Michael Jackson’s body is expected to go on show to his fans and a worldwide TV audience at today’s memorial service in Los Angeles.
His gold-plated £18,000 coffin is set to be put on display open-topped at the Staples Centre sports and entertainment arena.
His body will ‘lie in state’ after being driven from the Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills where the Jackson family attended a service last night.
Among those present were the singer’s two older children Prince Michael, 12, and Paris, 11. His sisters Janet and La Toya Jackson, together with their parents Joe and Katherine and Jacko’s five brothers, were also there.
The procession to the Staples Centre is being described as America’s “Princess Diana moment”. The Jackson brothers were said be keen on the body being driven in an open coffin so that mourners could throw flowers.
A team of circus elephants and tigers were being lined up for a show at the Staples Centre.
The funeral arrangements were being reported in the LA Times and on the TMZ website, which first revealed the 50-year-old singer’s death 12 days ago.
Even for Jackson, whose life was littered with bizarre episodes, the memorial plan was seen by some as ghoulish and the family was said to be divided over whether to make the ceremony more discreet.
The Jacksons’ deeply religious mother, Katherine, was reported to be anxious for a more low-key affair.
The California Highway Patrol was preparing to provide an escort for the family motorcade to travel the 11 miles between the cemetery and the Staples Centre. A cordon has already been thrown around the area to keep at a distance the thousands of fans without tickets who are expected to turn up.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to the memorial. A total of 8,750 people received two each.
Dame Elizabeth Taylor, one of Jackson’s closest friends, said she was snubbing the “public hoopla’” of the event. The veteran film star, 77, was asked to speak at the memorial, but turned the organisers down.
In a statement on Twitter, she wrote: “I just don’t believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others.’’
Jackson’s brother, Jermaine, was being tipped to headline a show at the Staples Centre which was scheduled to begin at 6pm British time. He was due to be joined on stage by guests including Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Usher and Brooke Shields.
“Everything about the memorial has to do with accommodating as many fans as possible,” said Ken Sunshine, the Jackson family spokesman.
British Airways reported a surge of bookings as soon as the memorial arrangements were announced. Virgin’s flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were packed. Paul Charles, a BA spokesman said: “This is America’s version of Princess Diana. People want to be in the vicinity.”
Britain’s Got Talent schoolboy Shaheen Jafargholi has been flown to Los Angeles to pay tribute to his hero Michael Jackson at his memorial service.
Shaheen, 12, who performed Jackson’s Who’s Lovin You on BGT in May, secretly flew out to LA with his mother last night and said: ‘Michael was a huge inspiration to me.
‘I am honoured and privileged to have been invited to perform here.’
He will join a galaxy of stars poised to appear at the event, including Mariah Carey, Usher and Dreamgirls movie star Jennifer Hudson.
The Swansea schoolboy was invited to sing by the Jackson family, who told him the King of Pop was a huge fan of his tribute act.
A source at the memorial service said: ‘Michael saw a clip from Britain’s Got Talent on YouTube.
‘He thought it was fantastic and even considered getting him on stage to perform with him at some of his 02 shows later this year.’
A host of stars will gather for a memorial service to remember Michael Jackson which has seen tickets for the event being offered by touts on eBay for as much as $100,000.
Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Liza Minnelli are among the guests expected to attend the ceremony, which is being held at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin and Lionel Richie are also thought to have received invitations, although Obama began a two-day visit to Moscow yesterday and will not be able to attend.
Details of the service have been kept under wraps, but guests will mourn the singer with a programme called ‘A Celebration of Life’, and one of the highlights is rumoured to be a performance of Jackson 5 hit I’ll Be There by Mariah Carey.
One person who won’t be at the memorial is Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of his two oldest children.
She had planned to attend, but backed out today.
Her lawyer Marta Almli said: ‘The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy.
‘Debbie will continue to celebrate Michael’s memory privately.’
Family and close friends of the late Michael Jackson gathered last night for a private viewing at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Those in attendance included Michael’s children Prince Michael and Paris, and sister Janet who travelled together in one car.
LaToya arrived separately in a chauffeured green Bentley. Brother Randy Jackson attended as well, with Jackson’s make-up artist Karen Faye.
Police have advised people without tickets to stay away and watch the event on television, fearing traffic chaos by the Staples Centre.
And they will impose a two-block exclusion zone around the stadium to prevent those without tickets from trying to attend.
Dozens of police officers and a fire engine were parked outside Dodger Stadium today, where ticket winners could start picking up their coveted passes to the Staples Centre ceremony.
More than 1.6 million people registered to win the coveted free tickets, and only 8,750 names were chosen. Tickets are now being touted, with some being offered for as much as $100,000 on auction site eBay.
But a spokesperson from the auction website warned in a statement: ‘eBay will not allow the sale of tickets to the Michael Jackson Memorial Service being held on Tues 7 July. All such listings currently on any of our sites are being removed.’
Lucky fans celebrated when they got an e-mail saying they had scored the hottest ticket in town.
A judge ruled yesterday that Jackson’s lawyer and a friend should take over the pop singer’s estate for now, rejecting a request from the singer’s mother to be put in charge or share control.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff backed lawyer John Branca and music executive John McClain, who had been designated in Jackson’s 2002 will as the people he wanted to administer his estate.
Lawyer’s for the pop singer’s mother repeatedly objected to their appointment at today’s court hearing.
Weitzman issued a statement later calling the judge’s ruling ‘the correct decision.’
Her lawyer, Burt Levitch, expressed concerns about McClain and Branca’s financial leadership.
Jackson died June 25, deeply in debt. But court papers estimate that his estate will be worth more than $500 million. His assets are destined for a private trust.
Meanwhile, BBC2 is to clear its schedule to screen the Michael Jackson memorial service live, it was announced today.
The channel will devote an hour and a half to the event from 6pm with DJ Trevor Nelson hosting the coverage. It will also be shown on the BBC’s HD channel.
TV channel Five has already devoted a 90-minute slot to the live event.
The BBC’s decision to pull its advertised programmes follows last week’s decision to overhaul BBC1 programmes to allow extended live coverage of Andy Murray’s game against Stanislas Wawrinka.
Nick Vaughan-Barratt , head of BBC Events, said: “Michael Jackson is one of the most influential pop stars of all time and we’re pleased to bring BBC viewers coverage of this important event.
‘The executive producer in LA has described the rehearsals as awesome, powerful and tearful so we’re expecting a moving tribute this evening.’