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Supported by her family, Paris Jackson, centre, speaks during the Michael Jackson public memorial service held at Staples Center on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Handout/2009 Kevin Mazur/MJ Memorial

When Michael Jackson's body arrived in a hand-carved, 14-karat gold-plated casket, the Staples Center became a church.

The outside world may have still been talking about the chaos and confusion, the speculation and the spectacle of this memorial, one that would be watched by millions of people around the world.

However, at that moment, for the 20,000 fans inside, the casket, draped in red roses, was gleaming, inescapable and somehow galvanizing.

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Yes, the more than two-hour memorial featured undeniable elements of schmaltz - arguably the casket itself ranked somewhere near the gaudy claims made by Magic Johnson who boasted Mr. Jackson made him "a better point guard and basketball player."

It is equally true that throughout the sermons and songs, awkward silences and inappropriate political rants, fans decked out in everything from their funeral best to sequined sneakers sat in hushed reverence, as a spotlight focused on Mr. Jackson's remains.

His complicated story of celebrity was distilled down, much like the wild predictions of million-strong crowds and elephants taking part in the funeral procession, none of which bore any truth.

Those at the memorial listened first hand to people like Brooke Shields relate how they would giggle like schoolchildren playing pranks on Elizabeth Taylor.

Anywhere else, the anecdote might have seemed absurd. Instead it felt deeply moving.

Fans who won tickets by lottery arrived early, were filtered through a tight security cordon that sealed the entire area from the rest of the city's downtown core.

For fans arriving at the Staples Center, this didn't feel like one of the biggest days of public mourning around the world. It felt like a family funeral.

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For more than two hours, they were in a bubble, inside of which it was almost possible to believe everything that people said about Mr. Jackson.

Berry Gordy, the Motown founder who helped produce the Jackson 5, said: "I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived."

Queen Latifah read a poem written by Maya Angelou: "We had him. Whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours."

Rev. Al Sharpton addressed Mr. Jackson's three children: "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it."

Anywhere else, the hyperbole wouldn't have washed. Here it seemed all sorts of things were possible.

References to Mr. Jackson's charges of child molestation were mentioned and dismissed.

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His children, kept in the shadows for most of their lives, were suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

When it was all over, the crowds poured onto the streets, buying everything from $5 T-shirts to "Jackson dogs," hot dogs wrapped in bacon and doused in sauerkraut.

Mr. Jackson's casket was carried out, but his legacy suddenly lingered everywhere.

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About the Author

Sonia Verma writes about foreign affairs for The Globe and Mail. Based in Toronto, she has recently covered economic change in Latin America, revolution in Egypt, and elections in Haiti. Before joining The Globe in 2009, she was based in the Middle East, reporting from across the region for The Times of London and New York Newsday. More

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