The curtain is slowly rising on Michael Jackson's last show.
As in Jackson's life, Tuesday's public memorial at the downtown Staples Center includes the spectacle surrounding the show — legal drama, screaming fans, star power, live worldwide broadcast, unsavory accusations, even a parade of elephants — all adding up to what could be the biggest celebrity send-off of all time.
On the eve of the memorial, activity was spotted late Monday at the Forest Lawn Cemetery involving the Jackson family. The cemetery is the location where relatives were expected to hold a private funeral.
La Toya Jackson, wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, was seen being driven away from the cemetery. KCAL-TV showed helicopter footage of a hearse backing up to the Hall of Liberty — a circular building at the cemetery that contains a 1,200 seat auditorium — to deliver a casket.
A few hours later, the casket was reloaded into the hearse and delivered to another nearby building, this time covered in a blue cloth.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to Jackson's downtown memorial. A total of 8,750 people were chosen to receive two tickets each.
"I got the golden ticket!" one fan screamed out of his car window in a Willy Wonka moment as he drove out of the parking lot.
The family announced that participants will include Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer and Martin Luther King III.
The legal maneuvering that marked Jackson's extraordinary and troubled life also continued Monday, with his mother losing a bid to control his enormous but tangled estate. And in one of the few reminders of Jackson's darkest hours, a New York congressman branded Jackson a "pervert" undeserving of so much attention.
British Airways reported a surge of bookings as soon as the memorial arrangements were announced. Virgin's trans-Atlantic flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles were all packed with fans and VIPs, spokesman Paul Charles said.
About 50 theaters across the country, from Los Angeles to Topeka, Kan., to Washington, D.C., were planning to broadcast the memorial live, for free.
In Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge appointed Jackson's longtime attorney and a family friend as administrators of his estate over the objections of his mother, Katherine. Attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain had been designated in Jackson's 2002 will as the people he wanted to oversee his empire.
Katherine Jackson's attorneys expressed concerns about McClain and Branca's financial leadership. "Frankly, Mrs. Jackson has concerns about handing over the keys to the kingdom," said one of her attorneys, John E. Schreiber.
Branca and McClain will have to post a $1 million bond on the estate, and their authority will expire Aug. 3, when another hearing will be held.
"Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain for the next month are at the helm of the ship," the judge said.
Jackson died at age 50 with hundreds of millions in debts. But a court filing estimates his estate is worth more than $500 million. His assets are destined for a trust, with his three children, his mother and charities as beneficiaries.
Debbie Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife and the mother of Jackson's two oldest children, had planned to attend the memorial but backed out Monday. "The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction," her attorney Marta Almli said in a statement.
In New York, Republican Rep. Peter King released a YouTube video calling Jackson, who was acquitted of child molestation charges, a "pervert" and a "low-life."
But the memories of Jackson's problems were far from the minds of fans preparing to say goodbye.
"It's the passing of a great soul," said Matt Tyson, 31, of Ojai, Calif. "He brought people together, helped express something that's in us all."
Downtown hotels were quickly filling. Police, trying to avoid a mob scene, warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get close to the Staples Center.
All those involved say the heart of Los Angeles will become a circus. In one way, that characterization will be literal.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey starts a run at Staples Center on Wednesday, a booking long planned in advance. In the pre-dawn hours before Jackson's memorial, the elephants will walk from the train station to the arena.
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