As befitting the King of Pop, Michael Jackson may forever be part of Hollywood’s starriest constellation…eventually.
Led by a police escort, the Jackson family arrived at Forest Lawn Memorial Park at approximately 8:15 a.m. for an hour-long service, while nearly a dozen helicopters hovered overheard, and hundreds of press and fans gathered outside the gates.
But the morning ceremony did not include a burial. Instead, after the private funeral inside the cemetery’s Hall of Liberty ended shortly after 9 a.m., Jackson’s coffin was loaded into a hearse to be transported 11 miles away to Los Angeles’ Staples Center for the public memorial.
A motorcade of more than 30 vehicles – including Rolls Royce limousines, black Escalades and two small shuttle buses, and escorted by 12 CHP motorcycle units – left the family compound in nearby Encino shortly after 7 a.m. The trip across L.A.’s San Fernando Valley – in the teeth of rush hour – took about an hour.
Dozens of curious onlookers gathered on a grassy area adjacent to the cemetery to watch the spectacle unfold.
It is not yet known whether his body will be interred at Forest Lawn. Officials say there is no immediate plan for a motorcade back to the grounds following the memorial.
The heavy police presence at Forest Lawn began last night, as the Jacksons gathered for a viewing – an event Jackson matriarch Katherine hoped would “focus the family” before today’s events, according to an insider.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling. An estimated billion people are going to watch this across the world,” Jackson family spokesman Ken Sunshine said this morning. “I don’t think there’s ever been a world entertainer like Michael Jackson…it’s unparalleled.”
Meanwhile, with the logistical costs of Jackson’s funeral expected to approach $4 million, the cash-strapped City of Los Angeles is now soliciting tax-deductible donations to help cover the tab.
“Donations are being accepted to help defray the costs of providing public safety, traffic control and related costs associated with the Michael Jackson Memorial at the Staples Center. Please submit your donations by check payable to: ‘City of Los Angeles,'” read the city’s Web site.
If Jackson’s body is ultimately interred in the picturesque cemetery nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it will be near the graves of his idols Sammy Davis Jr and Fred Astaire.
Already a necessary stop on any star tour, Forest Lawn is also the final resting place of Bette Davis, Gene Autry, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow and, more recently, Ed McMahon and David Carradine, whose death preceded Jackson’s by a matter of days.