Fans Gather For Jackson Memorial In Los Angeles
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Barricades were up, streets were closed and police were out in force, as Los Angeles braced for tens of thousands of Michael Jackson fans to crowd a downtown area for Tuesday's star-studded memorial service for the King of Pop.
Los Angeles police Chief William J. Bratton said officers are bracing for what could be the largest celebrity memorial ever. He said Jackson's body will be at the Staples Center arena during the service, but there were no details about how it would be transported.
"We have made provisions to move Mr. Jackson's remains if that is the family's desire. We are not disclosing or discussing any of the circumstances of what that movement would consist of," Bratton said at a morning briefing.
Free tickets were distributed to 17,500 people chosen from about 1.6 million who registered for a chance to attend the ceremony, which features top-flight entertainers paying tribute to Jackson. About 11,000 people will view the memorial from inside the sports arena, and 6,500 more will watch on giant video screens across the street at the Nokia Theatre.
Police said they expect more than 250,000 people to pack the streets and sidewalks outside during the service, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT.
Fans began making their way to the Staples Center as early as 3 a.m.
"The family has been hurt, so I just want to come out and give some of my condolences and show some pride to Michael and his family," said Dot Cason, who flew in from Philadelphia.
Cason didn't have a ticket to the service, so she will join thousands of others in an area about three blocks from the action.
Los Angeles Police Department officials deployed as many as 3,200 officers for the downtown even and for a private service for the family at Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary-Hollywood Hills.
The LAPD also got a temporary flight ban for the air space around the arena because of concern that a large number of helicopters might be using the space at different altitudes.
Television coverage showed crowds building in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, as fans from all over the world lined up behind barricades waving signs. One man held up a British flag and the entertainment news Web site TMZ.com showed a contingent of police walking a street near the Staples Center.
Hours before the event, venders hawked T-shirts and other memorabilia, and fans milled about waiting for the memorial event to start.
"This is certainly a momentous occasion that is probably as big, if not bigger than, when Elvis [Presley] passed away," Steve Howard of Glendale, Calif., told Reuters news service.
"The impact he had on American music and world music crossed all boundaries," said Howard, who won a ticket in an online lottery.
Jackson's memorial was shaping up to be a highly produced event featuring Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Jennifer Hudson and others performing and delivering eulogies.
About 50 theaters across the country were planning to broadcast the memorial live for free. In New York City, fans were gathering outside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building to view the tribute on a giant video screen — and fans around the world can view the tribute live on the Internet.
Jackson, who was 50 when he died, was to be buried at a private service for the family sometime Tuesday. Family members gathered Tuesday morning for a private memorial service at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The pop star passed away June 25, two hours after he was found in cardiac arrest at his L.A. mansion. Los Angeles police and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating Jackson's death amid rumors that he may have overdosed on prescription medication. At least two autopsies — one ordered by the family — have been performed. Results of toxicology tests have not been announced, and may not be ready for several more weeks.
Jackson had been rehearsing for a series of 50 comeback concerts in London.
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