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Poet And Activist Maya Angelou Dies At 86

Venerable poet and author Maya Angelou has died. She was found unresponsive in her North Carolina home, just days after citing health problems when canceling an appearance at an honorary ceremony. Her impact on American culture, particularly in the African-American community, has been lauded by the literary, political, and celebrity communities alike. Our Gossip Table panelists honored her life as the news of her death broke this morning.

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M.J.’s Memorial: Most Beautiful Ever?

Our headline may sound a little over the top, but is it really? A crowd of around 17,000 Michael Jackson fans who were packed into L.A.’s Staples Center — plus an estimated billion people watching worldwide on live television — were given the show of a lifetime today. The event is already being billed as the first worldwide memorial service. Some highlights:

  • We watched Michael Jackson’s casket, gold-plated and covered in red flowers, being carried into the Staples Center and placed in front of the stage. (Watch the clip above and the whole M.J. memorial at VH1.)
  • We listened to Queen Latifah read a touching poem by Maya Angelou.
  • We listened to basketball great Magic Johnson talk about the “greatest moment” of his life: Eating a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with Michael Jackson. (We never knew the Gloved One was so, um, average.)
  • We watched Brooke Shields, who struggled to speak through tears, say that Michael Jackson was “pure, non-jaded and a lover of life.” Rumored to have dated Jackson in the 80s, Brooke described becoming friends with the King of Pop when she was 13 years old and how the two bonded over being child stars.
  • We listened to Smokey Robinson, who wrote several songs made famous by Michael, read condolences from both Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela.
  • We watched Motown founder Berry Gordy say that Michael Jackson was “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”
  • We watched a heartfelt, soulful rendition of “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” by Stevie Wonder, who proclaimed that he wished he “hadn’t lived to see this day.” We watched riveting performances by Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie and Jennifer Hudson.
  • We also watched Usher‘s performance of “Gone Too Soon” (co-written by M.J. himself) start off shaky with a gasp for air and end in tears.
  • We listened as the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed Michael’s kids directly, saying: “Wasn’t nothing strange about your dad, it was strange with what your daddy had to deal with.” We’re not sure about that one, but we’ll let it pass.
  • We watched a stage full of celebrities and children sing “We Are the World,” the song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985 and used to help fight famine in Africa.
  • We watched Michael Jackson’s weeping little daughter, Paris, say that that “daddy has been the best father that you can ever imagine and I just want to say that I love him so much” — easily the saddest moment of the day. Ugh. (Watch Paris Jackson speak here).
  • And we watched Michael’s big brother, Jermaine Jackson, sing and cry at the same time, which looked like a difficult feat to us.

Then again, we shed a tear or two while blogging — and that’s not easy to do, either.

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