Michael Jackson’s Casket Expected at Memorial Service
THE WASHINGTON POST
By Lisa De Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Michael Jackson’s casket will be front and center during his star-studded memorial service today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the entertainment Web site TMZ reported this morning.
The news sparked a frenzy of excitement among the anchors of the morning infotainment shows, all of which were broadcasting from outside the Staples Center in the pre-dawn darkness in order to capture the magnitude of the event.
The possible physical presence of the remains of the King of Pop — who died suddenly and suspiciously last week at age 50 — raises the specter that “crowd control could become an even bigger issue,” said “Today” host Meredith Vieira.
There was no way to independently confirm whether, in fact, The Casket will be onstage with the performers as the Land of La-La says ta-ta to Jackson, one of the best-known and most controversial entertainers ever. But TMZ, you’ll recall, has been leaving the traditional media mostly in the dust since it was the first to report Jackson had collapsed at his rented Holmby Hills mansion on June 25.
Family spokesperson Ken Sunshine, interviewed by Viera, refused to confirm or deny the casket reports — as did Al Sharpton, interviewed a short time later. But Sunshine did want Meredith to know that the Jackson family “has shown extraordinary dignity in a very emotional time” and that “Michael Jackson is the biggest figure emitting love ever.”
“Has anybody been to a wedding or family event when a Michael Jackson or Jackson Five song came on it wasn’t the highlight of the event?” Sunshine asked rhetorically.
Activity was spotted late Monday at the Forest Lawn Cemetery involving the Jackson family, the Associated Press reported. Jackson’s family was expected to hold a private funeral there. Los Angeles TV station KCAL-TV showed helicopter footage of a hearse backing up to the Hall of Liberty — a circular building at the cemetery that contains a 1,200 seat auditorium — to deliver a casket, the AP added. And, a few hours later, the casket was reloaded into the hearse and delivered to another nearby building, this time covered in a blue cloth.
Fox News Channel showed aerial shots of a hearse at Forest Lawn where, the channel reported, a private family ceremony was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. local time. After that, Fox said, the family would “make the 13-mile journey” to Staples Center.
To help viewers understand how rich the soil is at Forest Lawn, the channel broadcast images of the faux headstones in which the names of other celebrities buried there had been “engraved” — names like Bette Davis, Buster Keaton, Liberace and Andy Gibb.
“You would think that the family wants to end this with a bang,” “Today” show correspondent Michael Owku, stationed at Forest Lawn, told Meredith Vieira. “They want to have a great big surprise for all the fans and all the friends that will be gathering there at Staples Center, and what bigger surprise than to suddenly have the casket of Michael Jackson up on stage for the last time?”
There is also no way to really fathom how many of the devoutly adoring and the simply curious will watch the service, which will be broadcast around the globe. But that didn’t stop the industry of celebrity navel gazers from forecasting the audience at an estimated 1 billion — more than one out of every seven people on earth.
Mariah Carey, Usher, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Lionel Richie, and Jennifer Hudson are among those confirmed to participate in the service, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time (1 p.m. in Washington). Sean “P Puff Diddy Daddy” Combs and Brooke Shields also said they would attend.
But Jackson’s BFF Elizabeth Taylor announced to the world she’s staying away today, because her grief is not a public event.
At least 16 domestic TV networks plan to cover the Jackson memorial live. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Fox News Channel, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, TV One, MTV, VH1, VH1 Classic, TV Guide Channel, E!, Univision and Telemundo blew out their schedules in hopes that live coverage of the biggest celebrity ever would bring boffo ratings. (When the verdict was read on the Jackson child-abuse trial back in June of 2005, about 31 million tuned in domestically — nearly matching the 33 million who watched Princess’s Di’s funeral in this country in September of ’97.)
Los Angeles police are steeled for a mob scene even after warning that fans would not be able to get within blocks of the arena, where oversize murals and enormous screens have been set up outside as part of the mega-tribute. Authorities were urging people to stay away from the venue and watch the memorial on TV.
CNN’s Kara Finnstrom, deployed to check out the John Does who’d spend the night on the streets in order to be near the memorial, reported that 300 police officers were on the scene by 5 a.m. Pacific time. LAPD told her that number would increase to around 3,000 by the time the memorial kicked off five hours later — the biggest police presence downtown since Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics.
Vendors arrived early to stake out the best spots to sell hot dogs, bottled water and all manner of Jackson memorabilia.
Nearly 2 million people had registered in hopes of snagging some of the precious 20,000 seats at the Staples Center, of whom under 9,000 were picked to get two tickets each. About 9,000 seats in the arena have been set aside for Jackson family and friends.
Television’s morning news shows — in addition to “Today,” there was ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CBS’s “The Early Show” and CNN’s “American Morning” — anchored their entire broadcasts from outside the Staples Center, even though it was still the middle of the night — and quite dark — on the West coast.
And about 50 movie theaters nationwide, owned by Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp, planned to carry the memorial live and offer free admission.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s Facebook page was clocking up to around 20 new fans per second, and was hovering around the 7 million mark — making it the most popular page on the social media outlet.