Festive crowds honor Jackson outside memorial

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Authorities told them to stay home, but about a thousand Michael Jackson fans still jammed street corners outside his public memorial at the Staples Center on Tuesday.

Watched by a phalanx of police officers, who had been bracing for upwards of 250,000 people, fans paid their respects to the King of Pop by singing his songs, keeping watch for his funeral convoy and cheering on costumed impersonators.

Then there were the vendors, who hawked everything from T-shirts to wall clocks with Jackson’s image. A woman from New York sold animation cells from a 1970s Jackson family cartoon.

Jackson fan Angela Mendita, 47, said she thought the party-like atmosphere was a good way to honor him.

“When you’re dead you’re gone, there’s no coming back. So we want to send him off in the best way we can,” said Mendita, who was accompanied by two teenage daughters.

In the days before the memorial, officials worried about crowd control, and urged those who failed to win the 17,500 free tickets for the star-studded event to watch it on television.

Many ventured from afar for their distant glimpse of the proceedings. Sitting on a curb a couple blocks from the Staples Center, sisters Eri and Maiko Miyake said they had flown in from Tokyo. They wore surgical masks, partly as a tribute to their idol’s eccentric fashion choice.


Audrey Williamson, 26, traveled from Oakland, California. Wearing a Jackson T-shirt and a button, Williamson said she thought about buying a ticket for $100 from a scalper, but doubted that it was legitimate.

“I’ve grown up with Michael Jackson’s music,” she said. “I listened to a lot of his songs, it’s helped me in hard times and he’s part of my youth.”

Joining the fans were a few activists. One crowd favorite was a woman wearing only a Jackson-style sequin glove and a two-piece bikini with a lettuce print, and she used the attention to tell everyone to become vegetarians.

A few fans touted their personal connection to Jackson.

But Tony Munoz, 71, had an edge on the competition, because he carried a big picture of himself standing with Jackson in 1985, when he said the pop star stopped by his costume studio seeking a disguise for the public.

Munoz said that before going downtown, he put a sign on his studio that read “Gone to Michael Jackson memorial.”

After the memorial ended, as thousands of ticket holders filed out of the event, those who could not get in peppered them with questions about what they saw.

Attendee Jonathan Lauren, 40, who works as a nurse, compared Jackson’s unexpected death of cardiac arrest at age 50 to other historic occasions.

“It was one of those unforgettable moments, like (former President) Reagan gets shot, the space shuttle blows up, it was one of those moments you never forget about,” he said.

Editing by Dean Goodman