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Jackson fans pack Harlem for Apollo memorial

  • Story Highlights
  • Fans line streets for blocks to pay tribute to Michael Jackson at Apollo Theater
  • Fans lay flowers, mementos at the foot of the stage, dance to Jackson's music
  • Jackson 5 won amateur night contest at Apollo in 1967
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Fans of Michael Jackson lined the streets outside Harlem's Apollo Theater on Tuesday for a chance to pay their respects to the late "King of Pop" at the hall that helped launch his career.

A well-wisher leaves flowers at the Michael Jackson memorial at Harlem's Apollo Theater.

A hat and glittery glove represent Michael Jackson at the Apollo Theater tribute.

The crowd stood eight to 10 abreast in the sun and 80-degree weather for 10 blocks, waiting for hours for a chance to enter the theater. Fans were allowed in 600 at a time, where they lay flowers and other mementos at the foot of the stage and danced to Jackson's music as it played over the sound system.

"We left our house at 4 o'clock in the morning and got here at 9, and we were lucky to get here," said Angela Staples, who came to New York from Pennsylvania with her daughter Jasmine. "I'm so happy about the outpouring of love and the crowd and the people. It's so respectful to Michael."

Those in the hall observed a moment of silence at 5:26 p.m. -- the time Jackson was pronounced dead Thursday in Los Angeles, California. The cause of the 50-year-old singer's death has not yet been determined.

An autopsy on the 50-year-old singer was was inconclusive, leaving authorities waiting on the results of toxicology tests to determine what killed him.

Fans have been gathering outside the theater since last week to remember Jackson, who at age 9 won a 1967 Apollo amateur night showcase with his brothers in the group the Jackson 5.

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"While he went on from the Apollo stage to achieve international fame on an unprecedented level, to us and all of you, he's family because he started out here," said Jonelle Procope, the legendary venue's CEO.

Jackson became an idol of both black and white fans and was among the first African-American artists to get widespread play on the music-video channel MTV. But in later years, he was known more for a roller-coaster personal life, including extensive plastic surgery, financial woes and a 1995 trial and acquittal on child-molestation charges.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York civil rights activist who became a friend of the Jackson family, urged Jackson's fans not to let critics "scandalize" a groundbreaking performer.

"Michael wasn't no freak," Sharpton said. "Michael was a genius. Michael was an innovator. You can't take someone with extraordinary skills, extraordinary talent, and make him an ordinary person. He was extraordinary. He lived extraordinarily, and we love him with an extraordinary passion."

The Apollo had been one of the top venues for jazz, gospel and soul artists for decades before the Jacksons' breakthrough. Sharpton said the theater was home to "the best and the baddest."

"You've got to come from the stage of the Apollo and go all over the world to understand Michael," Sharpton said. "We understand his journey, because we were with him every step of the way."

The Jackson brothers' amateur night win led to a $1,000 deal for 31 shows at the Apollo, said Bobby Schiffman, whose family owned the theater.

"Shortly after their appearance, Diana Ross took them on an NBC special that she did, and there was no looking back after that. They just skyrocketed," Schiffman said.

Jackson at the time "was a sweet little boy," he said.

"He was extremely talented, extremely easy to get along with," Schiffman said. "He always had a smile on his face, and it was a pleasure to see him working in the theater."

CNN's Aspen Steib contributed to this report.

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