The stage was set for Michael Jackson’s final act today as the world capital of make-believe braced for what could be the biggest, most spectacular celebrity send-off of all time.
Ecstatic fans who won the lottery for seats at the memorial in Los Angeles received the tickets and spangly wristbands that would get them into the 20,000-seat Staples Center.
The Jackson family announced the participants would include Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Martin Luther King III.
Meanwhile the legal manoeuvring that marked Jackson’s extraordinary and troubled life also continued yesterday, with his mother losing a bid to control his enormous, but tangled estate.
And in one of the few reminders of Jackson’s darkest hours, a New York congressman branded the King of Pop a “pervert” undeserving of so much attention.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to the 10am (6pm Irish time) memorial, which will be broadcast live worldwide. A total of 8,750 people were chosen to receive two tickets each.
The lucky ones picked up their passes yesterday at Dodger Stadium amid heavy police presence.
Hotels were quickly filling. Police, trying to avoid a mob scene, warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get close to the Staples Center.
British Airways reported a surge of bookings as soon as the memorial arrangements were announced. Virgin’s trans-Atlantic flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were all packed with fans and VIPs, spokesman Paul Charles said.
About 50 cinemas across the country were planning to broadcast the memorial live, said Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corporation spokeswoman Suzanne Moore. Admission will be free – first-come, first-served.
But Jackson’s friend Elizabeth Taylor will be mourning in private.
“I just don’t believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others,” she said on her Twitter feed. “How I feel is between us. Not a public event.”
In Los Angeles Superior Court a judge appointed Jackson’s long-time lawyer and a family friend as administrators of his estate over the objections of his mother Katherine.
John Branca and music executive John McClain had been designated in Jackson’s 2002 will as the people he wanted to oversee his empire.
Jackson, 50, died on June 25 after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest.
He was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, but a court filing estimates his estate is worth more than $500m (€358m).
His assets are destined for a trust, with his three children, his mother and charities as beneficiaries.
On eBay, bids for memorial tickets were reaching as high as €2,150, and prices on Craigslist were in the thousands, although both sites were removing postings attempting to sell memorial tickets.
Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, had planned to attend the memorial but backed out yesterday.
“The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy,” her lawyer Marta Almli said.
“Debbie will continue to celebrate Michael’s memory privately.”
In New York, Republican Rep Peter King released a YouTube video calling Jackson, who was acquitted of child sex charges, a “pervert” and a “low-life”.
But the memories of Jackson’s problems were far from the minds of fans preparing to say goodbye.
“It’s the passing of a great soul,” said Matt Tyson, 31. “He brought people together, helped express something that’s in us all.”
The family is expected to hold a private funeral at some point at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. No public funeral procession through city streets was scheduled and it was not known whether Jackson’s body would be at the Staples Center memorial.
In a symbolic convergence of events, however, the circus will be there.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey starts a run at Staples Center tomorrow. In the pre-dawn hours before Jackson’s memorial, the elephants will walk from the railway station to the arena.