Michael Jackson's life played out on a world stage, headlines screaming his every move, frenzy following his footsteps.
His death, memorial and investigation amplified the delirium and prolonged the anguish of family and fans. On Thursday, he is scheduled to be interred at Forest Lawn Glendale in what will be a hidden monument in a mausoleum made of marble and mortar.
There will be only silence. No marquees, no spotlights, no paparazzi.
He will be enveloped by the grandeur of the grounds, the majesty of the buildings and the significance of history.
In the Great Mausoleum, he will join Hollywood legends of yesterday like Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, W.C. Fields and Red Skelton, as well as "The Last Supper Window," a lifesize stained glass recreation of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, and Moses, a reproduction of Michelangelo's sculpture for the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome.
On a hilltop nearby, in a building the size of a sports arena, hang two of the world's largest paintings, "The Crucifixion" and "Resurrection."
Like so many of the people in it, the park has also become fabled. Founded in 1906 by a group of businessmen on 55 hillside acres in the town of Tropico (later Glendale), there was no forest and no lawn, just a traditional dusty graveyard with granite tombstones and elaborate messages.
By the time Hubert Eaton arrived in 1912 at the age of 31, according to Forest Lawn literature, he had graduated from college in Missouri, punched cattle in Montana and lost a small fortune on a silver mine in Nevada. He took the job as sales manager at the cemetery so he could repay his mine backers.
He convinced people to buy plots before they died. After just a year, he had increased sales 250 percent. After three years, his sales had multiplied so much, he was able to buy a stake in the company and was named general manager.
Despite resistance from his board of directors, monument makers, the community and customers, Eaton eliminated tombstones so grass could be planted and lawns mowed; he renounced the name "cemetery," changing it to "memorial park"; he started collecting world-class art or detailed reproductions; and he added mausoleums, acres, trees, florist, gift shop and chapels that are used for funerals and weddings.
In 1933, Eaton was the first to combine a mortuary with a cemetery, overcoming opposition from morticians, casket makers, and the state. Today, the Glendale park covers 300 acres and employs 150 people.
The park was divided into sections like Slumberland, Babyland, Graceland and Inspiration Slope. You can find places for immortality, affection, tranquility, mercy, harmony, fidelity and devotion.
A patriotic theme was incorporated in the early 1950s with the Court of Freedom, the Freedom Mausoleum and sections with names like liberty and victory.
For decades, Forest Lawn, like so many other cemeteries, had a whites-only policy, but park spokesman William Martin said he didn't know what year that ended.
The number of Forest Lawn locations has grown to 10 — Hollywood Hills, Glendale and Covina Hills are the three largest.
"They have a reputation for excellence. They are highly respected in every regard. They take excellent care of their facilities. They handle a high volume of families. Most of their employees are long-term and dedicated to their work. Those things say a lot about a company," said Ron Hast, executive editor and publisher of the Northern California-based Mortuary Management with Funeral Monitor, who was one of Marilyn Monroe's pallbearers in services in 1962 at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Martin, who has been communications manager at Forest Lawn Glendale for nearly four years, dodges most questions, including names of famous inhabitants, how many people are interred there or how much room is left. He is even tighter lipped about Jackson.
When asked if there had been increased interest in Forest Lawn since the Jackson family announced its plans, he said, "The public interest has been raised. That's putting it mildly."
Hast operated a transportation backup service for Forest Lawn for 25 years. He doesn't know exactly how many people are there, but it is "tens of thousands." The celebrity list is long and includes George Burns, Gracie Allen, Walt Disney and Nat King Cole, he said.
Hast said the park is a good fit for Jackson, because they are experts at handling celebrity security "and they will do it with elegance and good taste."
Scott Michaels, owner of Dearly Departed Tours in Los Angeles, believes Forest Lawn Glendale has a double standard when it comes to celebrities. "They protect their celebrities vehemently, but they brag about them," he said.
"Not too long ago, they had an exhibit in their museum about celebrities buried in their cemetery," Michaels said. "These people wanted to be famous when they were alive. Fame didn't end with their deaths. We still watch their movies. It's frustrating for some not to be able to pay their respects."
Martin acknowledged there was a time when Forest Lawn boasted about its celebrity crowd, but no more.
"We don't advertise, we don't market it," he said. "It is just inappropriate."
Over 70,000 people have been married at Forest Lawn parks. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman and Regis Philbin and his wife Joy were married at Wee Kirk o' the Heather church at Glendale.
Cemetery Web sites and blogs have been buzzing since Jackson's family announced the Forest Lawn plan. Hits to Lisa Burk's blog at http://www.gravehunting.com have gone through the roof, she said. Interest in him "blows everything else out of the water because he was so internationally known."
She said if the Jackson family wants privacy, they will get it at the mausoleum. "It's impossible to get in there. It was before and it will be worse now."
Even though visitors see a portion of the mausoleum when they go see the Last Supper show — a 10-minute presentation about the stained glass window, put on regularly 365 days a year — most of the multistory building is restricted. It is well monitored and some areas are only accessible with pass keys, Hast said.
Author Mark Masek went to Forest Lawn in mid-August to take photos of the mausoleum for his Web site on celebrity graves, http://www.cemeteryguide.com.
Two black vans blocked his exit from the grounds, Masek said, and a pair of security guards stood by while he deleted all the photos he had taken. "I fully cooperated and did everything they asked me to," he said.
In his book "Hollywood Remains to be Seen," a look at 14 area cemeteries, "I had pictures for every cemetery except the two Forest Lawns," he said, "because they prohibit commercial photography."
Finding celebrities and their markers or monuments at Forest Lawn Glendale has kept a lot of people busy over the years. Cybermaps abound with detailed lists, directions and photos. Dozens of books have been published guiding the starstruck to dead stars.
That won't change. In fact, it would seem Jackson's presence at Forest Lawn will provide new challenges for everyone involved.