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Around the world, a shared moment of 'missing Michael'

Fans in Detroit, Atlanta and Las Vegas, and as far away as Argentina and Singapore, shed tears for the King of Pop during the L.A. memorial service.

July 08, 2009|P.J. Huffstutter and Richard Fausset

DETROIT AND CONYERS, GA. — It was a moment shared by perhaps 1 billion people.

They gathered Tuesday in London, Las Vegas, Berlin, Conyers, Ga., the Jackson hometown of Gary, Ind., swaying together to the music flowing out of Staples Center, murmuring as classic videos of the young Michael were projected onto the screen.

Through the sunshine of Los Angeles and the darkness of the early morning in Beijing, they all shared a moment.

A poem by Maya Angelou, read at the ceremony by Queen Latifah, captured the day:

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square,

In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Ala., and Birmingham, England,

We are missing Michael.

The moment was a confluence of high technology and pop culture, creating something both global and intimate in real time.

When one sighed, there were sighs around the world.

At a multiplex theater in Conyers, east of Atlanta, 500 people ooohed at footage of the lithe Jackson moonwalking and spinning, complementing the cheers that arose in Staples Center. They shouted their affirmation when Stevie Wonder told them that God was good.

They clapped at "You Are Not Alone." And at that moment in Las Vegas, Gwendolyn Benton, 60, teared up and rummaged through a Starbucks bag for a napkin to dry her eyes.

AEG Live, which organized the memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles, said the televised broadcast probably reached about 1 billion people worldwide. But there was no way to know the full reach of the event. The BBC estimates that 2.5 billion people watched the televised memorial service for Princess Diana in 1997, but that was before the advent of Twitter, blogs and other new media.

The Jackson memorial was telecast on hundreds of websites and carried by a number of mobile telephone platforms, including Apple, CBS Mobile and Sprint TV.

It was as if the distance to Los Angeles from wherever viewers were didn't exist.

"I JUST GOT CHILLS," wrote Regina Lopez on a Facebook site that allowed fans to leave messages while watching a live feed of the event.

Laurie Maloney posted one second later: "Here comes the tears."

The world has shared other moments -- the Apollo moon landing, World Cup soccer matches. They have become more frequent, even mundane. But this was different.

In many ways, it made no sense that so many people journeyed to movie theaters and arenas -- or social websites -- when they could have watched the memorial on television by themselves.

But for those who joined in the moment, there was a powerful logic.

To his most devoted fans, there was nothing like seeing Michael Jackson in person, not just for his radiating charisma but for the communal experience. So it seemed natural that, as his fans mourned his death, they gathered, sometimes by the thousands. It made sense to celebrate a life spent on a stage, before thousands of people, cheering and clapping to the music.

In Berlin, where an estimated 7,000 people packed the O2 World Arena, it was sometimes hard to distinguish their applause from that at Staples Center. Viewers spoke to the screen as if they were in Los Angeles.

When Felicia White, at the Conyers theater, heard the Rev. Al Sharpton end his eulogy by saying, "Thank you, Michael!" three times, she had to respond.

"Yes," she said, holding a Kleenex to her cheek. "Thank you."

More than 1,000 people in Detroit watched at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. When John Mayer played "Human Nature" on his guitar, the museum crowd sang along so loudly they nearly drowned out the broadcast. When someone in Los Angeles screamed, "We miss you, Michael!" a woman in Detroit yelled back, "We miss him too!"

At times the reactions differed.

In Detroit, people shouted "Amen!" and stood up to cheer when Kobe Bryant described the singer as a "true humanitarian." At that moment in Las Vegas, where people watched screens set up outside a Strip casino, no amens were heard. Natasha Singleton, 39, turned to her daughter Cierra Wilson, 13, and explained, sincerely if incorrectly: "He didn't have much money left when he died. He gave it all away."

But at the end, one little girl could make the world weep.

Jackson's daughter, 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, struggled to address the audience, family members standing behind her for support.

"I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can imagine," she said, in tears. "I just wanted to say I love him so much."

After more than two hours, the memorial had come to an end. The cameras pulled back to show an empty stage.

People lingered for a moment and quietly filed out. People around the world did the same.

--

p.j.huff stutter@latimes.com

richard.fausset@latimes.com

Times staff writers Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles, Janet Stobart in London and Kate Connolly in Berlin contributed to this report.

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