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Jackson remembered at all-star memorial

By | Published on Wednesday 8 July 2009

So it was cheesy and schmaltzy and personally I could have done with less Jesus, but overall I thought the big Michael Jackson memorial show was rather nice.

True, they missed a trick – having a dancer hidden in that big coffin jumping out midway through to do the Thriller dance would have been awesome, and Vincent Price’s sinister laugh echoing around the venue as the crowd left would have been a nice touch – but on the up side, I can now have those things done at my funeral and be considered original.

So yes, family, friends and fans of Michael Jackson amassed on the Staples Centre in LA yesterday morning (evening our time) to pay their last respects to the king of pop. On stage, some sang, some spoke, a few cried, a few laughed. Jermaine Jackson was the only member of the family to actually perform, giving a rendition of the Charlie Chaplin penned song ‘Smile’, which a tearful Brooke Shields had just revealed was Jacko’s personal favourite song. Personally I thought Jermaine’s performance was the highlight of the proceedings.

Though another show-stopping moment – if funerals are allowed such things – came from twelve year old ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ contender Shaheen Jafargholi, who sang the Smokey Robinson song made famous by the Jacksons, ‘Who’s Lovin’ You’. While Jafargholi is a pretty accomplished child actor already, who played a young Michael Jackson in the UK touring version of Jacko jukebox musical ‘Thriller – Live’, it still seems a bit mad that a kid who first came to mainstream attention here in the UK in April on an ITV talent show should be performing at an LA event as big and widely watched as Jackson’s memorial by July.

After Jafargholi’s performance, director Kenny Ortega, who had been working on the planned ‘This Is It’ shows for The O2, explained that Jackson had wanted the ‘BGT’ hopeful to perform as part his London residency, after seeing clips of the ITV talent show on YouTube, and said that that was why the Jackson family had asked him to sing at the memorial show.

News man Larry King later revealed that, prior to Ortega’s explanation, many in the audience were in the dark as to who this kid on stage was. He told reporters that he’d turned to Berry Gordy to ask who Jafargholi was, and that the Motown founder responded: “I have no idea who that is but if I was still in the business I’d sign him tomorrow”. I suspect Jafargholi could now become big news in the US, which would be nice – a suitably Michael Jackson kind of thing to come out of the late singer’s memorial show.

Other performers on the night (well, morning) were a little more established, with Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, John Mayer and Jennifer Hudson all doing a turn. Speakers included Brooke Shields, Berry Gordy, Al Sharpton, Smokey Robinson, Queen Latifah, basketball stars Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, the children of Martin Luther King – Martin Luther King III and Bernice King – and democrat member of the US House Of Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee. Written messages from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela were read out.

Those who socialised with Jackson generally spoke about the good times and the jokes they shared, helping to humanise the most mysterious and eccentric of pop idols, while those with more political leanings talked about the singer’s humanitarian work and his role in opening the door for black performers in mainstream American culture.

The controversies of and tabloid rumours relating to Jackson’s life were skirted around.

Motown man Gordy diplomatically said: “Sure there was some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of”. In a typically rousing address, Al Sharpton said: “I want his three children to know, there wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with. He dealt with it anyway. He dealt with it for us”.

In the most explicit reference to the most controversial moments of Jackson’s life, Rep Jackson-Lee, presumably responding to the comments made by her follow Congressman Peter King who this weekend criticised the US media for glorifying “a pervert, a child molester, a paedophile”, told the Staples Center audience “I can tell you as a member of the United States Congress, we understand the Constitution. We understand laws, and we know that are people are innocent until proven otherwise. That is what the Constitution stands for”.

After an emotional/glorious/typically American/vomit inducing (take your pick) group performance of ‘We Are The World’ and ‘Heal The World’, which saw Jackson’s family and most of the performers from the rest of the evening take to the stage, it was Jacko’s parents, brothers and children who were left in the spotlight as the memorial reached its conclusion.

Jermaine Jackson gave a short speech of thanks. Then Marlon Jackson delivered a longer tribute, including an amusing story about how he’d once found his brother hiding from public attention in a scruffy old man disguise in a record shop, asked by Michael how he’d known it was him, Marlon had said “Michael, you’re my brother, I can spot you anywhere regardless of your make-up – and your shoes do not help”, adding “Michael wore the same shoes wherever he went”. Observing that no one could ever know what Jackson had had to endure under such a strong media glare, Marlon concluded: “Being judged, ridiculed. How much pain can one take? Maybe now, Michael, they’ll leave you alone”.

The family tribute ended with a tearful few words from Jackson’s eleven year old daughter Paris. The singer’s three children, in the public eye without any veils or disguises for pretty much the first time, sat in the front row throughout the show, his sons looking a little bored (though, let’s face it, at that age a two hour memorial is a bit boring, even if it’s for your own superstar father). But Paris seemed to want to speak as the show concluded, and, supported by Janet Jackson, she told the audience: “I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much”.

As expected, the Staples Center show was preceded by a private service for family and close friends at the Forest Lawn mortuary in the Hollywood Hills. Jackson’s coffin was then driven, followed, according to some reports, by no less than 20 media helicopters, to the venue of the big memorial show. It’s not clear when or where the singer will actually be buried.