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Remembering the King
Fans flock to Conyers cinema to watch Michael Jackson memorial

CONYERS - Hundreds of Georgians were able to take part in the memorial service Tuesday afternoon for late pop music icon Michael Jackson.

Carmike Cinemas in Conyers was one of three Carmike theaters in Georgia, and the only one in the metro Atlanta area, to show a live satellite feed of Jackson's service from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"This free live broadcast is a gift from Carmike Cinemas to all of Michael Jackson's fans as a way to present the memorial service in the best digital presentation available," said Gary Green, director of alternate content of Carmike Cinemas, in a press release. "As the world mourns the death of an iconic figure in music history, we are pleased to be able to offer our loyal patrons the chance to remember the King of Pop in a communal setting as a way to celebrate his life, music and many accomplishments."

Carmike Cinemas in Columbus and Savannah, as well as several cities in Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Illinois, among others, also carried the service, which included performances and eulogies from Mariah Carey, Brooke Shields, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson and Martin Luther King III.

By 11 a.m. - an hour before theater doors opened and two hours before the memorial service started - the line waiting to get into the Conyers cinema wrapped around the building.

"I wanted to be part of a celebration and shed the same tears, as opposed to staying alone at home," said Jean Jackson, a Conyers resident who was the first to arrive at the theater just before 8 a.m. Tuesday. "This is a great celebration and homegoing."

Conyers resident Jackie Roberts also showed up before 9 a.m. with a copy of her "Thriller" album and a picture of Jackson's Hollywood star that she photographed in 2002 while on a trip with her church, Whites Chapel United Methodist Church.

"I wanted to be in the midst of family and friends to celebrate this occasion rather than watch it at home," she said.

At the time the memorial started, nearly 400 adults and children of all ages filled the theater for the free viewing.

"I wanted to be a part of history," Conyers resident Ranise Holden said. "He was a great icon and made inspirational songs."

Even though many were working during the public service, some took a break to gather with other fans and watch the memorial.

Eddie Ayala, a fleet operations manager for Conyers-based children's dental service Help a Child Smile, showed up at the theater to show support from the employees who couldn't leave their jobs.

"A lot of employees (at Help a Child Smile) are Michael Jackson fans," Ayala said. "In the dental unit, sometimes we put the music on. The kids enjoy it, and we like to see them dance while they are waiting."

Residents came from as close as Conyers and as far away as Alpharetta and other metro Atlanta cities to watch the memorial.

Cheryln Stegall brought her two grandsons to the theater from Stone Mountain.

"I had to show support for the Michael Jackson family," said Stegall, grandmother of 3-year-old Amir Amerson and 6-year-old Jaelin Cooper. "I think it's something (my grandsons) can see and remember and something they can share with their family as they get older - they don't know much about Michael Jackson yet. This is a lifetime memory for them."

Other children also joined their parents, grandparents and day care groups.

Karen Overstreet brought her students, who ranged in age from 6 to 12 years old, from Camp Sunshine at Little Angels Educare in Covington.

"They wanted to come see it as their trip," she said.

Eleven-year-old Jacob Myers, of Jasper County, even made a glove like Jackson famously wore from an old Spider-Man glove.

"He's good; I like him," Myers said. "He's cool; I like his songs."

While many in the crowd were found singing upbeat songs like "ABC" and recalling their favorite Jackson memories as they waited for the theater doors to open, two Conyers teens remained somber, saying they were still sad after learning of his death June 25.

"We were at cheerleading camp," said Alexus Hardy, a 16-year-old Rockdale County High School student. "It was so sad. We didn't believe it at first until they told us it was really true."

Her friend Ashley Shover, also 16, said a part of her life was gone.

"I've been a huge fan of Michael Jackson since I was, like, 3," she said. "I grew up watching him. He was iconic and unique in his dress and style of dance."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Man on the Street

What is your favorite Michael Jackson song and why are you a fan?

Ranise Holden, Conyers

"I'll Be There"

"He was a great icon and made inspirational songs."

Cheryln Stegall, Stone Mountain

"ABC," "Thriller," "Ben"

"I love his music, style and personality, and we grew up together."

Ashley Shover, Conyers

"Man in the Mirror"

"He was iconic and unique in his dress and style of dance."

Alexus Hardy, Conyers

"Dirty Diana"

"He was such a nice and caring person."

Jacob Myers, Jasper County

"You Are Not Alone"

"He's cool. I like his songs."

Eddie Ayala, Conyers

"Thriller"

"I grew up listening to him; he's my age."