Fans gather for Michael Jackson tribute concert
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Three generations of Michael Jackson's family — with a few notable absentees — joined an eclectic roster of entertainers Saturday to pay tribute to the King of Pop, a celebration of the late star's life overshadowed by the Los Angeles manslaughter trial of his doctor.
Several Jacksons were due onstage for the "Michael Forever" show at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, alongside Christina Aguilera, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Leona Lewis, British boyband JLS, Cee Lo Green — and, via video, Beyonce.
The concert has divided the King of Pop's family and followers. Brothers Marlon, Tito and Jackie — three of the original Jackson 5 — and sister La Toya are scheduled to perform, while the audience will include Michael Jackson's mother Katherine and his children Prince, 14, Paris, 13, and 9-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Blanket.
But brothers Jermaine and Randy and sister Janet have stayed away, saying it is wrong to hold the show at the same time as the manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.
Before the show, Marlon Jackson said he respected his siblings' decision.
"Each one of us grieves differently," he said. "We want to celebrate the positive side of his life, the positive things that he did."
Jackson died in June 2009, at age 50, as he was preparing for a string of comeback concerts in London.
His last hours are being relived in graphic detail at the trial of Murray, accused of giving Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives in the bedroom of his rented mansion on June 25, 2009.
Some fans have said it's inappropriate to hold the tribute show during the trial, but those who came to Cardiff said it was a fitting antidote to the grim courtroom spectacle.
"There's a lot of negativity in that courtroom," said Ronnie Lee, a 32-year-old truck driver from Pembroke, Wales, sporting a "Thriller" T-shirt. "This is a chance to say, 'Thank you Michael' and celebrate the music."
Fans from across Europe gathered outside the stadium, where vendors did a brisk trade in King of Pop T-shirts and fedora hats like those once worn by Jackson.
"Whatever happens in that court, we'll never get Michael back," said Karin Kiewiet, 40, a local government worker from Emmen, Netherlands. "This is a good opportunity for us to begin grieving."
The show has suffered teething problems, with producers struggling to line up top-name acts for the tribute, hosted by actor Jamie Foxx and British TV host Fearne Cotton.
The Black Eyed Peas pulled out of the lineup this week, citing "unavoidable circumstances" amid reports the chart-topping band is splitting up.
Organizer Chris Hunt said that despite the last-minute loss, fans could expect "a very, very spectacular show."
"Everything we've done has been governed by one criterion — would Michael have done it this way, would he approve, would he like it?" said Hunt, chief executive of Global Live Events. "We're trying to do something worthy of one of the greatest showmen of modern times."
Several fan groups around the world have criticized the event, not just for its timing, but for ticket prices that started at about $100 and for what some regard as an out-of-the-way location in Cardiff, 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of London.
Organizers also outraged many fans by inviting the rock band Kiss, whose bassist Gene Simmons told a magazine last year that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Jackson, who was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005, had abused children.
The invitation was hastily rescinded, but many fans remain angry.
"The fans are not happy that the Jackson estate is not involved," said Wesley Noorhoff, president of a Dutch Michael Jackson fan club. "It seemed like they wanted to build a concert soon, to get money.
"I believe it should wait, not only because of the Murray trial. If you do a tribute to Michael, it has to be the best there is, just like Michael."
Hunt insisted the show would be a success. He said more than 40,000 tickets had been sold by Friday, and he was confident of reaching the venue's 50,000 capacity.
Some of the proceeds will go to the AIDS Project Los Angeles and Prince's Trust charities, and a portion will be placed in a trust fund for Jackson's children, though organizers did not give an exact breakdown.
Hunt said 13 Jackson family members were scheduled to attend the concert, many of them appearing onstage.
"It's a family's tribute to their own," he said. "I'm expecting it to be a hugely emotional evening."
Marlon Jackson, 54, said he wanted dissenters to know that Michael would have approved of the show.
"I want the world to understand that my brother was more than just an entertainer," he said. "There was a human side to him as well."
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless