Michael Jackson's body will make a poignant final journey to Neverland Ranch, fuelling speculation that the sprawling fantasy retreat could become a permanent memorial to the tragic pop icon. A 30-car motorcade reportedly plans to escort the body on Thursday to the King of Pop's 1,050-hectare estate, a monument to Jackson's obsession with childhood that once included a fairground and a private zoo.
CNN and the celebrity news website TMZ.com said the Jackson family planned a public viewing on Friday, which could draw a crush of fans to the isolated ranch north of Los Angeles. Jackson's death at the age of 50 last week has sparked a worldwide outpouring of tributes which continued on Tuesday with crowds gathering at New York's famous Apollo Theater for a celebration of the star's life. Friday's public viewing could be an indication that the Jackson family has permanent plans for Neverland.
Santa Barbara County officials said on Tuesday they had received no formal notification of a memorial but said departments were "preparing to accommodate a large event" if a request for a Neverland funeral was made. However, a flurry of vehicles, heavy construction equipment and workers has been spotted going in and out of the Neverland Ranch. More than a dozen vehicles, including a tractor, a cement mixer and a backhoe were seen with one bearing a phone number that rang at a custom ironworks company. Gardeners and police were spotted on the grounds.
Members of Jackson's family have met with officials from the police and California Highway Patrol about funeral services. A California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Fran Clader says the meeting was held on Tuesday afternoon and "details are still pending". Some fans say the star should be buried at the ranch and want it to be transformed into a shrine similar to Elvis Presley's Graceland. Neverland was named after the fantasy island of Peter Pan, Jackson's inspiration who refused to grow up.
But the estate fell into disrepair after becoming an alleged crime scene in Jackson's 2005 trial on child molestation charges. Jackson vacated the property following his acquittal and never lived there again. The estate was reportedly on the verge of foreclosure before Jackson's death as his extravagant lifestyle and mounting personal and legal problems took their toll on his finances. The long-term fate of Neverland has been one of the myriad legal issues arising from Jackson's sudden death.
A judge on Monday gave Jackson's 79-year-old mother, Katherine, temporary control over his estate including Neverland and the rights to songs of the Beatles. She was also named temporary guardian of his three children. The Wall Street Journal reported that Jackson drafted a will in 2002 that divided his estate between his mother, his three children and one or more charities. Conspicuously absent was his father, Joe Jackson, who groomed his nine children into musical sensations but had an uneasy relationship with his son.
Lawyers for the Jackson family said they had seen the will, which could be filed in court today, according to reports. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, reported that police detectives are seeking to identify and interview "multiple doctors" who treated Jackson in the years before his death. Attention has so far focused on the role of Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, who was with the star just before his death last Thursday.
Lawyers for Mr Murray and law enforcement sources have said he is not suspected of wrongdoing and has co-operated with the investigation. On Monday, coroner's office investigators removed several plastic bags of medication from Jackson's rented mansion in Holmby Hills, described as "additional medical evidence". A former nurse who cared for Michael Jackson told CNN the pop-star pleaded with her to provide him a powerful sedative in the last months of his life.
Cherilyn Lee, a health practitioner with more than 20 years experience, said she had turned down the request after warning the singer of the side effects. "I told him this medication is not safe," Mr Lee said. "I told him - and it is so painful that I actually felt it in my whole spirit - 'If you take that you might not wake up'." Meanwhile, the organisers of a series of Jackson's planned comeback concerts in London have revealed that video footage of his rehearsals existed and could be released to the public.
The president of promoters AEG Live, Randy Phillips, told Sky News television that video of the pop legend's performances would disprove rumors that he was incredibly frail before his death. "We may at some point release some footage of him in rehearsal that would totally refute that," he said. *AFP