A boy who had the power and presence of a man, grew up to have the vulnerability and wonderment of a child.
For legions of fans, Michael sang "I'll Be There," and they were there for him to say a final goodbye Tuesday in Los Angeles.
There was power, passion and tears as Jackson's family, friends and fans gathered to seal his legacy. Twenty-thousand spectators packed the Staples Center on July 7, 2009, while an estimated 300 million watched on TV around the world.
Jackson's brothers - each wearing one iconic sequined glove -- carried Michael's gold-plated casket to the stage.
Michael was the first of the nine siblings to die. Despite his troubled life, his musical magic was undeniable.
It was on the same stage at the Staples Center that Jackson was rehearsing for his planned comeback tour just 48 hours before he died. The shock is still evident on those closest to him.
Motown founder Berry Gordy launched Jackson's career and says Michael was like a son to him.
"Sure, there were some sad, sad times, and maybe some questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of... He had passion to be the greatest entertainer in the world, and he was willing to working as hard, to do whatever it took to become what he indeed became, the undisputed king of pop the world over.
"Off stage, he was shy, soft-spoken and childlike. But when he took the stage in front of his greeting fans, he turned into another person, a master, a take-no-prisoners showman... I mean, Michael was awesome. In fact, the more I think and talk about Michael Jackson, I feel the King of Pop is not big enough for him. I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived," Gordy said.
Performers of every generation sang tributes, including Jennifer Hudson, who performed "Will You Be There."
Among those who praised the "King of Pop" was Queen Latifah.
"Michael was the biggest star on Earth… He let me know that as an African-American, you could travel the world. There was a world outside of America, other people, all you people who came here to pay respects to someone who you felt was one of you, a human being first."
Latifah also shared a poem Maya Angelou wrote for the occasion, titled "We Had Him."
"He gave us all he had been given. Today, in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square, in Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham, England, we are missing Michael Jackson. But we do know we had him. And we are the world," Angelou wrote.
Younger black artists, like Usher, credit Jackson with paving the way.
"You can't say that you are an artist in this century and were not influenced by Michael. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the stage with him, to know him personally, and I am always going to remember."
Usher sang the particularly fitting "Gone Too Soon," a song Michael Jackson wrote for his friend Ryan White, who died of AIDS when he was just 18.
But the voices heard at the memorial service were determined to point that out Michael's legacy extends far beyond show business.
"Michael was also a true humanitarian, who gave just as much offstage as he did onstage. Michael and his family came from humble roots, and Michael always cared very deeply for those in need. And beyond all of his records that he wrote, as a recording artist, Michael even made the Guinness Book of World Records for most charities supported by a pop star," Kobe Bryant said.
"I want to thank Michael for opening up so many doors for African-Americans to be on daytime shows, late night shows," said Magic Johnson. "He allowed Kobe and I to have our jerseys, and people in homes across the world, because he was already there."
We all know the story by now. Michael began singing with the Jackson Five when he was in kindergarten. Smokey Robinson remembers it well.
"The Jackson Five was just amazing and little Michael's performance was way beyond his years," said Smokey Robinson. Especially when he sang Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You."
"I wrote that song, I thought I sang it," Robinson laughed. "This boy can not possibly be 10 years old. I wanted to see his birth certificate."
The Jackson Five had four No. 1 hits by the time Michael was 12. So it's no surprise that 12-year-old British singing sensation Shaheen Jafargholi says Jackson was his inspiration.
Shaheen, who performed his rendition of "Who's Loving You" at the memorial, had been invited by Jackson to join his tour.
"People thought we were odd couple, an unlikely pair. But to us, it was the most natural and easiest of friendships," said Brooke Shields, who fought back tears as she spoke about her special bond with Michael. "Both of us needed to be adults very early, but when we together, we were two little kids having fun."
Their close friendship was evident as she recalled some of those moments.
"When he started wearing glove, I was like, 'What's up with the glove?' I was like, 'Look, if you're going to hold my hand, it better be the non-gloved one, because sequins really hurt me.' And he'd just smile."
Jermaine Jackson picked up where Shields left off, performing his brother's favorite song, "Smile."
Brother Marlon also spoke from the heart. "I stand here trying to find words of comfort, soulless. Trying to understand why the Lord has taken our brother to return home from such a short visit here on Earth."
The most emotional - and unexpected moment of the day came when 11-year-old Paris Jackson spoke. The child who had been kept under wraps all these years, was finally heard.
"Ever since I was born, daddy has been was best father ever you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say that I love him so much."
Notably absent were Paris' mother, Debbie Rowe, and Michael's first wife, Lisa Marie Presley. But the people who did gather here came not only to sing Michael Jackson's praises, but to defend him.
"We will never, never understand what he endured. Not being able to walk across the street without a crowd gathering around him. Being judged, ridiculed," said Marlon Jackson. "Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone."
The Rev. Al Sharpton took it a step further with a message for Michael's children. "…Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it."
However complicated and controversial Michael Jackson's life was, the man who once brought the world together with his music, did it again today.
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