Originally published on Jul. 2, 2009.
Neither a torrential down-pour nor dark of night hampered the massive turnout and outpouring of emotion Tuesday by thousands of fans jamming 125th Street, with long lines waiting to get into the tribute to Michael Jackson at the Apollo Theater.
Only when the Rev. Al Sharpton called for a moment of silence at 5:26 p.m.–the Eastern Standard Time of Jackson’s death last Thursday at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles–was the bedlam interrupted inside the Apollo.
Meanwhile, a throng of people filled the sidewalks around the theater, braving a heavy rain and hundreds of enterprising vendors with Jackson merchandise of every description, much as they had done months ago with President Obama’s victory.
In fact, Rev. Sharpton told the audience it was Jackson’s barrier-breaking career that set the stage for Obama’s ascendancy. “He isn’t Jacko, as some have called him in their attempts to denigrate him,” Sharpton began. “We are here to salute a legacy, to praise an icon. He’s ours and we don’t care what other people say.
Without him there would no Oprah, no Tiger, no Obama.” When filmmaker Spike Lee was summoned to the podium, he agreed with Sharpton about Jackson’s importance and the need to accentuate the positive. “Let’s not wallow in negativity…he’s ours.”
So vast was the turnout for the tribute that people were allowed into the theater in shifts. With plans to continue until 9 p.m., it would take a team of emcees, including the indomitable Billy Mitchell, and DJs to keep the videos and records spinning with “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and a sundry of other Jackson hits.
Sharpton commanded his listeners to spread the word about Jackson, and not rely on the mainstream media and others “to tell our stories and to talk about Michael’s legacy. He wasn’t a freak, he was an innovator…he was our extraordinary entertainer and we love him with extraordinary love.”
That love for Jackson is universal, and there is no better testament to his power and influence as an artist and entertainer than the millions around the globe who were as shocked by his sudden death as they were awed by his incomparable talent. Jackson, 50, died Thursday afternoon at the UCLA Medical Center, where he was taken after suffering cardiac arrest at a nearby residence.
At the moment, the family has called for a second autopsy and it may take several weeks before there is a complete toxicology report and cause of his death. Dr. Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson and attempted to revive him with artificial respiration, is under investigation, though the coroner and medical examiner have apparently ruled out foul play. Critical to all of this is the extent of Jackson’s reported use of prescription drugs and whether he was given an injection of Demerol an hour before he succumbed.
Then there’s the matter of his debts and what will happen to his three children. Earlier this week, a judge appointed Jackson’s mother, Katherine, as the temporary guardian of the children. But the complexities of these issues are only exceeded by Jackson’s remarkable career, his inestimable creative genius and the puzzling paradoxes.
Perhaps the best way to summarize his often-troubled life is by just looking at the numbers, though they alone provide but a glimpse of his towering fame. In a 40-year career that began when he was 11, Jackson amassed an astonishing 13 No.-1 singles, won 13 Grammys, sold an estimated 750 million records worldwide and accounted for more than $4 billion in sales.
Moreover, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Jackson was the most successful entertainer of all time…
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