Michael Jackson memorial: What a day of TV mourning

TV coverage of the Michael Jackson's death had it all Tuesday: helicopter freeway shots of the funeral procession, an army of breathless anchors to ratchet up anticipation and, last but not least, the singer's gold-plated, flower-draped casket on view for a massive worldwide audience.

Yet through all the media build-up, anticipation and pomp, the actual memorial service remained extraordinarily moving and elegant.


Talk about a day of TV worthy of the king of pop spectaculars. Maybe the difference lies mainly in all the new media that have arrived in the last 30 years, but Elvis Presley went out like a peasant in 1977 compared to Jackson's TV sendoff Tuesday.

The TV coverage started early on the network morning shows, and it was as wild and uneven as Jackson's remarkable life and career.


The Today show, the highest-rated program in morning TV, had a profile of Bubbles, the chimp who once lived with Jackson. The piece featured Bubbles shuffling along in a caged area, and suggested that either Jackson's moonwalk was inspired by Bubbles -- or Bubbles was imitating the moonwalk because he knew Jackson was dead (even though the chimp now lives in Florida).

As nutty as that report sounds, it was representative of much of the massive run-up to the memorial service on this day of wall-to-wall Jackson TV.

But while the media might have acted without much restraint in the morning, the memorial service at the Staples Center opened on a far more subdued and respectful note with Smokey Robinson reading statements of condolence from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. And that heightened tone was maintained through the program that ran just over two hours. It was a dignified and impressive event with bits of fire and soul.

After a delay following Robinson's remarks, the memorial got under way at 1:33 p.m. with a gospel choir singing "we are going to see the king," as Jackson's casket was carried into the hall. You could hear the crowd gasp as it arrived.

Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz followed with "I'll Be There," and the cameras showed tear-streaked faces from inside the hall and remote locations ranging from Harlem to Tokyo.

Queen Latifah came next reading a poem written about Jackson by Maya Angelou, We Had Him: "He came to us from the creator trailing creativity in abundance," one line said. "We had him...He was ours and we were his."

Lionel Richie sang "Jesus Is Love" with a full gospel choir. And then, came the legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy, who said Michael Jackson "was like a son to me." Gordy recounted the audition at Motown when Michael was 10.

"He was special. He sang a Smokey Robinson song, 'Who's Lovin' You,'" Gordy said. "He sang it with the blues and passion of a man who had been living it his whole life. He sang it better than Smokey... Though it ended way too soon, Michael Jackson's life was beautiful...He became the undisputed king of pop... I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived."

Powerful words coming from Gordy and it drew rousing applause from the crowd.

Stevie Wonder sang "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," a song he said he wrote for Jackson, as the TV cameras showed the flower-draped coffin and shots of mourning fans from locations around the world.

What the first hour of the memorial lacked was humor. Magic Johnson came onstage with Kobe Bryant at 2:15 p.m., and tried to fill that void with talk about him and Michael eating "a bucket of Kentucky fried chicken." The audience seemed to appreciate the chance to smile at a fond and bittersweet recollection by one of its heroes.

The most rousing performance in the early going came from Jennifer Hudson singing "Will You Be There." She stuck with the gospel tone that each of the songs struck.

The Rev. Al Sharpton brought the crowd to its feet with a spirited sermon that again attacked those who focused on the more controversial aspects of Jackson's life.

Addressing Michael's three children, Sharpton said, "There weren't anything strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it anyway. He dealt with it for us."

Sharpton said of Jackson, "He pulled down the color curtain...He brought blacks and whites and and Asians Latinos together."

Sharpton was embraced by Jackson's brothers when he came off the stage as the audience stood in applause. Sharpton's fiery words are going to be the talk of the memorial, but there was a gentleness on display as well.

After Brooke Shields, who dated Jackson as a teenager and remained a lifelong friend, reminisced about how the performer's favorite song was Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Jermaine Jackson came onstage and sang it with tenderness. His performance was one of the memorial's most touching moments.

Usher's performance of "Gone Too Soon" included the singer descending the stage to touch the golden flower-draped casket and then breaking into tears before he ended the song. He was embraced by several members of the Jackson family.

Another high point included an adolescent singer, Shaheen Jafargholi, singing "Who's Lovin' You," following a clip of Jackson singing the song in 1969 on The Ed Sullivan Show and Robinson remembering what he felt like the first time he heard Jackson perform his composition. If Robinson made the crowd smile with the memory of a 10-year-old putting him to shame, the choral finale brought forth tears around the world.

The closing songs -- We Are The World and Heal The World -- were sung by an all-star chorus in tribute to Jackson, who wrote them both. And they showed him for the sensitive artist and global pop phenomenon he had become.

The event closed with family members talking about Michael Jackson, and in the end, no one was more eloquent than Jackson's daughter, Paris.

"Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could imagine," she said breaking into tears. "And I just want to say I love him so much."

None of the many great entertainers, politician or civil rights leaders who took thre stage at the Staples Center Tuesday afternoon, did better than 11-year-old Paris in honoring her father. With those few wrenching words, she helped us to see him and those he loved and left behind as human beings rather than celebrities.

And so, the TV mourning finally ends. But brace yourself for some major blowback as the media start feeling self-conscious about all the coverage and begin complaining that today's events were somehow anti-climactic. If it comes, I will have none of it.

Michael Jackson had the largest audience in media history for his memorial service Tuesday, and his friends and family gave his hundreds of millions of fans one terrific and touching show.

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