L.A. Gears Up for Star-Studded Michael Jackson Memorial

L.A. Gears Up for Star-Studded Michael Jackson Memorial

In the same Los Angeles arena where he rehearsed for the ill-fated “This Is It” tour, Michael Jackson will be remembered on Tuesday by a bevy of luminaries paying their final homage to the globally celebrated star. Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Usher, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder have all been announced as performers who will help bid Jackson farewell at L.A.’s Staples Center in a ceremony that will be broadcast live on all major networks and many cable channels as well as streamed live on websites from Myspace to MTV.com. Brooke Shields, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton are also expected to take part.

Some family members and close friends have been ambivalent about the event. After originally being scheduled to appear at the Staples memorial, Deborah Rowe, the mother of two of Jackson’s children, said in a statement that she had changed her mind and would be absent since she felt her appearance would be “an unnecessary distraction.” Another Jackson fixture — long-time friend Dame Elizabeth Taylor — took to her Twitter page on Monday to announce a similar sentiment. “I cannot be part of the public whoopla,” Taylor said. “I just don’t believe Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event.” On Monday night, Jackson family members, including his sister Janet and close friends such as long-time hairstylist Karen Faye, attended a private viewing at the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
But over a 1.5 million regular folks from around the world were more than happy to join in, entering a random drawing for a seat at the memorial. On Sunday, 8,750 of them received word that they had defied the odds and had won two tickets. No tickets went on sale for the event. Ticket holders began arriving at Dodgers Stadium at 6 a.m. on Monday to pick up their tickets in a daylong procedure which saw more than 600 cars were arriving each hour for credentials. To ensure that only the winners would attend the show, concert officials literally placed a wristband on people’s arms upon arrival. “It’s a deterrent against scalping,” said one official.

The online auction site Ebay, a popular venue for people to sell off coveted tickets like these to the highest bidder, also announced it would remove any postings concerning Michael Jackson memorial tickets in an effort to combat scalpers. On the site Monday night, the only items available under “Michael Jackson Memorial” were t-shirts. Still, organizers admitted they couldn’t completely stop the blatant profiteering. “For those who take advantage of this,” promoter AEG’s CEO TIm Leiweke said last week, “Shame on you.”

That doesn’t mean the ticketless crowds won’t try to soak up the atmosphere of Jackson’s big send off. Los Angeles officials braced for an onslaught of visitors to the Staples Center vicinity and other locations. Streets surrounding the area were closed off entirely at midnight on Monday, and city officials advised those without a ticket to stay at home. “There will not be anything to see,” LA’s acting mayor Jan Perry told TIME. “This is a private event on private property.”

While Perry works the command center to ensure what she hopes will be a “peaceful, well-run, seamless operation,” she and her colleagues will also have to come up with an answer to how the cash-strapped City of Los Angeles will eventually foot the event’s large public bill. The council-woman would not hazard a guess of what the memorial would cost the city, but did use the last month’s Laker Pride parade as a yardstick, which was estimated to run a tab of around $2 million. Other estimates listed the Jackson total price-tag at $2.5 million.

Perry says that while police costs are already budgeted in an emergency section of the city budget, other expenses like traffic control, sanitation and street services are not. She says she approached the Jackson family for their ideas about paying some of the bills. “I did reach out,” she says. “I said is there any way to direct me to people who can assist, in Michael’s memory, in deferring the cost of this event.”

“I’m still waiting for a callback,” she says. “I’m always optimistic.”

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