King of Pop set for LA memorial service
Michael Jackson's family has announced a free public memorial service for the tragic pop icon in Los Angeles, as a custody battle looms with his ex-wife seeking their children.
Ending a week of feverish reports, the family confirmed Tuesday's ceremony as a video was released which appeared to show the 50-year-old in good health at a rehearsal just days before his death.
The family, in a brief statement, said that 11,000 tickets would be distributed for free to fans who want to mourn Jackson at the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers basketball teams.
The family was mum on where Jackson would be buried and said organizers would announce logistics of distributing tickets on Friday.
The musical clan earlier quashed the idea of a poignant final farewell at the singer's Neverland Ranch, which posed logistical headaches due to its remote location in ritzy Santa Barbara wine country.
However, Jackson's elder brother Jermaine said he would still like the pop legend to be buried at Neverland, a tribute to Jackson's fascination with childhood that in its heyday had giraffes, tigers and a private amusement park.
"I feel his presence because this is his creation," Jermaine Jackson told CNN in an interview at the ranch.
"I really feel this is where he should be rested because it's him," he said. "It's serene."
French fashion mogul Christian Audigier, meanwhile, announced plans to buy the vast mansion in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Holmby Hills where Jackson died.
Audigier, who designed outfits for Jackson, will convert the house into "a place dedicated to the memory of the star to which the public and fans will have access," his spokesman Laurent Guyot told AFP in Paris.
Jackson spent little time at Neverland after he was acquitted of molesting children there in a sensational trial. He had been paying 100,000 dollars a month to rent the Holmby Hills mansion, owned by Audigier's associate Hubert Guez.
As the funeral took shape, legal battlelines were drawn over the King of Pop's legacy and the fate of his offspring, with ex-wife Debbie Rowe declaring she planned to seek custody of the star's eldest two children.
Rowe, who has remained largely silent since Jackson died from an apparent cardiac arrest on June 25 aged 50, told NBC television in Los Angeles that she would seek custody of Prince Michael, 12, and Paris, 11.
"I want my children," Rowe was quoted as saying in a 90-minute phone interview with the station. "I am stepping up. I have to."
Rowe, who was married to Jackson between 1996 and 1999, was omitted from a 2002 will filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday in which Jackson named his 79-year-old mother Katherine Jackson as guardian.
Jackson's mother was on Monday appointed temporary guardian of the two children and their seven-year-old sibling, Prince Michael II or "Blanket," who was born to an unidentified surrogate mother.
Rowe filed a petition in 2001 to give up her parental rights but later reversed her decision and secured visitation rights.
Rowe's lawyer Eric George later told reporters in a conference call Thursday no final decision had been made.
Legal experts say that Rowe's chances of winning custody could hinge on her relationship with the children. Several reports say she has not had any contact with the children for years.
"If she has a strong relationship with her children and... she has seen them somewhat regularly then she has a very strong chance of getting custody," said Scott Altman, a law professor at the University of Southern California.
A custody hearing slated for Monday was rescheduled to July 13 at the request of lawyers on both sides.
Rowe's comments came as new footage of Jackson taken two days before his death emerged, showing him rehearsing a vigorous routine which appeared to refute suggestions the star was in ill health during his final days.
Concert promoters AEG Live said the footage was recorded on June 23 at the Staples Center as Jackson prepared for a 50-date set in London starting in July.
Jackson, while thin, is seen dancing with energy in a tightly choreographed sequence with a group of performers. Jackson sings on a headset and at one point pushes back his jacket to reveal his red shirt underneath.
A final cause of death for Jackson has not yet been determined but attention ahs focused on whether he was taking powerful painkillers.