Michael Jackson's daughter takes center stage

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a memorial to Michael Jackson on Tuesday that featured superstars Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder, the moment that may be best remembered came when his 11-year-old daughter Paris spoke a few heart-wrenching words.

Paris was quietly ushered onstage with her brothers as the nearly two-hour event wound down to the strains of Jackson’s charity single “We Are the World,” then appeared to catch even members of her family off guard by addressing the hushed crowd at Staples Center.

Embraced by her aunt, Janet Jackson, who held back her long brown hair and urged her to “speak up,” Paris stepped to the microphone, tears streaming down her face, as some in the audience were already filtering out of the sports arena.

“I just want to say, ever 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,” Paris said, sobbing as she stood near his gold coffin.

To gasps from the throng of about 18,000 people, she then turned and buried her face in Janet Jackson’s arms and was hugged by other family members.

Coming at the end of a largely scripted tribute to Jackson that included such fiery orators as civil rights activist Al Sharpton, observers quickly predicted that Paris’ simple, impromptu eulogy to her father would be long remembered.

“Nobody was prepared for that. That will be one of the iconic moments from today’s service,” said media historian Ron Simon, who compared it to the salute to slain President John F. Kennedy by his son John during his 1963 funeral.

Paris and her brothers, Prince Michael Jr. and Prince Michael II, have rarely been seen in public, their faces typically shielded from photographers by masks or veils when they accompanied their famous father. Jackson, who felt hounded by paparazzi, closely guarded his children’s privacy.

“This kid in an odd sort of way has been liberated,” Syracuse University media scholar Robert Thompson said. “Literally, the veil has been dropped from her, and one gets the sense that this liberation will be a good thing. But then she opens her mouth and reminds us that she’s lost her daddy.”

Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, editing by Vicki Allen