Michael Jackson fans flock to family memorial

Hordes of spectators surrounded the perimeter of Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday morning as they strained to catch a glimpse of Michael Jackson’s coffin and private funeral caravan.

Fans engulfed a grassy area across the Los Angeles River as the late pop star’s motorcade — a chain of 30 cars led by five Rolls-Royces followed by more than two dozen California Highway Patrol vehicles — entered into the tightly controlled cemetery. Helicopters circled above.

The CHP temporarily closed parts of the 405, 101 and 134 freeways for the procession, including eastbound Riverside Drive and Forest Lawn Drive ramps, and the westbound Forest Lawn Drive ramp.

Forest Lawn, rolling green hills, hulking marble mausoleums and views of Walt Disney and Warner Bros. studios, is the final resting place for such Tinseltown legends as Liberace, Bette Davis and Andy Gibb.

Throngs of well-wishers, which began gathering late last week, meandered around the sprawling facility in search of access. One young man balanced on a pipe over the Los Angeles River in an attempt to circumvent staggered police checkpoints.

Allen Cook and Reginald James arrived via taxi from San Bernardino shortly before midnight Monday, running up a $120 tab, they said. Although the pair failed to secure tickets to the public memorial service at Staples Center, which was also shown in about 50 movie theaters across the county, both men said they could not pass up the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to say goodbye to their hero.

“All I wanted was to see the gate,” said Cook, a 35-year-old rapper, dancer and entertainer who said he has drawn inspiration from the King of Pop.

“When I was 7 I got to stand backstage at one of Michael’s concerts. I didn’t get to see it like everyone else. I got to see it as he did, from his perspective.

“We wanted to be here to celebrate his legacy,” he said. “To honor him.”

James not only mimicked the moves of his idol, taking on the effortless motions and sense of swagger, he also borrowed heavily from Jackson’s fashion sense.

“I began to dress like him. I wore pink like him,” he said.

“I styled my hair after him, the curls, the one in the middle of the forehead.”

Self-described “die-hard” Randall Sampson traveled with his family from Vancouver, Canada, to attend the public ceremony downtown. Their weeklong stay with relatives included stops at memorials outside the Jackson family home in Encino, Neverland Ranch and the Holmby Hills mansion where Jackson died.

“They say G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). That’s Michael,” Sampson said. “That’s what this is about.”

While economists estimated tourism-related activities tied to the memorial service — hotel-room bookings, parking and visits to local restaurants and shops — could generate $4 million locally, the impact to Burbank has been minimal, business owners said.

Local hotels recorded no significant change in business because of the stream of tourists who have poured into the area for the memorial services.

Occupancy rates at the Holiday Inn Burbank Media Center and Glendale Hilton, two of the largest regional hotels, held at their averages. If the hotels were closer to the festivities, they may have experienced a surge in business, said Donn Hooker, director of marketing for the Glendale Hilton.

“It would have to be immediately near the hotel for it to be an impact,” Hooker said.

“The Staples Center makes complete sense, but out here we didn’t expect anything significant.”

After an hour at Forest Lawn, Jackson’s family and close friends moved to Staples Center, where musicians, athletes and family paid tribute to Jackson today during an poignant, music-filled service.

“People look at this and many don’t understand, I know,” said Diana Garcia, standing at the entrance of the cemetery with an orange and red rose in her hand.

When her mother carried her across the U.S.-Mexico border more than a decade ago, Garcia sat at home for hours a day watching MTV to stave off the boredom.

“I fell in love with him like many people, by watching MTV,” she said.

“Whenever I felt sad, I listened. That was my way out of the isolation.”

Sophonias Giz, who traveled to Burbank from Seattle, said the last two weeks have been difficult to stomach.

“It has been like losing the best friend I never met,” he said.

— Staff writer Zain Shauk contributed to this report.

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