July 12th, 2009
Update: Michael Jackson’s third funeral took place on September 3, 2009 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
According to news reports, the private affair was open to only a few family members and some notable celebrities. Gladys Knight, renowned member of Gladys Knight and the Pips and a music legend in her own right, reportedly sung a special song during the brief ceremony. No media or television representatives were allowed to attend.
Jackson’s final internment will be in Forest Lawns’s “Great Mausoleum,” final resting place to numerous entertainment legends. It is also the location of the reproductions of the statues of “David” and “Moses” originally sculpted by Michaelangelo and the stained glass reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
Among the other notable people interred in the mausoleum are Clark Gable, George Burns, Walt Disney, Nat King Cole, and John Wayne. Dozens of other famous entertainers are buried or interred in other publicly accessible areas of the Glendale memorial park including Marilyn Monroe and members of the “Three Stooges.”
During the days leading up to Michael Jackson’s memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles, there was much speculation about how “The King of Pop’s” funeral was going to be handled.
At first it was announced that the Jackson family would have a “private funeral” that would be closed to the public and the press. It might be held at Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County near Los Olivos, California – or maybe not. It could be held in the Los Angeles area and then Michael Jackson’s body would be buried at the ranch site – or maybe not.
As hundreds of people began to gather around the entrance and along the roadside leading to Neverland Ranch, it soon became apparent that privacy for the family would be impossible if the funeral was held at that location. Anything more elaborate that would involve the public would not only cause a major uproar among the residents of that remote area, but also put a severe strain on local roads, public facilities, and law enforcement agencies.
Late in the week of Jackson’s death, the family and AEG Live, the producers of Jackson’s now canceled London concerts, announced that a public memorial performance would be held at Staples Center, a large sports arena near downtown Los Angeles. Staples Center is owned and managed by another subsidiary of AEG. A plan was put into place to distribute 17,000 free tickets to 8,500 winners of an online lottery. All other attendees would be guests and dignitaries invited by the family and AEG.
A big question left unanswered was whether Michael Jackson’s funeral would be included aa a part of the memorial performance. Would Michael Jackson’s coffin even be there? Would the Jackson family actually appear? And, if they did, would his brothers or sister Janet perform during the performance segment?
No one really knew until the show began. All of the Jackson family, including Michael’s three children, were seated in the front row. Michael’s flower covered gold-clad coffin, reportedly the same one used for James Brown’s funeral, was carried in by his brothers and placed between the family and the main stage.
The presentation included speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.’s son and daughter, Rev. Al Sharpton, and other friends and associates of Michael. There were several tasteful musical numbers performed by Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, and even Jermaine Jackson performing an emotional vocal interpretation of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” Musician John Mayer performed an understated – but powerful – guitar solo of “Human Nature” that was a show stopper. [See video in sidebar…]
(The entire Jackson Memorial will be shown dozens of times on cable TV – and should be released on DVD within a few months. It’s worth a couple of hours of your time, so be sure to watch it if and when you have the opportunity.)
It became clear that this public memorial was not Michael Jackson’s “funeral.” All the Jackson family would say was that a “private funeral” was attended by family members earlier that morning.
There were many unanswered questions about the private funeral, especially what religious belief would be represented. Would it be an interdenominational or interfaith funeral? Would it be just a generic Christian service? Would it be an Islamic service? (Jackson supposedly formally became a Muslim in November, 2008.)
The biggest question of all: Would it be a Jehovah’s Witness funeral?
Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother and family matriarch, was an active Jehovah’s Witness. His eldest sister, Maureen (known as Rebbie) and her husband were Jehovah’s Witnesses. LaToya and Janet had been Witnesses in the past, but their current connection to the religion was uncertain. The other siblings were either mainstream Christian, non-religious, or as in the case of Jermaine, Muslim. Michael’s father, Joseph Jackson, was raised a Protestant and never converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Complicating the issue was the fact that even though Michael Jackson was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and spent much of his youth preaching from door-to-door and going to Kingdom Hall meetings, he was not currently an active Witness. There are some questions about whether he was ever actually baptized into the faith as a child, but the evidence is strong that he was at some point during his early teens. The Jackson family refuses to confirm his baptismal history.
We know that in the late 1980s, after constant criticism by Jehovah’s Witness elders over his growing fame as an entertainer, Jackson’s inclusion of a disclaimer on his “Thriller” video regarding his religious beliefs, and an Awake magazine article that stated that he “was sorry for what he had done during the making of that video and his promise to never do that again,” he apparently decided that he had enough criticism from his “friends,” and formally “disassociated” himself from the Witnesses.
