Jackson was praised as a music pioneer and a barrier-breaking cultural figure, who the Rev. Al Sharpton said paved the way for other black entertainers to reach superstardom.
Audience members -- dancing along to some musical performances, and stifling tears at some of the many tributes to the singer. There were also shouts from the audience of "Power to the people," "Long live the king," and "We miss you Michael!"
The service culminated with Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson -- in tears -- telling the audience from the stage, "I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can imagine. I just wanted to say I love him so much."
It began as Jackson's gilded casket -- borne by a group of pallbearers each wearing sequined glove -- was brought into Staples Center to a standing ovation. Many in the audience snapping pictures with their cellphones. A gospel choir sang in front of a backdrop made to resemble a stained glass window.
Event producer Ken Ehrlich said that the service was showing all of the many facets of Jackson's influence. "All the colors of his life are coming out, everyone is saying something different and authentic," he said as the show was under way.
Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz sang Jackson's "I'll Be There." Jennifer Hudson sang his hit "Will You Be There." And John Mayer performed "Human Nature" on his guitar.
Lionel Richie sang his Commodores song "Jesus Is Love." And Jackson's brother, Jermaine Jackson, sang what actress Brooke Shields called Jackson's favorite song: "Smile," from the Charlie Chaplin movie "Modern Times."
Holding back tears, Shields told the crowd that the two former child stars were always "two little kids having fun" when they were together. She recalled Jackson trying to teach her unsuccessfully -- to do the moonwalk.
"He was caring and funny, honest, pure, non-jaded and a lover of life," she said.
Lakers star Kobe Bryant called the singer a "true humanitarian, who gave as much off stage as he did onstage."
Queen Latifah read a poem from Maya Angelou that praised the singer's global influence, from Japan to Ghana. "We are missing Michael Jackson," the poem read. "But we do know we had him, and we are the world."
Motown founder Berry Gordy said that Jackson -- who began his career as part of the Jackson 5 for Motown -- "was like a son to me. Gordy called Jackson "the greatest entertainer that ever lived." The pronouncement was greeted with massive applause.
"He was driven by his hunger to learn," Gordy said, "to confidently top himself, to be the best, the consummate student. He studied the greats and became greater. He raised the bar and then broke the bar."
Gordy made note of Jackson's checkered past--which included a series of allegations of child molestation. "Sure there were sad times and questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who said that she honored Jackson's "American story," also appeared to refer Jackson's legal troubles.
"We understand the Constitution, and we understand laws, and we know that people are innocent until proven otherwise. That is what the Constitution stands for," she said.
Near the end of the service, the immediate Jackson family, clad in black, gathered on the stage. Most of Jackson's brothers wore matching yellow ties, with red roses on their lapels.
Brother Jermaine Jackson thanked the people in the arena for coming to the service. "As you know," he said, "I am lost for words. I was his voice and his backbone. I had his back. So did the family. But we thank you. That's all I can say. We thank you very much. "
Brother Marlon said that "we will never understand what he endured, never being able to walk across the street without a crowd gathering."
"Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone," he said.
Jackson's three children were seated in the front row, next to his mother, Katherine Jackson. They stood up and applauded with the crowd as Sharpton praised Jackson as a trailblazer for African Americans.
The service was televised live around the globe. Fans started gathering outside Staples Center as early as 1 a.m. this morning. The lucky ones wore gold and silver wristbands, which designated them as the holders of approximately 17,500 tickets to the memorial service, given out through an online lottery.
Those who streamed into a cordoned-off area around the Staples Center included Savoy Brown, 42, an educator from Diamond Bar, said he almost missed attending because he was serving as a deliberating juror for a trial in Pomona.
He told his fellow jurors Monday morning that he had gotten a ticket from a friend who won the lottery. "I went in and was like, I have a ticket so I hope we get outta here today."
It looked like a long shot, but after lunch "there was kinda a breakthrough and we reached a verdict," he said.
Just north of Olympic Boulevard on Figueroa Street, vendors yelled "MJ stickers," "one for three, two for five -- Michael Jackson photo postcards," and "Ice cold bottled water!"
As police told the street vendors without permits to pack up and leave, someone gave the young woman a ticket. She broke into tears, her black mascara running down her face.
"I didn't think that there would be someone that would give me a ticket," said Akiko Seno, 25, who said she flew from Kanagawa, Japan for the memorial. She spoke in Japanese to journalists and a reporter from The Yomiuri Shimbun helped translate.
The service was attended by celebrities representing all ranges of Jackson's influence on American entertainment and culture. Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson arrived within minutes of one another. Mickey Rooney, Don King, Barbara Walters, Wesley Snipes, directors Brett Ratner and Spike Lee, and TV stars Lou Ferrigno, Tyler Perry and Omarosa were all spotted entering or inside the Staples Center.
While the Los Angeles Police Department deployed 3,200 officers for both a private service at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills and the public ceremony at Staples Center, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said that the crowd appeared to be smaller than initial estimates. "After the event starts, we will begin to de-escalate our presence, which is good news from a financial standpoint," he said. "Very good news."
As the show got under way, LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz reported that most people seemed to have followed the plea to stay home and watch it on TV.
"We have less than 600 people on the Staples Center perimeter," he said. "We are very happy the public heeded the message that best place to watch was on TV."
Still, public officials were concerned enough about the cost of policing the event that the city of Los Angeles posted a plea on its website to Jackson fans, asking them to "help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves."
It offered people the chance to help defray city costs for the service, using PayPal, saying that all donations are tax-deductible.
Outside the cordoned-off area around Staples Center this morning, 32-year-old Anthony Spearman held a sign that said "Stop USEing My Taxes 4 Millionaires.
Spearman said he works for USC and has been living in Los Angeles for two years. He said his hours have recently been cut at work and it's hard to pay rent "but they're going to use my taxpayer dollars to pay for his funeral."
"I have respect for MJ and everything," Spearman said, "but I don't think it's right."
Times staff writers Maria Elena Fernandez, Andrew Blankstein, Kimi Yoshino, Ari B. Bloomekatz, Harriet Ryan, Chris Lee, Louis Sahagun, Hector Becerra, Richard Winton, Ruben Vives, Jia-Rui Chong, Rong-Gong Lin II, Nicole Santa Cruz and Phil Willon contributed to this report.