Final farewell to King of Pop

Michael Jackson took centre stage for the final time today at a funeral service at which friends and family were given the opportunity to grieve in private.

The ceremony began more than an hour late as guests including 77-year-old Elizabeth Taylor waited in temperatures of 32C for the Jackson family to arrive at the Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles.

Speakers at the event – which was closed to public and TV cameras – included civil rights leader the Rev Al Sharpton, while soul singer Gladys Knight sang at the service.

Jackson died at his rented LA property on June 25 aged 50.

In contrast to the star-studded public memorial event stages at LA’s Staples Centre, his funeral was a private affair.

The Jackson family did allow a live video feed of guests arriving, but it was cut abruptly as a hearse carrying Jackson’s body arrived.

An airborne camera provided by LA broadcaster KTLA, however, continued to run. It showed a coffin covered in white flowers taken to the front of the congregation.

Around 200 guests were thought to have been invited to the event, with fans and media kept away by a heavy security presence.

Among those in attendance were former child actor Macaulay Culkin and his girlfriend, actress Mila Kunis.

Other guests who were due to attend, but were not picked up on camera arriving, included Motown giant Stevie Wonder and music producer Quincy Jones.

Jackson’s former wife Lisa Marie Presley turned up to pay her respects. As the casket made its way to the front of the congregation, she was said to be visibly distressed.

It has also been reported that Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s second wife and the mother of two of his three children, also received an invitation.

The ceremony was due to have commenced at 7pm local time (3am Irish time) but was delayed by the late arrival of the bulk of the Jackson family.

Jackson’s mother Katherine and the singer’s siblings, including sister Janet, and his three children – Prince Michael, 12, Paris Michael Katherine, 11, and seven-year-old Prince Michael II – arrived shortly after 8pm local time (4am Irish time).

They met Joe Jackson, Michael’s father, at the site.

Some family members wore a sequinned glove in memory of the late pop star.

They sat in the front rows as the service got under way.

Despite concerns that the high-profile burial would cause a headache for police trying to contain both media and fans, the ceremony appears to have taken place without incident.

Speaking shortly before the ceremony was due to begin, Sgt Tom Lorenz of the Glendale Police Department said the security operation had “worked well so far”, adding that no uninvited guests had tried to enter the grounds.

Forest Lawn’s Glendale site is one of LA’s favoured burial sites for the rich and famous.

The mausoleum in which Jackson will be laid to rest boasts replicas of the work of Renaissance greats, including Michelangelo’s David and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper recreated in stained glass.

Other stars buried at Glendale, which opened in 1906, include Hollywood actors Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable.

The funeral is being paid for by the Jackson estate.

Earlier this week, Jeryll Cohen, a lawyer for the administrators of the estate, said: “The expenses are extraordinary. However, Michael Jackson was extraordinary.”

The King of Pop’s funeral takes place more than two months after he died.

Last week, the LA County Coroner announced that the death had been ruled as homicide caused by acute propofol intoxication.

It heightens the prospect of criminal charges being made against Jackson’s personal physician Dr Conrad Murray, who is known to have administered the powerful sedative shortly before the singer collapsed.

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