As millions across the world watched on TV, more 17,000 of Michael Jackson’s fans, family members, and friends gathered to pay their respects to the King of Pop today during a public memorial service at Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
But one “goodbye” stood out among the rest.
Jackson’s daughter, Paris Katherine, addressed the crowd, calling Jackson “The best father you could ever imagine.”
“I just wanted to say I love him so much,” she cried.
It was a poignant close to the nearly three-hour memorial, which kicked off with a speech by Motown idol Smokey Robinson, who read statements from two of Jackson’s close friends who couldn’t attend the service — Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela.
A moment of silence followed, then Mariah Carey ripped into a heartfelt performance of the Jackson 5 hit “I’ll Be There” with protégé Trey Lorenz.
Queen Latifah read a poem about Jackson that was penned by former poet laureate Maya Angelou. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy (who co-wrote “I’ll Be There”) spoke about Jackson’s gifts as an artist, saying, “When he did his iconic moonwalk, I was shocked, it was magic. Michael Jackson went into orbit and never came down.”
Stevie Wonder performed his 1971 song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” singing, “Michael, why didn’t you stay?” before switching to 1974’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.”
Basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson spoke about Jackson’s influence within the African-American community, and Johnson — who appeared in Jackson’s 1992 video for “Remember the Time” — admitted that the singer “made me a better point guard and a better player as I watched him perform.” He also recounted a hilarious and poignant story about eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with Jackson, which gave a certain humanity to an often untouchable pop star.
Jennifer Hudson performed a powerful rendition of Jackson’s 1991 song “Will You Be There,” and Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at length about Jackson’s legacy.
“When Michael started, it was a different world,” Sharpton said. “But because Michael kept going, because he didn’t accept limitations, because he refused to let people decide his boundaries, he opened up the whole world in the music world. He put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain.”
Brooke Shields (who became friends with Jackson when the two were teenagers), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children, Martin Luther King III and Rev. Bernice King, also delivered speeches.
John Mayer plucked away at his electric guitar on a solo version of Jackson’s “Human Nature,” and Usher broke down in tears during his rendition of the pop star’s hit “Gone Too Soon,” which was originally recorded for AIDS victim Ryan White. Strolling the stage in large sunglasses, Usher then leapt onto the floor of the auditorium, approached Jackson’s casket and broke into tears as Jackson’s family embarced him.
Twelve-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi, a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, wowed the audience with his version of the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You.” Jafargholi was due to perform during Jackson’s 50-date concert run in London, dubbed This Is It, which was originally scheduled to kick off this week.
The memorial service concluded with a performance of “We Are The World,” featuring all previous performers, plus Jackson’s three children — Prince Michael, 12, Paris Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7.