Fans Bid Final Farewell to ‘King of Pop’

July 7, 2009 at 6:45 PM EDT
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Michael Jackson fans around the world paid a final tribute to the "King of Pop" on Tuesday, as the fallen singer was laid to rest following a star-studded memorial service. Jeffrey Kaye reports from Los Angeles.

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, as you may have heard, there was a huge farewell tribute to Michael Jackson today that was televised live around the world. Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye has our report from Los Angeles.

JEFFREY KAYE: Nearly two weeks after the death of pop legend Michael Jackson, family, friends, fans, and notables from the music world participated in a memorial tribute broadcast around the world from Los Angeles.

Pallbearers, each with a single sequined glove, carried Jackson’s gold-plated casket to the stage. The event was part concert, part eulogy, featuring, among other musicians, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and Mariah Carey. She performed one of Jackson’s biggest hits.

MARIAH CAREY, musician (singing): I’ll be there…

JEFFREY KAYE: The very public memorial at the Staples Center followed a private family service. The Reverend Al Sharpton, a family friend, said Jackson was a trailblazer for black America.

THE REVEREND AL SHARPTON, civil rights activist: He put on one glove, pulled his pants up, and broke down the color curtain where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover.

JEFFREY KAYE: 1.6 million people participated in an online lottery for 17,500 free seats, two-thirds of them inside the stadium, the rest in an adjoining theater that broadcast the event on giant screens. As people with tickets passed through police lines, the mood was somber.

MICHAEL JACKSON FAN: Even though I want to celebrate his life, I still have that sadness that he’s really gone.

JEFFREY KAYE: Inside the emotional tributes focused on Michael Jackson the person and the performer, family friend and Motown founder Berry Gordy remembered Jackson this way.

BERRY GORDY, founder, Motown: From the first beat of “Billie Jean” and the toss of that hat, I was mesmerized. But when he did his iconic moonwalk, I was shocked. It was magic.

JEFFREY KAYE: The memorial came after days of legal wrangling over Jackson’s will and over custody of his three children. It also followed disclosures about police investigations into Jackson’s use of prescribed drugs.

Such news seemed of little consequence to fans. Since Jackson’s death, tens of thousands of fans have descended on Los Angeles. Many went to the site of a makeshift shrine at the family home. Others came to sign billboard-sized posters outside the Staples Center.

Thousands of reporters from around the world covered and fed the frenzy. City officials, worried about the possibility of unmanageable crowds, closed streets in a two-block perimeter around the venue. The message from the city was: If you don’t have a ticket, stay out.

The message worked. The large video screens outside the arena did not broadcast the memorial. Instead, they showed a photo montage of Jackson’s life. Only about 1,000 ticket-less fans came to stand outside the perimeter.

With millions of people around the world watching the memorial, the reaction to Jackson’s death has turned into an epic global spectacle. Among the fans who came into Los Angeles, there was a sense of devotion. For many of the faithful who traveled thousands of miles to get here, this was more than a tribute. It was a pilgrimage.

Lynne Johnston flew in from Scotland.

Explain to people who may not understand why someone would come 6,000 miles for a memorial.

Fans remember Jackson

LYNNE JOHNSTON, Michael Jackson fan: It's not the travel. It's being here with everybody else that feels the same, being part of somebody that I grew up with, his music, his inspiration. It's just there's no words that can describe, really, what he was to the whole world.

JEFFREY KAYE: These women from Japan seemed surprised that I would ask them why they came.

Did you come just because of this?





JEFFREY KAYE: Yes, why? You seem shocked.



BARBARA RAMIREZ, Michael Jackson fan: It's just everybody just wanting to be a part of this, what's going on with Michael, you know, the funeral and all.

JEFFREY KAYE: For Barbara Ramirez, a Los Angeles painting contractor, and for many other fans, Michael Jackson's music was part of the soundtrack of their formative years.

BARBARA RAMIREZ: Back in the '80s and in the '70s, I was very into their music. I mean, you know, you grow up as a teenager hearing all the songs, like, you know, "Rockin' Robin" and "ABC," you know, all those songs.

JEFFREY KAYE: This is the Jackson 5.

BARBARA RAMIREZ: The Jackson 5. And then when Michael put out "Thriller," that was really good, too, you know, 20-something years ago.

JEFFREY KAYE: For Farhan Haji of Toronto, Canada, sharing Jackson's music was a family affair.

FARHAN HAJI, Michael Jackson fan: All the joy that he brought to the world and, you know, it's just, he's the only person that my parents listened to and we listened to him as a child together. So, you know, besides the Beatles, I can't remember anyone else that my parents and I both loved.

JEFFREY KAYE: To fans, Jackson's musical and dance abilities far overshadowed his eccentricities, such as changes in his appearance and problems, such as allegations of child molestation.

Admirers such as Faisal Janjua from London said those aspects of Jackson's life were unimportant.

FAISAL JANJUA, Michael Jackson fan: We've all got a dark side, you know, and, unfortunately for him, it was exposed to everybody for everyone to know about it. They couldn't just leave him alone and let him be, you know?

Where I come from, like people -- you know, we don't care about that too much, you know? It was about him loving us and being kind to the world. And he was trying to set an example that we should all follow, really.

Cost to the city

JEFFREY KAYE: Costs for policing and services related to the Jackson memorial are likely to approach $4 million, according to city officials, who are grappling with a $500 million budget deficit. They're hoping to get private donations from Jackson fans to pay for at least some of the expenses.

JANICE HAHN, Los Angeles city council: I think what was important for me today was making sure that we had a safe event that got people in, got people out. I don't want to see any incidents. I like the fact that we have as many police officers as we need here. We have our fire department here. We want this to be a fitting tribute to Michael Jackson.

JEFFREY KAYE: Yet it's also hard to get away from the fact that the city has more than a $500 million debt.

JANICE HAHN: Right. We're broke. The city of L.A. is broke.

JEFFREY KAYE: Right. So you're going to try to recoup your costs?

JANICE HAHN: So we -- yes, there's no way we can pick up the cost for this event. So, working with AEG, working with the Jackson family, I think we're going to figure out private donations, like we had for the Laker parade. I think people are going to step up to the plate to make sure that this was a good event for Michael Jackson and his family.

JEFFREY KAYE: As the service neared its conclusion, family members, including his young daughter, Paris, thanked the audience and paid tribute to Jackson.

PARIS-MICHAEL JACKSON: Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much.

JEFFREY KAYE: And there were uplifting notes, too, as performers, friends, and Michael Jackson's children took to the stage and sang "We Are the World."

PERFORMERS: (singing "We Are the World")