Tourists flock to Cebu jail for Jackson tribute

Agence France- Presse

Posted at Jun 27 2009 01:36 PM | Updated as of Jun 27 2009 09:50 PM

Manila - Tourists flocked to a Philippine jail Saturday to watch about 1,500 inmates perform a special Michael Jackson dance tribute in honour of the dead star, officials said.

The jailbirds spawned a worldwide Internet hit two years ago with their morning exercise routine using synchronised movements based on the groundbreaking 1982 "Thriller" video.

An unusual number of visitors were signing in at the Cebu city provincial jail Saturday to watch the prisoners perform at 3:00 pm (0700 GMT) following the death of Jackson, 50, in Los Angeles on Thursday.

"Visitors have been calling and checking in with us for this afternoon's performance," said a prison official who did not want to be named.

An AFP photographer at the jail said visitors were told to sign in hours ahead of the scheduled performance to guarantee a slot.

The prisoners' dance found its way onto the popular Internet video-sharing site YouTube, where it developed a huge fan base. The four-minute video has so far generated more than 23 million hits.

The inmates in their saffron uniforms have themselves become tourist attractions, with visitors allowed to have their pictures taken with the dancers after each performance.

Choreographer Byron Garcia, a prison consultant and the brains behind the dance exercise, said he was shocked by Jackson's death and that many of his wards were grief-stricken.

"I am shocked, the inmates are still in grief after learning that their idol is already dead," Garcia told AFP.

He said the inmates had performed the routine for visiting tourism officials on Thursday afternoon, just hours before Jackson died.

Tears and teddy bears

Candles, teddy bears and tears lined the streets of Hollywood Friday (Saturday in Manila) as Jackson’s grieving fans gathered to celebrate the musical icon's turbulent life and times.

Hundreds of fans joined devotees who had camped out overnight on Hollywood Boulevard's "Walk of Fame," the stretch of sidewalk where celebrities are immortalized with stars set into concrete.

A makeshift shrine was slowly being built around Jackson's star, with mourning fans leaving candles, flowers, personal letters, teddy bears, balloons and paintings in his honor.

Fans queued for hours in boiling sunshine to file past Jackson's star after police erected crash barriers to manage the crowds.

Mark Cho, 25, from San Francisco was typical of the crowds that came to pay their respects. "I stood in line for more than two hours, but it was totally worth it," he said. "I feel sad, this is a tragedy. Despite everything that was said, he was a very good man."

Another fan identified only as Anthony arrived wearing a white glove and a banner reading: "Michael Jackson: A Musical Messiah.

"He was the man. He did a wonderful job, he had a wonderful life, raising a wonderful family," he told AFP.

"This is my last opportunity to pay tribute to a hero, we love Michael Jackson and the whole world will miss him," another fan, Nan Khan, added.

"My first concert ever was Michael Jackson in Washington in early 1984 or 1985 and I was 13-years-old."

Anthony Robinson, a 35-year-old fan, said he had spent the night at the site after Jackson's death was confirmed on Thursday.

"I haven't slept at all," Robinson told AFP. "When I learned the news I went to the Westwood hospital and when we got the confirmation I came here to pay tribute and remember the King of Pop.

"He was my second God -- I can't imagine the world without him."

One fan, who gave her name as Mary, offered prayers to Jackson at the site. "I just was telling him how we'll love him and how wonderful was his legacy and how we'll miss him," she told AFP.

One entrepreneur saw a business opportunity in Jackson's death -- hastily printing commemorative T-shirts bearing the slogan: "The King of Pop Rest in Peace. August 29, 1958 - June 25, 2009. There'll never be another!"

"I started printing 2,000 T-shirts at 3:00 pm yesterday when I learned the news of Jackson by Twitter, at 2:00 am I finished the printing and came here, to start selling to the fans in the street," said David Anthony, 25.

"I was born in 1985 but my father and uncle love his music, he was just magic," said Anthony, revealing he had already sold around 500 T-shirts.

Meanwhile dozens of fans appeared outside the Jackson family compound in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, leaving candles, bouquets, assorted flowers, teddy bears and cards, several bearing the message: ""We Love You, Michael."

Tokyo native Yuka Suzuki brought her six-year-old daughter Sana to see the flowers. "I grew up with him in Tokyo," Suzuki told AFP. "Jackson's music was always there, his song was always there."

But while some fans mourned, others chose to mark Jackson's death with wild celebrations late Thursday.

In West Hollywood, patrons of bars blaring out classic Jackson tracks spilled out onto the street dancing and cheering, according to an AFP reporter.

Meanwhile, staff at Hollywood's famous Amoeba Records store reported that fans rushed to snap up Jackson records, CDs, videos and posters.