Massive demand for Michael Jackson memorial tickets
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - More than half a million fans from around the world applied for 17,500 free tickets to Michael Jackson's public memorial service next week, organizers said on Friday as a massive security operation got underway.
The life and music of the self-proclaimed "king of pop," who died of sudden cardiac arrest last Thursday, will be celebrated on Tuesday at the Staples Center, a basketball arena in downtown Los Angeles.
Officials on Friday unveiled an ambitious online lottery that will allow fans to attend either the televised service at the arena or watch the proceedings on a big screen at the nearby Nokia Theater.
But within minutes, the staplescenter.com (http://www.staplescenter.com) server crashed. Officials warned additional disruptions were likely as fans logged on ahead of the Saturday deadline at 6 p.m. PDT (9 p.m. EDT Sunday).
"You might want to consider watching this from the comfort of your own home," said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is doubling as the city's acting mayor.
The ceremony will also streamed online.
A wide area around the venues in downtown Los Angeles will be blocked off for the 10 a.m. (1 p.m. EDT) event. Both local and state law-enforcement agencies have been marshaled for duty.
A local news-radio station reported that more than 1,400 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department alone have been asked to volunteer for duty on Monday and Tuesday. The LAPD, which has about 9,000 officers in total, declined to comment on the report or to reveal a staffing number.
A Jackson family spokesman also declined to provide details of the memorial service, but said there would not be a funeral procession and Jackson's body would not be at the memorial.
Funeral arrangements have not been disclosed, but security has been beefed up at the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills mortuary, where his body is believed to be held.
Officials were also tight-lipped about the cost of the memorial service, and who would pay for it.
Like other U.S. cities, Los Angeles is strapped for cash in the global recession and similar questions about public tax revenues being spent for such an elaborate ceremony surfaced last month when a $2 million celebration was given for the champion Los Angeles Lakers professional basketball team.
That event, which attracted over 500,000 people, was eventually funded through private donations.
The city has already budgeted for LAPD overtime, Perry said, adding that officials would "deeply appreciate" help to offset incremental costs, such as transportation, sanitation and staging.
Winners of the tickets will be contacted on Sunday and directed to pick up a pair of tickets and wristbands on Monday. No tickets will be sold. The massive demand raised the question of counterfeiting or scalping, drawing pleas from organizers for fans to act responsibly.
"For those that would try to take advantage of this, shame on them," said Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of AEG, the closely held entertainment concern that owns the venues and was backing Jackson's planned comeback concerts in London.
Jackson's last performance was at the Staples Center. The night before he died of sudden cardiac arrest last Thursday, he rehearsed for the tour at the venue.
(Additional Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott and Todd Eastham)