Michael Jackson’s coffin was carried onto center stage at Los Angeles’ Staples Center by the singer’s brothers as the public memorial for the King of Pop started a little after 10 a.m. PST today, following a private ceremony at the Hollywood Hills’ Forest Hills Cemetery. A motorcade of approximately 20 vehicles escorted the family and loved ones to the Staples Center along shutdown highways as fans lined the streets to catch a glimpse of Jackson’s hearse driving by.
Smokey Robinson began the memorial by reading statements from friends who could not attend the ceremony, including Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. After Robinson exited the stage, the arena lights dimmed as the packed arena gave Jackson a moment of silence.
After an introduction remembering Jackson by family friend Pastor Lucious Smith, Mariah Carey was the first performer to take the stage, performing her rendition of the Jackson 5 hit “I’ll Be There” with Trey Lorenz.
Queen Latifah next took the podium to reminisce about the King of Pop. The singer-rapper-actress also recited a new poem by Maya Angelou written about Jackson titled “We Had Him.” Lionel Richie followed by singing “Jesus Is Love,” a song previously performed by Richie as a member of the Commodores.
Motown founder Berry Gordy, who signed the Jackson 5 to the famed Detroit label and also co-wrote “I’ll Be There,” spoke to the Staples Center crowd and the millions watching around the world about Michael’s “special” qualities that made him a star. Gordy concluded his memorial speech by saying the “King of Pop” moniker wasn’t big enough for Jackson; he was the “greatest entertainer who ever lived.”
“This is a moment that I wish I didn’t live to see come,” Stevie Wonder told the crowd before performing a solo rendition of “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.” “Michael, why didn’t you stay?,” Wonder sang after the second chorus before segueing into 1974’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.”
Next, Los Angeles Lakers icons Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson (who appeared as a pharaoh in the “Remember the Time” video) reminded the audience that Jackson was one of the biggest philanthropists in music history. Johnson credited Jackson with inspiring him to be a better point guard, and the pair acknowledged Jackson’s role in opening doors for all African-Americans. A very-pregnant Jennifer Hudson then came out to perform Jackson’s Dangerous (and Free Willy soundtrack) song “Will You Be There.”
After a tribute from the Rev. Al Sharpton, John Mayer emerged from the crowd, picked up his guitar and led the band through a beautiful, mostly instrumental rendition of the Thriller ballad “Human Nature.”
A teary Brooke Shields was next to eulogize the singer, with the actress relating anecdotes from when the pair were young megastars in the 1980s. Shields also read a passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and told the crowd that Jackson’s favorite song was Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” As reported before the memorial, Jackson’s own brother Jermaine took the microphone for the performance of “Smile.”
Martin Luther King III and Bernice King paid tribute to Jackson and were followed by Texas Congresswomen Sheila Jackson-Lee, who told the crowd she introduced Resolution 600 into the House of Representatives officially recognizing Jackson as a musical icon, legend and humanitarian. Usher, often compared to Jackson for his singing and dancing abilities, sang a touching version of Jackson’s Dangerous ballad “Gone Too Soon” while caressing the silver coffin of his idol.
After a video of the Jackson 5 performing “Who’s Lovin’ You,” Smokey Robinson, who originally wrote the song and marveled at the 10-year-old Michael’s ability to sing the vocals, came up from the audience to properly pay homage to Jackson after beginning the memorial by reading statements from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. “That’s my little brother over there,” Robinson said, motioning to Jackson’s casket, “But he’s not really gone. He’s going to live forever and ever and ever.”
Shaheen Jafargholi, a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, came out to perform “Who’s Lovin’ You.” Kenny Ortega, the director of the This Is It! concerts, took the mic to tell fans that Jafargholi would have joined the King of Pop at London’s O2 Arena had the concerts gone on as planned. Ortega also said it was fitting for the memorial to take place at the Staples Center, as it was the venue that housed the This Is It! rehearsals.
The performances concluded with “We Are The World” as it likely would have appeared at the This Is It! concerts, with Jackson’s supporting singers taking lead vocals on the performance. The Jackson family, Michael’s children, Lionel Richie (who co-wrote the song) and many more took the stage for the song, with everyone joining hands for “Heal the World.”
Jermaine and Marlon Jackson both shared memories of their brother, but it was Paris Katherine Jackson, Michael’s daughter, who had the most touching moment of the memorial, telling the crowd, “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.” The Jackson family then lifted Michael’s casket, with a lone spotlight illuminating a microphone stand as the Staples Center lights faded. Pastor Lucious Smith delivered the final benediction. A Michael Jackson quote, “I’m alive and I’m here forever,” featured on the arena’s screen as the memorial ended.