Thousands of Michael Jackson fans gave the late pop star a raucous yet respectful send-off during six hours of public memorial services celebrating his life and music at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
Some 600 fans crowded into the Apollo Theater for each of the services that began shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday. The last crowd of fans were in high spirits despite standing in line for hours in the rain.
Apollo historian Billy Mitchell welcomed them by asking, “Who are we here for, family?” The response was a deafening roar: “Michael!”
At the final tribute service, Mitchell told fans: “I don’t think we’re ever going to get Michael Jackson out of our system. And we shouldn’t.”
The crowd of fans waved white flags with Jackson’s image printed on them, held up photographs of the star at different stages of his career and cheered and danced to his many hits, including “Thriller,” and “Billie Jean.”
A video tribute resembled home movies, starting with Jackson’s cherubic childhood pictures and morphing into clips from his videos.
Reflections of disco light patterns swirled over the crystal chandelieranchored in the center of the landmark theater‘s plaster ceiling.
A black fedora with a white glove draped across its brim sat on a lone stool on the theater’s stage, flanked by arrangements of white lilies.
At one of the services, the Rev. Al Sharpton told fans: “Michael made young men and women all over the world imitate us.”
Sharpton led the crowd in a moment of silence at 5:26 p.m., the time East Coast fans learned of Jackson’s death.
Film director Spike Lee joined Sharpton on stage and urged the crowd to remember Jackson’s accomplishments and not what he characterized as past negative news coverage.
“Let’s not wallow in the negativity that they’re trying to drag us down into. We’re not having it,” Lee said. “It’s all about the love.”
“He knew he was loved, but he didn’t know he was this loved,” said Rosiland Sargent, 59, of West Orange, N.J.
At the end of each tribute, fans placed their gifts on the stage. They included small stuffed teddy bears, balloons, homemade posters, a hand-knitted baby blanket and letters, including one addressed to “The Man who moved like no other.”
Fans began assembling at the Apollo soon after Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles. His ties to the theater go back to 1967, when The Jackson 5 won the Apollo’s Amateur Night contest.
Jackson last appeared at the Apollo in 2002, invited by former President Bill Clinton for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.