By the late afternoon yesterday, Michael Jackson was already known to be dead, but that didn’t stop hordes of fans from descending upon Westwood.
With the exception of the helipad, every conceivable entrance of the UCLA Medical Center — where Jackson was taken after suffering a fatal heart attack — was engulfed by a sea of people. And media.
Even hospital employees had a difficult time maneuvering their way around. Some joined in taking photos, but others were told to take an alternate entrance — and one man was knocked off his skateboard in the confusion.
“I’d say it was 50-50,” one onlooker said about the crowd. “There are a lot of looky-loos, and 50 percent of the people really give a damn about Michael.”
The mourning was expressed in any number of ways.
Some held up posters; one not surprisingly bore Jackson’s nickname, King of Pop, emblazoned above his album covers.
Some took to singing and dancing, as a group of fans gathered for an ad hoc rendition of the Jackson hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.”
Others seemed dazzled by the media attention. One man sat atop the entrance to the medical plaza with a dog, Jackson’s trademark black glove on his right hand.
“If there is a heaven, if anybody ever found it, Michael would,” he called out.
“He’s left his legacy, his mark upon the stage and is heard no more, but he will be heard for hundreds of years and people don’t know the genius.”
With TV trucks for everyone from CBS to Flying Cow Satellite cluttering the area, interview requests and photographs were unavoidable. One man said that he had been asked for seven different interviews.
Only the size of the cameras separated the real journalists from the makeshift ones. Nearly everyone had a camera or phone to commemorate the moment.
When a helicopter lifted off at about 6:30 — presumably carrying Jackson’s body to the coroner — every camera in the crowd turned skyward. Whenever someone was interviewed, as many cameras as could crowd around would follow.
Even after, as the masses finally began to disperse, hundreds still remained scattered around the outside of the medical center — some bent over crying or lighting candles, others celebrating his life by finding fellow fans and starting conversation.
Everyone seemed to deal with Jackson’s death in his or her own way as there was no collaborative memorial — just a smattering of flowers, candles or signs. Still, the overall feeling remained one of sadness and tribute.
“He’s making us forget about racism, sexism, whatever ism you can talk about,” one fan said. “He made music more than just music. It was a passion. It wasn’t just to sell records. It was to inspire and to entertain.”