LOS ANGELES – In a star-studded tribute, Michael Jackson family, fans and famous friends said their final goodbyes to the King of Pop Tuesday at a Los Angeles arena.
While the Staples Center event — housing 20,000 guests — was filled with high-power celebrity performances, the standout moment was when Jackson's daughter Paris took to the microphone. Surrounded by her aunts and uncles, she told the audience that her "daddy" was the best father one could imagine. She ended by tearfully saying, "I just wanted to say I love him so much."
The ceremony opened with Motown legend Smokey Robinson reading letters from friends, including Diana Ross as a spotlight shone on Jackson's gold-plated casket.
Jackson's body had been transported from a private memorial service at a Hollywood Hills cemetery to the massive public memorial, which began shortly after 10 a.m. PDT.
Earlier, family and friends rode in a motorcade of Rolls-Royces, Cadillacs and Range Rovers from Jackson's parents' house in the San Fernando Valley to spend about a half hour at the private service.
After that ceremony, a hearse carrying Jackson's casket was seen leaving the memorial park, en route to the public service, escorted by Los Angeles law enforcement officials, who had shut down a city freeway to escort the motorcade.
Pastor Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena gave the invocation, followed by Mariah Carey singing the opening performance with a sweet rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad "I'll Be There," a duet with Trey Lorenz.
"We come together and we remember the time," said Smith, riffing off one of Jackson's lyrics. "As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us."
Millions of fans around the world gathered at odd hours to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast from Tokyo to Paris and streamed everywhere online.
Among the celebrities in attendance are Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Martin Luther King III.
PHOTOS: The latest from Michael Jackson's memorial events.
Performances included Carey and Trey Lorenz's version of "I'll Be There," while Queen Latifah read a poem written for Jackson by Maya Angelou.
Stevie Wonder performed his 1971 song "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" after 11 a.m. NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson addressed the crowd after Wonder's performance.
A pregnant Jennifer Hudson sang Jackson's "Will You Be There" while Jackson's brother Jermaine sang "Smile (Though Your Heart Is Breaking)."
Members of the Jackson family sat in the front row of the Staples Center, including his brothers and what appeared to be his three children. Brother Jermaine Jackson took the stage and sang the standard "Smile" as he fought back tears.
As in Jackson's life, Tuesday's public memorial was surrounded by spectacle — legal drama, screaming fans, star power, live worldwide broadcast, unsavory accusations, even a parade of elephants — all adding up to what could be the biggest celebrity send-off ever.
PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of fans paying tribute to the King of Pop.
More than 1.6 million people registered for free tickets to the memorial. A total of 8,750 people were chosen to receive two tickets each.
But by Tuesday morning, the traffic snarls and logistical nightmares that had been feared by police and city officials had not materialized. The thousands of fans with tickets began filing in early and encountered few problems.
A few dozen people, some wearing the gold wristbands that would allow them into the service, gathered early in the morning at the perimeter set up outside the Staples Center among those without passes.
"They're touching us and saying, 'Can you bring the love in for us?"' said Mishelle Van, 37, who said she drove from Hesperia to spend the early morning meeting other Jackson fans.
The U.K.’s Sun newspaper released a series of rehearsal photos, including Usher rehearsing a version of Jackson’s 1993 hit “Gone Too Soon.”
About 50 theaters across the country, from Los Angeles to Topeka, Kan., to Washington, D.C., were planning to broadcast the memorial live for free.
All those involved say the heart of Los Angeles will become a circus. In one way, that characterization became literal early Tuesday.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus starts a run at Staples Center on Wednesday, a booking planned long in advance. In the pre-dawn hours Tuesday before Jackson's memorial, a line of elephants walked from the train station to the arena.
PHOTOS: Click here for photos of the Michael Jackson memorial program.
Jackson died on June 25 at age 50, hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. But a court filing estimates his estate is worth more than $500 million. His assets are destined for a trust, with his three children, his mother and charities as beneficiaries.
Early Tuesday, roads were closed and media massed at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. The night before, activity had been spotted there involving the Jackson family.
La Toya Jackson, wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, was seen being driven away from the cemetery. KCAL-TV showed helicopter footage of a hearse backing up to the Hall of Liberty — a circular building at the cemetery that contains a 1,200-seat auditorium — to deliver a casket.
A few hours later, the casket was reloaded into the hearse and delivered to another nearby building, this time covered in a blue cloth.
Debbie Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife and the mother of Jackson's two oldest children, had planned to attend Tuesday's memorial but backed out on Monday. "The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction," her attorney Marta Almli said in a statement.
ABC News on Tuesday aired portions of a 2003 interview with Rowe, much of never aired before, in which she called Jackson's children "the ultimate love children."
"If it hadn't been for how much I love him, I would have never had children," she said. "People make remarks, `I can't believe she left her children.' Left them? I left my children? I did not leave my children. My children are with their father, where they're supposed to be."
She said Jackson was upset when his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley broke up because he wanted to be a father, so she told him "let me do this."
Rowe said Jackson was not a pedophile.
"He would not do anything inappropriate with a child, ever," she said. "It's not in him. I believe there are people who should be parents, and he's one of them. Always. From the day I met him. I could do something for him, and this is what I wanted to do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.