Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moonwalking in L.A.

After winning a random drawing for tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial, fans danced and sang on Monday, and some tried to make a buck, while city officials girded for the throngs expected to show up at the Tuesday event, invited or not.

As organizers distributed free pairs of tickets on Monday to 8,750 of the more 1.6 million people who had applied online for them, offers of tickets priced from a few hundred to several thousand dollars appeared on Web sites like eBay and Craigslist. Site administrators rushed to remove the postings, saying such sales were not authorized by the Staples Center, the downtown arena that will host the event. Organizers of the memorial said they were confident security measures would limit illegitimate ticket holders.

But the efforts at selling tickets, as well as signs of downtown hotels filling and the police preparing for thousands of people, if not more, by ringing a security perimeter around the event, added to a sense that the memorial was taking on shades of spectacle.

Late Monday night, local television broadcast live images of Jackson family members and others arriving and departing from Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, a San Fernando Valley cemetery studded with celebrity graves where Mr. Jackson's private service is expected Tuesday morning. A hearse was seen driving from one building to another, backing nearly into it through a large entrance way where men then removed a coffin covered by a dark cloth.

The official list of participants in the service for Mr. Jackson, who died suddenly on June 25 at 50 of undetermined causes, included some of the biggest names in music, past and present, including Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson and Usher. More than a dozen television channels, including the big broadcast networks, planned live coverage of the memorial, which is set for 10 a.m. California time on Tuesday.

Elizabeth Taylor, one of Mr. Jackson’s closest friends, sent word through her Twitter feed that she had turned down an offer to speak to avoid what she called “the public whoopla.”

Debbie Rowe, a former wife of Mr. Jackson and the mother of two of his three children, changed her mind about attending, saying through a spokeswoman that “the onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction.” Ms. Rowe, who was shown on local television Monday screaming and cursing at photographers trailing her near her home, has not announced whether she will seek custody of the children, whom Mr. Jackson had wanted raised by his mother, or failing that, Diana Ross.

Mr. Jackson’s body will not be at the memorial. There were reports that he would be buried Tuesday before the memorial at a cemetery in the San Fernando Valley. A large squad of police and security officers was at the cemetery, but officials declined to comment.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is the city’s acting mayor while Antonio R. Villaraigosa is on vacation this week, said she had not received any responses to her pleas for private donors to offset the city’s costs, including overtime for the police, transportation and sanitation departments.

First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell said a “substantial” number of police officers would be deployed to control a crowd he said could include least 100,000 people. “Some people are coming in from around the world to be part of it,” Chief McDonnell said. “They just want to be close to it.”

In the Staples Center, which holds nearly 20,000 people for sporting events, 11,000 seats were reserved for fans, along with 6,500 at an adjacent theater, where the event will be shown on large video screens.

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