Despite pleas by cops and politicians to stay away, legions of mourners flocked to the Staples Center before dawn Tuesday to witness the spectacle and grab a front-row seat to history. A lucky few were clutching tickets to get into the service but the vast majority were camping with blankets and tribute signs outside the arena where the pop icon had rehearsed just two days before his death.
"This is my Elvis," said ticket winner Mynor Garcia, 29.
Only 11,000 fans are being allowed into the arena to watch the star-studded performance headlined by Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey among others close friends of the King of Pop. Authorities estimated the crowd outside could swell to 1 million, creating just as much of a spectacle on the streets of Los Angeles as inside the Staples Center.
But officials said the crowd around the perimeter only numbered about 1,000 beside reporters and ticketed fans.
"I think this will bring the whole world together," fan Daveon Beamon, 24, told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm looking forward to the tribute. It will be like seeing my family."
Fans arrived early to pay homage to the late singer, many wearing tribute T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like "Forever Our King" or Jackson-inspired garb like single white gloves. Vendors hawked $2 bottled water and held up signs like "Get Yo' Bling for the King."
Helicopters buzzed overhead
Hotels in the area filled up quickly and airlines reported a surge in bookings as soon as arrangements for the mega memorial were announced.
"I think this is America's version of Princess Diana," said British Airways spokesman Paul Charles, who reported a spike in trans-Atlantic flights to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. "People want to be in the vicinity. People from the UK and elsewhere want to share their emotions together."
Theaters across the country -- from Los Angeles to Topeka, Kan., to New York City -- are showing the memorial live on the big screen. Admission is free.