07.07.09

The Greatest Showman on Earth

The world mourned as one today during Michael Jackson's memorial service as the King of Pop inspired one last great spectacle.

The world stopped for Michael Jackson today. And if we are, indeed, the world, we all took time out to celebrate both the wondrous and disastrous life of Michael. And who better to package it for us than Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood can do movies and make believe but as it turns out, can also do funerals. And this one was the biggest one ever. Not Elvis, not Diana, not even John F. Kennedy came close to this kind of world attention. The memorial was on live television wherever we turned—in movie theaters from here to Africa—and it was streamed to so many Internet sites (including this one) that it just might have been the biggest test of the World Wide Web ever.

P.T. Barnum, once quipped: “Every crowd has a silver lining.” Today we saw Michael’s silver lining.

Even The Washington Post Web site, which, on an ordinary day would be analyzing the death of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, was celebrating the best and the brightest of the pop world. As Al Sharpton exclaimed to a cheerful crowd, “he opened up the whole world to us and broke down the color barrier.” We also learned that Magic Johnson—the other MJ-- and Kobe Bryant were better basketball players because of Michael Jackson. We learned that Brooke Shields couldn’t master the moonwalk. (Who could?) We learned that the golden names of Motown were honestly intimidated by Michael Jackson when it became his turn. We learned he loved Kentucky Fried Chicken. We even learned a little about ourselves—that maybe when things get rough, do as Michael did: Don’t stop.

As we look back at what transpired today in Los Angeles compared to the hysterical coverage of the Jackson death aftermath we, the world, were able confirm that this was a guy who was loved by so many in so many ways, it hurt. Thus, the sentimental and loving tribute from brother Jermaine who, through his tears and wearing a silver glove, sang “smile, though your heart is aching.” (Leave it to a Jackson to steal the show.) We, the world, ached today for Michael Jackson the singer and dancer and the little kid who never grew up or really wanted to. In Michael Jackson we got the opportunity today to remember the good times and forget about the bad. If you are a human being—even the Representative Peter Kings of the world—you had to have had your heart break when they showed little Blanket holding a Michael doll or his 11-year-old daughter Paris crying, “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. I just want to say I love him so much.”

To give you an idea of how big this event was, there were 8,000 credentials given out to outlets around the world. That’s pretty much more than anything that has ever happened. Seriously. A man who was branded Wacko Jacko turned out to get the biggest sendoff we will probably ever see.

So on the stage where Michael performed his last music, he was eulogized as the greatest entertainer who ever lived. Ironically, next up at Staples Center is the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. And the rest of us will now live through all drama and circus surrounding Jackson’s life again: the doctors, the prescriptions, and the custody and money battles—all the nasty stuff he left behind. But as that other great entertainer, P.T. Barnum, once quipped: “Every crowd has a silver lining.” Today we saw Michael’s silver lining. So long, Michael… and thank you, it was quite a show.

Pat O'Brien has been a broadcaster for more than three decades, including many years as the co-host of Access Hollywood and The Insider . A former anchor for CBS Sports, he is also the author of Talkin' Sports: A B.S.-er's Guide. He divides his time among Los Angeles, New York, and Nantucket.