LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder and Usher sang emotional farewells Tuesday to Michael Jackson, who was hailed as “the greatest entertainer that ever lived” and described by his tearful 11-year-old daughter Paris as “the best father you could ever imagine.”
Some 18,000 fans, family members and friends took part in a public memorial for Jackson in the Los Angeles sports arena where the singer had rehearsed the day before his death for a highly anticipated series of comeback concerts.
Jackson’s brothers, each wearing a single sequined glove in homage to his signature look, carried the singer’s golden casket into the downtown Staples Center.
Carey performed Jackson’s 1970 ballad “I’ll Be There,” Usher’s voice cracked as he sang “Gone Too Soon” and the King of Pop’s three children made a rare public appearance without veils used for years by Jackson to shield them from the media.
But it was Jackson himself who loomed larger than life, shown in old concert footage, music videos and news clips, singing, dancing his moonwalk and surrounded by adoring crowds.
“The more I think about Michael, and talk about Michael, the more I think that ‘King of Pop’ is not good enough,” said Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, who signed The Jackson 5 to a recording contract in 1968. “I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”
The two-hour memorial focused on Jackson’s musical achievements, overshadowed in the last 10 years by the darker side of the singer’s life, including his humiliating 2005 trial and acquittal on charges of child sex abuse.
Jackson’s sudden death from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles on June 25 at the age of 50 stunned fans across the world and sent sales of his biggest hits from albums such as “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” back to the top of music charts.
President Barack Obama, on a visit to Russia, said he was “one of the greatest entertainers of our generation, perhaps any generation,” and added: “I think like Elvis, like Sinatra, like The Beatles, he became a core part of our culture.
The memorial focused on Jackson’s 45-year musical career in which he was awarded 13 Grammys, his charity work for childrens’ groups and his role in opening the mainstream pop and celebrity world to African-Americans.
It was broadcast live on U.S. national TV networks and Internet company Akamai, which handles 20 percent of the world’s Web traffic, said it was the most widely viewed event on the Web since the inauguration of Obama in January.
Gordy was among the few who referred obliquely to Jackson’s recent troubles. “Sure there was some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of,” said Gordy.
Jackson was on the eve of a comeback after his career collapsed in the 1990s. The exact cause of his death is still awaiting toxicology results amid reports of abuse of prescription drugs, including the powerful narcotic Diprivan.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who has lashed out at media coverage of the bizarre aspects of Jackson’s life, had a message for the singer’s three children.
“Wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with,” he said.
The children, Prince Michael, 12, Paris and Prince Michael, 7, joined the family on stage for a mass chorus of Jackson’s inspirational hits “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.”
Paris, in tears, took the microphone to say: “Ever since I was born my daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine and I just wanted to say I love him, so much.”
Jackson’s family and close friends held a brief private ceremony earlier Tuesday at a Los Angeles cemetery before the memorial and were reported afterwards to have gathered at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
But the destination of the singer’s body remained unknown with speculation that he could yet be laid to rest at his beloved ranch, Neverland, in central California.
Police had estimated more than 250,000 people would gather at the arena but the orderly crowds were much smaller than expected.
Police, security, escorts and sanitation for the memorial are expected to cost cash-strapped Los Angeles city council nearly $4 million and the city council Tuesday launched a website asking for fans to make donations toward the costs.
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant, Alex Dobuzinskis and Jim Finkle; Editing by Mary Milliken and David Storey