Thu, Jul 02, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Michael Jackson set for final journey to Neverland Ranch

AFP , LOS ANGELES

Michael Jackson’s body will make a poignant final journey to Neverland Ranch, it was reported on Tuesday, fueling 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 today 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 tomorrow — 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.

Tomorrow’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.

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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday they had seen the will, which could be filed in court yesterday, reports said.

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.

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