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China to build own Neverland as Michael Jackson tribute

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese developers are commemorating the late Michael Jackson by building a scaled-down replica of his Neverland Ranch on an island off Shanghai, a state-run newspaper said on Friday.

Investors in the project, which will cost about 100 million yuan ($15 million) to build, hope it will open on Chongming island ahead of next year's Expo in Shanghai, the China Daily newspaper reported.

While they are not as popular as the Taiwanese and Hong Kong stars who dominate the music scene in China, Western artists are making inroads in the local market, thanks to young fans.

"By building a Neverland here in China, we want to pay tribute to him and at the same time offer the Chinese people an outlet for expressing their love toward him," the report quoted Qiu Xuefan, one of the investors, as saying.

Jackson, who died on June 25 in Los Angeles, abandoned Neverland -- once filled with theme-park rides and even a zoo -- after his child molestation trial in 2005.

The Shanghai version will have "Chinese characteristics to have it blend in with the local environment," the paper added, without elaborating.

But not everyone is convinced it's a good idea.

"If the purpose is simply to pay tribute to Michael, I would suggest investors open it for free, just as Michael did for the children," said Wei Wei, deputy head of Jackson's Chinese fan club. "Otherwise, they are just making money from it."

But Qiu, who professes his love for Jackson's music, said the ranch would help keep the King of Pop's legacy alive.

"His music is a legacy to the world and should not be forgotten. We also would like to set up a fund, with profits being used to help encourage children with musical talent."

Last week, an "instant" biography of Jackson in Chinese hit the bookshelves, which local newspapers said was penned by two Chinese writers who worked on it for two days straight but who had never met their subject.

($1=6.831 Yuan)

(Reporting by Shanghai newsroom, editing by Miral Fahmy)













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Jackson's hometown holds memorial for pop icon

AP - 11 2009 . 11:19:48


This gritty steel-making city where Michael Jackson got his start playing on street corners with his brothers and competing in talent shows said goodbye to the King of Pop with a show that featured experienced homegrown talent, as well as youngsters who hope to follow in his footsteps.

More than 6,000 people showed up for Friday's upbeat memorial event, which included performers singing and dancing to his hits, video montages of Jackson and comments from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gary's mayor and people who knew Michael Jackson when his family lived in the city located 30 miles southeast of Chicago.

People in the crowd said the celebration was fitting for the King of Pop.

"It brought back a lot of memories," said Betty Nicholson, 52, of Gary, who said she used to perform at some of the same talent shows as Jackson and his brothers. "The show was fantastic."

Some of the biggest applause came before the three-plus-hour event started, when Jackson's hits were playing over the public address system at the Steel Yard, Gary's minor league baseball park, and young children and teenagers went out to the dugout and mimicked his moves.

Two Gary natives -- Chester Gregory, who has appeared on Broadway, and Deniece Williams, known for her pop hit "Let's Hear It For the Boy" from the movie "Footloose" -- sang music that wasn't Jackson's. Gregory sang Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Liftin' Me) Higher and Higher" because Wilson was a singer Jackson tried to emulate. Williams sang "Black Butterfly," a song about a caterpillar's struggles to change that she recorded in the early 1990s. She said it fit Jackson.

"Because that's what he did. It was a struggle through the pain, through everything. At the end of the day he still was a beautiful, beautiful creature with wings that flew and touched not only the United States but the world and will continue to touch the world forever," Williams said before her performance.

Jackson spent the first 11 years of his life in Gary, until the Jackson 5 struck it big in 1969. By that time, the steel industry, in which Jackson's father had worked, had started to decline. Over the following decades, the city's unemployment and poverty soared, crime increased and the population dwindled.

Jackson came back to Gary just once, in 2003. A speech he gave then was featured in one of the memorial's video montages. In it, Jackson finished by saying: "Gary, you are family, you always will be, I love you."

Mayor Rudy Clay said Jackson made the city known worldwide.

"He's going to put on those golden slippers and he's going to dance all over God's heaven," Clay said.

He later unveiled a 7-foot-high granite slab with an etching of Jackson standing on his tiptoes with the words "King of Pop" and his birth date and death date. Clay said it would be the first item in a Jackson museum he hopes to see the city build.

Organizers said more than 30 members of Jackson's family attended the event, including his father, Joe Jackson, who arrived surrounded by security just as Jesse Jackson was finishing speaking.

In his remarks, Jesse Jackson praised the pop icon's parents for the job they did raising their family while living in a small two-bedroom house in a working-class neighborhood.

"Today we thank and praise God for Michael and we praise God for the Jackson family," he said.























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