The most famous man to ever reside in Santa Barbara County was remembered by millions of people all over the world on Tuesday, as friends, family, and fans of pop star Michael Jackson gathered at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for the most star-studded and musically powerful memorial service in recent memory. Among many others, the event featured performances by Mariah Carey, John Mayer, and Jermaine Jackson and eulogies from singer Smokey Robinson, basketball star Magic Johnson, actress Brooke Shields, and Jackson’s own 11-year-old daughter Paris, who said while holding back tears, “Daddy has been the best father you can imagine.” The two-hour service proved a fitting tribute for the widely proclaimed King of Pop, whose rose-covered casket sat at the foot of the stage in front of his parents, siblings, and three children.
In Santa Barbara, more than 500 hundred people congregated inside the Arlington Theater to watch a live feed of the memorial, and dozens more lingered outside the gates of Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, where some suspected the official memorial would be held until the Staples Center event was announced late last week. In both Santa Barbara County locations fans could be seen crying, clapping, and singing along to the tributes, much as they were in simulcasts across the globe, from London, where Jackson was slated to start a new tour this fall, to Gary, Indiana, where he grew up. The service put a temporary cap on nearly two weeks of speculation over the fate of both Jackson’s body and Neverland, although it still remains unclear what the future holds for the sprawling ranch property.
Although the Staples Center event proved relatively flawless, there was a technical glitch for those watching in the Santa Barbara area, as the memorial service was interrupted early on by three emergency broadcast tests that occurred on all channels throughout the Santa Barbara area. In the Arlington, the three tests resulted in numerous catcalls and loud dismay, and many scrambled to see how the problem could be remedied. It was a case of very bad timing, said Cox Cable’s David Edelman, who explained, “This signal comes to us at random times as a test for the emergency alert system. One of our headend technicians took it upon himself to turn it off.” The screeching alerts twice blocked out the eulogy by Motown founder Berry Gordy, who thought of Jackson as a son and called him “simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived” and also tainted the start of Stevie Wonder’s performance of “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.”
After the finale of “We Are the World” and “Heal the World,” the crowd at the Arlington slowly trickled out, proving a wide mix of Santa Barbarans – white, black, Asian, and Latino, old and young, well-dressed and dressed-down. “Seeing younger kids, younger than even me, brought to tears is incredible,” said Ryan Sy, 21, of Santa Barbara, after watching the memorial in the Arlington. “It just shows how big an impact Michael Jackson has had in the music industry and on the world in general.” Sy also enjoyed the younger artists who performed, explaining that they “will carry on his legacy.”
Kasey Madigan brought her teenage son Jake to the service, hoping that it could be something he told his children about. “I wanted to honor his memory, and to watch it with others,” said Madigan, who remembered buying the Thriller cassette tape with $5 she found on the ground. But Madigan said she was “torn” about her opinion of the service. “Part of me thinks that it was too much. It felt like a circus,” she said, noting that the real Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus was slated to take over the Staples Center on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Jake, who admitted a squeamishness regarding funerals in general, was not impressed at all, asking, “Isn’t it supposed to be a private matter?”
It was quite a spectacle and, as such, many came out just to watch, perhaps with nothing better to do on a Tuesday morning. That includes an older woman with a British accent, who didn’t want to be named, but said that she enjoyed the service. “I thought it was very moving,” said the elderly Santa Barbara resident, who walked with a cane.
Sporadically throughout the service, shots would stream in from outside the Neverland Ranch, where a large screen had been erected so that fans there could watch in the midday heat. The property was the subject of much international attention and wild speculation last week, and through the weekend, fans from as far as Texas and British Columbia came to visit the ranch on Figueroa Mountain Road just north of Los Olivos while media from as far as Japan, Mexico, and the Ukraine jockeyed for the best shots. Meanwhile, the County of Santa Barbara prepared in multiple emergency meetings for the possibility that the memorial service would take place there. County authorities also had to scramble when another celebration, sponsored by destination management company Releve Unlimited and planned for the Chamberlin Ranch adjacent to Neverland, popped up out of nowhere on July 1. By July 2, that event, which had not sought proper permitting, was canceled by the organizers.
As for whether Neverland will become the next Graceland – a possibility that’s already scaring Santa Ynez Valley residents who appreciate their area’s rural charm – no one is talking. The ranch is currently owned by both the Jackson estate and Santa Ynez Valley rancher Tom Barrack, and Barrack’s spokesman Owen Blicksilver explained, “It’s premature to discuss the future of the property.” As to whether the county has been contacted for any permits to make Neverland a public attraction, county spokesperson William Boyer said, “We have no official information in that regard.”
Of course, the fans would surely welcome such a Michael Jackson mecca. Back outside the Arlington on Tuesday, one such fan from Santa Barbara named Marisa Tovar was dressed all in black with not-so-subtle MJ touches, from the pinstriped fedora down to the checkerboard loafers. After saying that she was surprised by Jackson’s death but satisfied with the service, Tovar echoed a common theme from the memorial, explaining, “Like they said, he’s gonna be around forever through his music.”