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Crowds gather for star-packed Michael Jackson memorial

 Vendors sell memorabilia before the Michael Jackson memorial service outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer - Reuters
Vendors sell memorabilia before the Michael Jackson memorial service outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
— image credit: Reuters

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson fans began crowding into downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday for a star-packed public memorial to the "King of Pop" whose sudden death nearly two weeks ago shocked the world.

Pop music singers Mariah Carey, Usher and Jennifer Hudson will mix with R&B veterans Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder while sports stars like Kobe Bryant and other celebrities were also expected at the event.

Some 18,000 fans and friends will crowd into the Staples Center sports arena and a nearby, overflow theater for the two-hour ceremony memorializing Jackson, who died June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles mansion.

Police estimate more than 250,000 people will fill the sidewalks outside the arena to pay their final respect to the "Thriller" singer and one-time member of Motown legends the Jackson 5, who was 50 years-old when he died.

Additional officers were on standby to handle the crowds.

Media reports said family members gathered late Monday night for a private viewing of Jackson's body at the Forest Lawn cemetery where a private service was expected at 8 a.m. (1500 GMT) Tuesday morning before the public event at 10 a.m. (1700 GMT).

"MOMENTOUS OCCASION"

Celebrity Web site TMZ.com said Jackson's body would be taken from the family service at Forest Lawn to the public memorial. Local television showed numerous cars driving in and out of the Jackson family compound in the Los Angeles suburbs.

"This is certainly a momentous occasion that is probably as big, if not bigger than, when Elvis (Presley) passed away," said Steve Howard, a resident of Glendale, California, who won a ticket in an online lottery.

"The impact he had on American music and world music crossed all boundaries," said Howard, who expects the service to feature performances by Jackson's friends and fellow singers, along with eulogies.

Questions persist over who will pay for police security and services such as sanitation.

Cost estimates continued rising with city officials putting a price of nearly $4 million on the event and asking fans to make tax deductible donations to help pay.

Like other cities, Los Angeles is strapped for cash in the recession, and people have complained that public money should not be used for what is, in some ways, a private event.

Still, acting Mayor Jan Perry has said police and other agencies have contingency budgets for events such as this.

About 1.6 million people registered to be among the 8,750 who won two free tickets to the event, and police expect many who did not win tickets to show up outside.

The memorial will be televised live on major U.S. networks, as well as streamed on the Internet.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

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