Not since Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 has an event come close to rivaling the sense of shared grief and fascination that gripped the world on Tuesday when the “Celebration of the Life of Michael Jackson” was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
But where Diana had been royalty—and was accorded a state funeral in all but name—Jackson’s status as an entertainer provided a much trickier challenge for those charged with setting the tone of his final goodbye. The question became: Exactly how much of a party were they throwing?
There were performances by stellar names, including Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder, and yet organizers needed to prevent the 17,500-strong crowd from degenerating into a concert atmosphere. Certainly Corey Feldman, wearing that familiar military jacket, glasses and fedora, looked more like a Hollywood Blvd Michael Jackson impersonator than a mourner at his funeral.
And I did cringe at the hubris of the gospel choir’s lyrics as Jackson’s golden casket approached the stage: “Hallelujah, hallelujah, we’re going to see the king.” Those words, written to mean Jesus, seemed pretty clearly at that moment to be referring to the fallen King of Pop.
But by in large, it seems the Jackson family and their friends pulled off the almost impossible task of getting it right.
Paris Jackson, with her brief, stumbling declaration of love for her father, did more to humanize her family in that moment than years of PR put out by its various, often conflicting factions.
Like Princess Diana, Jackson’s presence in the world will live on for decades after his death. Also like Diana, there is as much for detractors to say about his life as his most ardent fans. But for this week, I think we can be content to say that Michael Jackson flawlessly pulled off his final appearance.
Pictured: Paris Jackson, Prince Michael Jackson I, and Prince Michael Jackson II at the memorial service yesterday at Staples Center
by Ben Widdicombe
He is charming, funny, and dishy and we have him- once a week on the ideeli blog, Ben Widdicombe. Widdicombe covers celebrity culture and fashion for media as diverse as the New York Times and Star magazine. He is a weekly guest on both the Fox Network and CNN’s Headline News, and has appeared as a regular on VH1, Extra, and E!. After immigrating to New York from Australia in 1998, he co-wrote the cult Chic Happens fashion gossip column for Hintmag.com and created the Gatecrasher gossip franchise for the New York Daily News. Currently, he is the Celebrity and Society editor for AOL’s fashion web site StyleList.com.