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Michael Jackson's public memorial begins in LA

The Associated Press, Tuesday, July 7, 2009, 10:57am (PDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A public memorial service for Michael Jackson began Tuesday with Smokey Robinson reading comments from Nelson Mandela, Diana Ross and other friends of the King of Pop.

Following a long silent period inside the venue, piano music and a gospel choir kicked things off with a stained-glass motif in the background.

An estimated 20,000 people filed smoothly into the Staples Center as Jackson's golden, flower-draped casket was brought to the venue in a motorcade under law enforcement escort.

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Fans with a ticket wore gold wristbands and picked up a metalic gold program guide on their way in. Pallbearers who placed Jackson's casket into the hearse wore gold neckties.

Jackson's hearse had been part of a motorcade that smoothly whisked his body 10 miles across closed freeways from a private service at a Hollywood Hills cemetery to his public memorial and awaiting fans.

The hearse pulled into Staples Center complex and drove into an underground structure as fans began to file into the venue for the start of the service.

Some arriving celebrities strolled down a black carpet on their way in. Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes and Barbara Walters were among the celebrities seen at the entrance, the Los Angeles Times said.

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The traffic snarls and logistical nightmares that had been feared by police and city officials had not materialized. The thousands of fans with tickets began filing in early and encountered few problems.

Earlier in the morning, Jackson's family members and dozens of friends, led by his parents, Joe and Katherine, were seen entering a building at the cemetery. News reports estimated as many as 20 helicopters circled overhead.

Jackson's gold-plated casket, draped in crimson flowers, was placed in a the hearse by pallbearers in dark suits and gold neckties. Fans with a ticket wore gold wristbands and picked up a gold program guide on their way in.

The public memorial was to be televised live around the world. Among the celebrities expected to attend the memorial were Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Martin Luther King III.

Outside the Staples Center, Claudia Hernandez, 29, said she loved Jackson's music as a girl growing up in Mexico. Now a day-care teaching assistant in Los Angeles, Hernandez said she cried watching TV coverage of his death.

"I'm trying to hold in my emotions," said Hernandez, wearing a wristband to allow her admittance to the service and holding a framed photograph of Jackson. "I know right now he's teaching the angels to dance."

RELATED: World press covers commemorate Michael Jackson

Police blocked off perimeter roads and warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get near the downtown venue.

Inside the Staples Center, a stage was bathed in blue light and a spray of yellow and orange flowers was placed in front of a podium. The backdrop featured a photo of a smiling Jackson looking up toward the sky and the words: "In loving memory of Michael Jackson King of Pop. 1958-2009."

Outside the arena, video billboards showed a montage of pictures from Jackson's life, including those of the singer as a child, with celebrities such as Luciano Pavarotti and Marcel Marceau, and with members of his family.

Some fans were allowed past street barriers into the immediate area around the Staples Center early Tuesday. Dozens of street vendors sold T-shirts, photos, buttons and other Jackson memorabilia.

More than 1.6 million people registered for the lottery for free tickets to Jackson's memorial. A total of 8,750 were chosen to receive two tickets each.

Los Angeles was the epicenter of Jackson-mania, but the outpouring of emotion was worldwide. Belgium's two national public broadcasters planned to broadcast the memorial live, and several hundred Jackson fans gathered at a Hong Kong mall late Tuesday.

Holding white candles, Hong Kong singer William Chan and Taiwanese pop star Judy Chou led the audience in observing a 30-second silence. Many of the fans clutched red roses and wore black; some donned Jackson's trademark fedora hats.

In America, about 50 movie theaters across the country, from Los Angeles to Topeka, Kan., and Washington, D.C., planned to show the memorial live, for free. Jackson died at age 50 on June 25.

"There are certain people in our popular culture that just capture people's imaginations. And in death, they become even larger," President Barack Obama told CBS while in Moscow. "Now, I have to admit that it's also fed by a 24/7 media that is insatiable."

The city of Los Angeles set up a Web site Tuesday to allow fans to help the city pay for his Staples Center memorial service. Mayor's office spokesman Matt Szabo estimates the service will cost $1.5 million to $4 million.

The Web page reads: "Help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves."

It was not known what will happen to Jackson's body. The Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills cemetery is the final resting place for such stars as Bette Davis, Andy Gibb, Freddie Prinze, Liberace and recently deceased David Carradine and Ed McMahon.

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