In front of the trashy boutiques, tattoo parlours and wig shops that line much of Hollywood Boulevard, the street vendors were out in force on Saturday hawking commemorative T-shirts, badges, posters and - in a new take on traditional black arm bands for the bereaved - black rubber mourning bracelets to the legions of heartbroken Michael Jackson fans who turned out in droves over the weekend to pay tribute to the King of Pop.
The majority were simply looking for souvenirs, but some did not disguise their hopes that today's purchases might one day turn into collectors' items. Their dreams had been fuelled by Friday's auction of 21 of the star's belongings for a whopping $205,000 (Dh752,000), around 20 times higher than the original estimate of $8,000 to $10,000 (Dh29,000 to Dh36,700) made when Jackson was still alive. Darren Julien, the 40-year-old founder and head of Julien's Auctions, the Los Angeles-based celebrity memorabilia specialists who conducted the sale, is convinced that Michael Jackson memorabilia will become the most sought-after and valuable in the world.
"He has always been highly collectable, but since his death he has become a true legend and a global icon and I believe his collectibility will soar even higher than Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe in years to come," he said. Julien believes the jacket Jackson wore in his ground-breaking Thriller video is destined to become the most important piece for collectors. "The Thriller jacket is set to be the holy grail of Jackson memorabilia," he said. "It's an iconic item. If we had had it in our auction on Friday it would have sold for a million dollars."
In the meantime, back on Hollywood Boulevard, fans like the security guard Bernard Kingsley, 54, were shelling out more modest sums for a souvenir. His black King of Pop T-shirt cost him $7 (Dh26). Kingsley grew up in tough, deprived Detroit and remembers glimpsing Jackson as a child. "We lived just one block over from Berry Gordy's house. The boss of Motown had a mansion in the ghetto and he'd have these big private parties for Marvin Gaye or Diana Ross or The Temptations. One day I saw The Jackson Five standing right across the road. I could see them so close, but I couldn't go up and touch them because Berry Gordy had everything all cordoned off.
"The whole world feels sad today, not just me," Kingsley added, then pointed to his T-shirt. "This here's the King of Pop. He's more important than the president of the United States." A little further on, Monroe, Hannibal Lecter, SpongeBob SquarePants, Darth Vader and the Boulevard's cast of other assorted look-alikes went largely ignored for once as the fans lined up to respectfully file past the makeshift shrine erected on Jackson's star on the Walk of Fame in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Many clutched bouquets of flowers and handwritten notes.
"Clicking and walking folks, clicking and walking," one of the theatre's private security guards called out as he exhorted the crowds to keep moving as a couple of burly cops, impassive behind their shades, looked on. A surreal note - if further surrealism was needed - was provided by a huge poster of Sasha Baron Cohen sporting skimpy yellow lederhosen and gazing down waspishly upon the scene. The Thursday-night premiere of the British comedian's new film, Bruno, had prevented Jackson fans from congregating there the evening immediately following his death.
Among those who turned out at the weekend was Naomi Tarekegn, 23, a student of French and biology, who had brought a dozen red roses to lay on the shrine. Tarekegn spent her early childhood in Ethiopia before moving to the US 12 years ago. She said that she had grown up with Michael Jackson. "He was hugely appreciated in Ethiopia, as much as a humanitarian as an artist. He raised a lot of money for water, food and medication during the drought. When I was growing up, it seemed like he was the only musician out there, people only listened to him," she said.
As for Jackson's controversial plastic surgery, Tarekegn, like most Angelenos, was quick to defend him. "The plastic surgery didn't change his humanitarian aspect, so I don't think it was important," she said. Charles Minnifield, 60, a tax preparer and notary who had driven two hours from Temecula near San Diego to bring his 10-year-old daughter, Charbel, to visit the Jackson shrine, went even further.
"The plastic surgery was a good thing. It gave him a strong image all over the world that people liked," said Minnifield, who discovered Jackson's music upon his return from Vietnam. "It represented peace, freedom to me," he said. Half an hour's drive away, fans had also congregated near the singer's luxurious home in the exclusive Holmby Hills, part of a super-rich, celebrity-studded area of the city dubbed "The Platinum Triangle" by residents. Police had cordoned off Jackson's street so fans could not get too close to the mansion, in which he collapsed from a heart attack on Thursday. Mourners could just glimpse an enormous wreath attached to the huge metal gates of Jackson's former home. Undeterred, they had created a shrine on the corner of Sunset Boulevard.
"You were a living angel," read one message signed "people from the Czech Republic". "I know I will love you forever," read another sign decorated with an image of Peter Pan, while Eleonara and Giulo from Italy professed their lifelong admiration for the star. Thousands of mourners visited the shrine on Saturday afternoon alone, security guards said. "Keep moving, you cannot stop here," a police officer called out to motorists over her loudspeaker as a bubble-gum pink corvette slowed down on Sunset Boulevard to get a better look.
Lily Pai, 35, an architect, and 36-year-old Nayan Acharya, her husband, stopped to visit the shrine with their two young children. Originally from Bangalore, India, they now live in Indianapolis and were in Los Angeles on holiday. "We had just got back from Disneyland when we saw the news on TV on Thursday. We were shocked because Michael Jackson brings back a lot of fond memories of our childhoods," said Pai. "We had been planning to go to one his London concerts," said Acharya. "Now of course we can't. But he is immortal in a sense through his music."
Carolette Thomas, 36, an off-duty police officer, had come with her 60 year old mother, Paulette, her baby daughter, Courtnie, and her niece Marquet who was visiting from Texas."Let me just climb up this tree and see if I can get a look at the house," said Thomas, hitching up her long orange gown as she tried to see over the wall. "Michael Jackson was so wonderful because he brought everyone together, every creed, every race, every nationality," said Thomas, who admitted to crying when she heard of Jackson's death. "He transcended the generations."
"No matter if it's black or white, just beat it," she added. "I wonder if I can get a better view from here."