By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The memorial for Michael Jackson at Staples Center Tuesday disappointed anyone who was expecting a wild, bizarre or disorganized frenzy. There was music, but no spectacle. There were famous people on stage, but no extravagance. And there was emotion, but very little uncontrolled sobbing–until the end of the ceremony.
In the first public comments of her life, Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter, Paris, choked back tears as she said on stage, “Since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him–so much.” Her heart-wrenching statement brought wails and moans of grief from across the arena as the young girl was embraced by family members.
The mood was properly somber, with applause at the appropriate times. During the pauses between speakers and performers, the capacity crowd sat in a silence that was intermittently broken with lone shouts of “We love you, Michael!” The fans, for whom this grand memorial was said to have been arranged, seemed to be voicing a clear sense of not wanting to let go, yelling in the direction of Jackson’s golden coffin as if he were listening.
Among those appearing or performing were music legends Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and Motown founder Berry Gordy. Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Jennifer Husdon and Usher also performed.
Judith Hill concluded the musical performances, leading a rendition of “Heal the World,” and “We Are the World” joined by members of Jackson’s family onstage. Hill, who is a hapa from Los Angeles, is a member of the band that was to perform with Jackson during his London concerts.
While Michael Jackson’s talents and musical achievements were often overshadowed by the spectacle that became his life offstage, Tuesday ceremony focused squarely on the man who was active in humanitarian causes, as well as one of the most iconic singers and dancers in history.
The speakers included Smokey Robinson, Brooke Shields, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson, Queen Latifah and Rev. Al Sharpton, who addressed Jackson’s three children directly.
“There was nothing strange about your daddy,” Sharpton told the kids. “It was strange what your daddy had to deal with.”
Waiting in the crowd outside Staples Center before the ceremony began, Karen Kimura Joo of Torrance stood in silence as tears rolled down her cheeks. She and her husband, John Joo, received tickets through the online lottery. He said that as a teenager, he used to try to duplicate Jackson’s dance moves, but now regrets never seeing him perform live.
“We are here to pay respects to a consummate entertainer,” Joo said with a somber tone. “He was the ultimate visionary.”
Kimura Joo added, “A part of our childhood has died.”
The police presence was considerable as the city anticipated huge crowds and the streets around Staples remained closed for most of the day.
Paul Inaba, a LAPD officer in internal affairs, said that all officers were called for duty to manage the event.
“It’s been very quiet, very peaceful,” Inaba, a Sansei, said. “I grew up listening to him so I don’t mind being here, it’s pretty historic.”
Jackson’s global reach was evidenced by the many fans who made the trek to Los Angeles–and wore the scars of their mourning on their faces.
“I am part of his family, I really am,” said Akiko Senoo from Kanagawa, Japan. Dressed in a checkered maid’s dress and clutching an armload of photos and other Jackson memorabilia, she was snapping cell phone pictures as her mascara-smeared face evidenced her anguish.
Upon hearing last Thursday’s announcement of the lottery arrangement for distributing the tickets for the memorial, Senoo submitted her entry, immediately booked a ticket to L.A. and was in the air on July 4–a day before the winners had been selected. “I couldn’t believe he died at first, but later, I knew I had to be here,” she said.
The 25-year-old office worker told her employer that “some emergency had come up,” and that she would return to work as soon as she could. “It’s possible that I might be fired when I get back. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’ll think about that after I get home,” she explained.
Senoo narrowly avoided a small tragedy; while scrambling to take photos, she unwittingly dropped her precious admission ticket and began to walk away. After another attendee picked it up and handed it to her, she thanked him profusely–and began to cry.
Mizue Ohira, who works as an illustrator in Culver City, said it took a good deal of lobbying to get her ticket from her sister’s boyfriend, who was one of the lucky online entrants.
“I’m the biggest fan and I would have been so disappointed if I had missed this,” the 28-year-old said. “I begged so hard and he finally gave us the tickets.”
Meanwhile, the atmosphere in nearby Little Tokyo was relatively calm. Aside from the sale of Jackson T-shirts at Shinoyodo Hollywood, a store in the Japanese Village Plaza, there was no sign that the pop star had died, much less that his memorial service was held only a short distance away.
However, for some out-of-state visitors, this detail was not far from mind.
“The fact that the memorial is here is cool,” said Garrett Toyofuku, a tourist from Houston, Texas. “I watched (the service) at my grandpa’s house and I liked that people came from around the world and country.”
Other visitors chose to reflect on his life, rather than his death.
“Michael Jackson was an American hero,” said Toy Yamaguchi, a visitor from Tokyo. “He made lots of money, a lot of nice music, and he made a lot of people happy.”
Yamaguchi added that she wondered why President Obama did not have a national funeral for Jackson, stating that the pop star’s presumed connection to drugs or the mysterious cause of his death might have been factors in the decision.
The air of normalcy was apparent even on the freeways this morning. In spite of the anticipated chaos on the roads, traffic flowed consistently and only a few freeways, like the 10 North were backed up.
“The police did a wonderful job of controlling traffic and the masses that were there,” said Jacqueline Kittaka of West Los Angeles.
In anticipation of the heavy traffic associated with the memorial service, Kittaka left her home two hours early via an alternate route to take her son to an interview at the City Personnel Office this morning. Much to her surprise, she arrived early and had to time to peruse the shops in the Japanese Village Plaza while waiting for her son.
Likewise, Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-do, also took precautions when driving this morning.
Instead of taking his son Korey to his usual summer program field trip, Kito decided to stay home to avoid traffic.
“I anticipated that (traffic) would be bad, but it wasn’t,” he said.
While at home, Kito watched the televised memorial service for Jackson, saying that it was “kind of a historical moment.”
“When I saw the memorial, it really started hitting me,” he said. “How could we lose someone like this at such a young age?”
—Additional reporting by
and Gwen Muranaka