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Finally, A Resting Place For Michael Jackson

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Finally, A Resting Place For Michael Jackson

Pop Culture

Finally, A Resting Place For Michael Jackson

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Michael Jackson died more than two months ago, but he still has not been buried. There have been multiple autopsies, then came public and private memorials. Finally, this week comes a funeral and burial. NPR's Karen Grisby Bates reports now on the legendary cemetery where Jackson will be laid to rest.

KAREN GRISBY BATES: Michael Jackson's family and friends gave him a very public farewell in July at a televised memorial in downtown Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song, "Soon and Very Soon")

Unidentified Women (Musical Group): (Singing) Soon and very soon we are going to see the king.

BATES: No one outside the family was sure where the singer's body went after that. But now, it's clear where it's going: to Forest Lawn in Glendale, the original celebrity cemetery.

(Soundbite of song, "Smile")

Mr. NAT KING COLE (Singer): (Singing) Smile though your heart is aching.

BATES: Yes, that's Nat King Cole. Forest Lawn is his final resting place. It's also true for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, W.C. Fields and Humphrey Bogart.

(Soundbite of "I've Got to be Me")

Mr. SAMMY DAVIS JR. (Singer): (Singing) I got to be me, I've got to be me.

BATES: Sammy Davis Jr. is in a private garden crypt shaded by 100-year-old oak trees. It's one of the spots where you need a special key to open tall bronze gates.

(Soundbite of closing gate)

BATES: Privacy is one of the reasons the Jackson family chose Forest Lawn. The cemetery's spokesman, William Martin, is so circumspect he doesn't even admit famous people are buried here.

Mr. WILLIAM MARTIN (Spokesman, Forest Lawn Cemetery): It's Forest Lawn policy not to publicize people that have come to us. It's something that we choose not to do out of respect for the privacy of the families.

BATES: But much of the world already seems to know that Michael Jackson is coming here. Is Forest Lawn worried about what that might mean?

Mr. MARTIN: I get asked that question a lot. Many families call up and are concerned that Forest Lawn will change and become something they didn't come to us for when they came to us initially.

BATES: What they came for is peace and privacy, something that Martin says won't change even after Michael Jackson is here. The cemetery will remain open for the public to enjoy, to wander down its shaded pathways, and to admire the reproduction masterpieces scattered throughout the grounds and buildings. Forest Lawn's lavish surroundings have inspired satires, sometimes acerbic ones, such as writer Evelyn Waugh's, and more gentle ones, like singer John Denver.

(Soundbite of song, "Forest Lawn")

Mr. JOHN DENVER (Singer): (Singing) I want to go simply when I go. They'll give me a simple funeral there, I know. With a casket lined in fleece and fireworks spelling out rest in peace, oh, take me when I'm gone to Forest Lawn.

BATES: Since it was created in 1906, Forest Lawn has been something most cemeteries are not, a tourist attraction. Though Martin says the art reproducing some of the world's great works is the reason.

Mr. MARTIN: I'm a commoner in L.A. Where do I see this kind of stuff? This is really, honestly, the vision of our founder.

BATES: But there's no denying the allure of Forest Lawn's star-studded census of permanent residents. A whole culture exists where people visit the graves, partly in homage, partly as history detectives. Steve Goldstein wrote "L.A.'s Graveside Companion," and he says Forest Lawn is so popular…

Mr. STEVE GOLDSTEIN (Author, "L.A.'s Graveside Companion"): It's often called Disneyland of the Dead.

BATES: His colleague, Lisa Burks, writes the blog gravehunting.com and says this is the perfect place for Michael Jackson and his family.

Ms. LISA BURKS (Blogger): You can't do better than Forest Lawn if you want to have a secure, private place. And I think Katherine and the kids need to have that. And so, in that instance, I'm very glad that he's here, and I hope that he gets to stay here for as long as she needs him to be here.

BATES: With its beautiful things and great performers, Forest Lawn could provide Michael Jackson in death something he rarely found in life: a place to fit in.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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