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Originally published June 26, 2009

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It was the type of homegoing only Harlem could give him.

Hundreds thronged the sidewalk outside the Apollo theater, in a raucous celebration of the musical prodigy that was Michael Jackson.

Hanging above them in the famed theater’s platinum marquee were the surreal words: “In memory of Michael Jackson. A true Apollo legend. 1958-2009”


Fans shocked at the pop king’s sudden passing sought solace in each other. Strangers drew together and for a few hours on 125th street bonded like family members at an overdue reunion.

Check out our gallery of photos from Michael’s memorial service:

Some turned their cars into makeshift DJ booths blasting hits like “Man in the Mirror” and “Billie Jean,” some cried,  some sipped beer, some hawked t-shirts, some burned candles, but most just sang their souls out, and of course rocked the night away.

“I came out here to explode,” said Denine Rodney, 37, a market researcher from Harlem who came to late night fete with her sister. “I came to get my Michael Jackson on!” she said.

One mourner built a makeshift shrine with candles and pictures of the gloved one outside High Rollers Jewelry store. She donned a black felt fedora and moonwalked for anxious TV crews that lined 125th street.

Between moonwalks she sang and fought through fits of tears. For many like her, the loss was personal.

“I was sitting at home hurt, in pain,” said Denine’s sister, Lisa Rodney, 32.  “It threw me for a loop. He’s part of everyone’s childhood,” she said.

For the generation Xers and Yers  who grew up on Jackson’s music his passing drew pause. It was a moment, not unlike what the assassination of President John F. Kennedy might signify to some, or what the date December 7, 1941, might mean for others.

Renny John, 31, an insurance adjuster,  will always remember what he was doing when he heard the news yesterday evening. He was holding his one-year-old son.

Yonel Severe, 40, was in the Bronx when somebody broke the news to him around 6 p.m. yesterday. “Which Michael?” Severe, an artist had asked in disbelief,  “Our Michael?”

Jackson’s stardom reached Severe as a 13-year-old growing up in Haiti in the early 1980s.

He remembers asking his dad to buy him the iconic blood-red jacket the pop king sported in his   “Thriller” music video.

His father’s prompt response to the request was, “I don’t want you to die, it’s too hot,” explaining it wouldn’t be suitable to wear the leather jacket in Haiti’s soaring temperatures.

“Michael describes an era, a generation,” Severe said looking at the exultant crowd that partied under the  vigilant watch of NYPD officers posted along 125th street and a helicopter that circled above.

“If it weren’t for the police, people would be here for days and days,” Severe said, “We lost our best.”

As he surrendered to the music and the jubilation around him he shouted “He’s not dead! He lives in us!”

And in the height of the outpouring that lasted into the wee morning hours on 125th street,  it certainly seemed true.

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TRIBUTE: The Music Of Michael Jackson