Only baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses need to formally disassociate (DA)themselves, and only baptized JWs can be officially “disfellowshipped” (DF) by a committee of elders at a local Kingdom Hall. This fact would tend to support the notion that Michael was, at sometime during his childhood, baptized.
A few days after the funeral the facts finally leaked out: Sometime on Tuesday the Jackson family gathered for a private ceremony at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in North Hollywood. It was in a mortuary chapel there that a Jehovah’s Witness service was conducted by Michael’s cousin, Wendell Hawkins, a currently active JW.
Another Jackson cousin, David Fossett, stated to the press sometime after the funeral at some point the coffin was open and that Michael “looked like himself. He looked like he just was laying there sleeping. He looked peaceful.” Mr. Fossett, who is not a Jehovah’s Witness, also reported that that the funeral talk was “spoken in a way that their belief is that he is going to be back on this earth.” Fossett said that Brother Wendell Hawkins addressed guests and stated that he was glad that Michael’s life was “connected with Jehovah.”
An approved Jehovah’s Witness funeral is a very limited and simple memorial service at a funeral home or Kingdom Hall. Since Michael Jackson was no longer an active Witness, the use of a Kingdom Hall or the direct involvement of an elder would be forbidden. In this case, a practicing relative (Hawkins) could give the funeral talk at a funeral chapel (Forest Lawn) at the request of the family.
As I was watching the nearly 3-hour Michael Jackson Memorial at Staples Center on TV, I commented to my wife that if this had been a Jehovah’s Witness funeral that the whole thing would have lasted about twenty minutes and that when it was over “you’d hardly know anything about the guy in the box.”
During the past couple of weeks, I had been in the process of writing an article about Jehovah’s Witness funerals. About ten days before I’d contacted Bob at Doc Bob’s Jehovah’s Witness Website to get his permission to reprint a copy of his version of a JW funeral outline. Bob was gracious enough to give me his OK to reprint it on this site, so I am providing a link so that you can read it for yourself. [JW Funeral Talk Outline] Compare this outline to how Michael Jackson’s cousin, David Fossett, described the private funeral service at Forest Lawn. I think you will agree that my off-the-wall comment to my wife was “right on the money.”
Mr. Hawkins public funeral talk (as all such speeches are approved and scripted by the Watchtower Society) would have been quite short. He would have discussed the condition of the dead, the hope for a future resurrection for faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the final award of a life in a paradise “New Earth” ruled by Christ Jesus. He would give the talk in his own words and style, but would not be allowed to change or add to the basic outline he was provided.
Unlike most Christian funerals, the only mention of the deceased would have been very brief and would have been comprised of factual, biographical information such as might be found in a standard newspaper obituary. In Witness funerals, the fact that everyone there is to honor the person in the coffin is considered to be an afterthought, almost a footnote to the service. No particular praise or mention of Jackson’s accomplishments or awards would have been included.
Finally after 20-30 minutes there was a closing prayer. The gathered family and friends were handed lyrics to a song from the Jehovah’s Witness Songbook entitled “Life Without End – At Last” that the group sang together a cappella.
No eulogies or private statements would have been allowed. No secular or non-Witness religious songs would have been allowed to be sung or played. Loud or prolonged outbreaks of tears or grief by anyone in the audience, including family members, would have been considered to be disrespectful of Jehovah.
Later, if there is a graveside service or reception, the rules for acknowledging or memorializing Jackson would be entirely up to the family, so some liberties might be taken there.
Apparently, Katherine and Joseph Jackson did not attend the private ceremony. The others gathered around Jackson’s casket “talked to each other and cried.” Jackson family members made it clear that Jackson’s death was for them a deeply personal matter.
Michael Jackson had been very vocal at times about how difficult it was to be raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and expressed his sorrow at never getting to celebrate birthdays or holidays as child. In his twenties he began to celebrate his birthday, getting and buying lavish gifts, and holding rather large gatherings with friends to mark the occasion.
Although it was his wish that his children be raised by his mother and other family members, he also made it clear in conversations with friends that he did not want his children to be raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. He wanted them to have a normal childhood like the one he missed his entire life, not the one that a Witness child would be forced to live through.
Shed a tear for Michael Jackson. Be prepared to shed many more for his children if they are forced to become little JWs by their grandmother and other family members.