Local fans pay respects to ‘King of Pop’

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In her youth, Brookhaven’s Sheila Jackson spent her weekendnights at the Alexander Teen Center, dressed all in black satin andsweating on the dance floor to the music of Michael Jackson.

“We did all kinds of dancing, and the records they started outwith were always Michael Jackson,” she said.

Jackson said she grew up with Michael Jackson’s music, watchingand listening to the Jackson 5 with her parents as a child. Whenthe King of Pop died suddenly on June 25, she joined millionsworldwide who lost a childhood idol and continue looking for amethod to express their grief.

Jackson and scores of other Brookhavenites found a method Mondayat Tyler Funeral Home by signing their names and expressingcondolences to the Jacksons in a guestbook that funeral home ownerRobert Tyler plans to mail to the famous family later thisweek.

“I just felt like so many people would want to say something anddo something, and this is a good way to do it,” Tyler said.”Thousands and thousands of people are trying to get to hismemorial and can’t.”

Tyler said he would have the books open to the public againTuesday until 5 p.m. and would mail them to the Jackson matriarch,Katherine Jackson, on Wednesday. He said the books gathered around800 signatures on Monday alone.

Tyler said he has never invited the public to offer theirthoughts and prayers to a celebrity before, but he felt theentertainer some call the greatest of all time had a family thatwas “universal” and wanted his Brookhaven fans to be able to saytheir goodbyes.

“He just touched so many people with his style of music,” Tylersaid.

Tyler said he plans to invite more well-wishers to sign memorialbooks for the family of slain NFL star and Mississippi native SteveMcNair in the near future.

Michael Jackson fans who came steadily to the funeral homeMonday to make their marks to his family felt the same way. All ofthem shared memories of listening to the breakthrough entertainerthat went back to early childhood.

“I was in probably the eighth grade, in the choir, when we wouldlisten to his music,” said Beverly Williams. “I just remember it asan upbeat thing. There was something about him that made peoplefall in love with him and his music. It was never vulgar orobnoxious, it was just something you can really dance to.”

Williams said her favorite Michael Jackson song is “DirtyDiana,” a rock-driven song from the 1987 album “Bad.” Sheappreciates the variety in his music.

“All the time I was coming up, I never thought he would get tothat point,” Williams said. “He had some slow ballads, then therock songs – just different types of music.”

Others stopping by the funeral home recalled Michael Jackson’soverwhelming presence as not just a singer, but as an all-aroundperformer – even though they missed the early years. Theentertainer was already a worldwide sensation by the time20-year-old Charles Carradine was born, but he got backwardeducation from his uncles who introduced him to “Thriller.”

“He had specific qualities as a performer,” said Carradine,whose favorite Michael Jackson song is “You Rock My World,” from2001’s “Invincible.” “There was no one in the world like him – hissound and performance, what he brings to the stage.”

Some say Michael Jackson helped shatter racial barriers with hisworldwide success.

“The color thing went away because entertainment isentertainment,” said Ronnie Woodard, a Bude native on leave fromthe U.S. Air Force and his posting at Elmendorf Air Force Base inAnchorage, Alaska.

Woodard acknowledged Michael Jackson’s legal troubles – theentertainer was twice accused of sexually abusing children, butnever convicted – but said the fallout surrounding those battleswas a fire fanned by the American media.

“All the allegations of child abuse were things America keptholding against him,” he said. “In Europe and Asia, they didn’tshun him.”

Michael Jackson was color blind, said Celestine Skipper, whoprefers “Thriller,” the title track of the 1982 album that holdsthe record as the best-selling recording in history.

“He didn’t see people any differently,” she said. “He really didbring all cultures together, all around the world. He didn’t seecolors, and that’s what I really liked about him.”

Jennifer Kelly said Michael Jackson’s refusal to see race iswhat made him a good humanitarian and led to worldwide embracement.Her favorite of his works is “Remember the Time” from 1991’s”Dangerous,” but the same album’s “Black or White” is the definingtune.

“It’s just like the song says, it doesn’t matter – black orwhite,” Kelly said. “He always gave back, and that’s the kind ofperson he was.”