian for the Man in the Mirror." I suppose it goes without saying that not all memorial services draw the same crowd.

Speaking of crowds, this one was way smaller than the city had planned for. There were hundreds of people on the street rather than hundreds of thousands, which means that a few million tax dollars were spent to have police officers stand around with their arms folded. At 11:30 a.m., at Ralphs on 9th Street, I saw two of the 3,200 deployed cops taking a coffee break. They said they'd been on duty since 2 a.m., all of it overtime. By my count, the vendors, the media and the men in blue far outnumbered fans.

So what was I doing there?

I was hoping to bump into the Rev. Al Sharpton to see if he's made any progress in getting Michael Jackson on a stamp. Sharpton, who was on the scene roughly 10 minutes after Jackson was rushed to the hospital June 25, has also criticized the "disgraceful" media for trying to "destroy the legacy" of Jackson, so I was hoping for a chance to ask him what in God's name he was talking about.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, July 13, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Steve Lopez column: In Wednesday's Section A, Steve Lopez's column on Michael Jackson's memorial service was accompanied by a photo of Chris Escobar doing the moonwalk for ticket-holders outside Staples Center. The caption said Escobar is 13; he is 17. The caption also said, "Some folks were on hand to try to make a buck." Escobar says he went to the scene just to pay his respects to Jackson, not to earn money.

I can't remember the last time I saw so much media fluff, hype and hoopla. News organizations that have pulled out of Iraq arrived by the convoy to pay homage to the King of Pop.

Jackson had some great years as a groundbreaking and barrier-crashing, once-in-a-lifetime talent with a message of peace and harmony. But that was followed by a decade or two of extremely disturbing weirdness -- not that you'd know that from the recent news coverage.

You had to wade through acres of shallow water to find media references to Jackson's reported $20-million settlement of a case involving a boy he was accused of molesting. And then there were his comments about seeing nothing wrong with sharing his bed with children, which tells me that if the scheduled comeback hadn't panned out, Jackson could have had a second career as an Irish priest.

As an example of what I mean about the TV coverage, I'd like to share a "bulletin" sent out Tuesday by CNN:

"Michael Jackson's daughter Paris says he was the best father you could ever imagine."

Thanks for digging that up, CNN. But you should have also told me when I could tune in to watch a "news" anchor read e-mailed reactions from across the nation.

I must confess that despite my best efforts, I couldn't get anywhere near Sharpton on Tuesday morning to share my observations. All I had was a blue wristband, and that kept me across the street from Brooke Shields, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, the Kardashians, the Incredible Hulk and all the others who paid tribute to the man in the gilded casket, who presumably had no say in the family decision to turn his passing into a public spectacle in a sports arena.

I was out there with Heidi Golledge and her daughter Lauren, 12, who drove up from Orange County to watch the memorial. They were wearing "King of Pop" cowboy hats, and Heidi told me Jackson, born in Indiana, was practically a homegrown Californian.

"He's our prince, or king, and this is a major event," she said, adding that a 10-year-old daughter was left home in tears because there wasn't a ticket for her.

And what about Jackson's history with kids?

"We know a lot of people in the industry and felt he was set up," Golledge said. "He did some unconventional things with children, but not what he was accused of."

Jiaoyu Duan came all the way from China to stand a block from Staples Center with a sign that said: "We have a dream to heal the world before it's too late. All Chinese fans thank you for always."

Nearby, Mark and Tonya Sandis were selling their new brand of soda: King of Pop.

"We were drinking some champagne after he died and said we need to do something," said Mark Sandis, and they decided on marketing a new line of soft drinks, at $5 a pop, to pay tribute.

Jackson may be gone, but he continues to inspire.

Are there a few opportunists out there, you ask?

More than a few.

A lot of scrappy vendors trying to sell a piece of the man, the media hordes cashing in on the celebrity culture it helps manufacture, the cops collecting overtime, the international telecast selling merchandise to benefit the estate, the owner of Staples Center working a marketing angle or two.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tried his best to get in on the action as well, asking Jackson fans worldwide to help defray the high price of the city's massive preparation for crowds that never showed.

"Donations will help the city of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves," said the mayor in an appropriately strange announcement on a strange day even by L.A. standards, and he added that donations would be tax deductible.

Maybe the rest of the world would be more inclined to pony up if it could feel the love firsthand, with an international memorial tour. Better yet, as my pal Jim Rainey suggested, maybe the only proper tribute is to launch that casket into space. Then, no matter where you are in the world, he'll be in the heavens above, moonwalking into eternity.

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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