Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Michael Jackson’s memorial service Tuesday in Los Angeles is being hailed as the biggest such event in entertainment history, surpassing the throng of 75,000 who paid last respects to Elvis Presley.
But in terms of sheer numbers, the King of Pop’s service did not come close to the biggest sports funeral on record, that of Ayrton Senna, the legendary Formula One driving champion from Brazil killed in a 1994 racing accident.
According to estimates, more than 3 million mourners filed past Senna’s casket in Sao Paulo.
For the sake of comparison, 300,000 lined the streets to view President John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession while another 250,000 viewed his body as it lay in repose.
Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2005 was attended by an estimated 4 million in Rome.
A list of other notable sports funerals:
Mickey Mantle (1995)
About 2,000 mourners turned out to hear Bob Costas’ version of what likely happened at the pearly gates upon The Mick’s death: “Mick, we checked the record. We know some of what went on. Sorry, we can’t let you in. But before you go, God wants to know if you’d sign these six dozen baseballs.”
Walter Payton (1999)
A crowd estimated at 20,000 attended a memorial service for the retired Chicago Bears running back at Soldier Field.
Jackie Robinson (1972)
The Rev. Jesse Jackson eulogized the baseball pioneer before a throng of 2,500 in New York.
Dale Earnhardt (2001)
Multiple North Carolina networks televised the funeral of the stock car racing legend attended by 5,000.
Joe Louis (1981)
More than 3,000 paid their respects, including Muhammad Ali, who said: “From black folks to redneck Mississippi crackers, they loved him. They’re all crying. That shows you. Howard Hughes dies, with all his billions, not a tear. Joe Louis, everybody cried.”
Babe Ruth (1948)
The Sultan of Swat’s body laid in repose at Yankee Stadium, where more than 200,000 of his fans filed past. Another 9,500 attended his funeral mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Lou Gehrig (1941)
The Iron Horse’s funeral service was private. It lasted only eight minutes as no more than 100 family members and friends attended — modest as the man himself, it was described. The Yankees’ game that day appropriately was rained out.
Salvador Sanchez (1982)
More than 10,000 mourners crowded into a 17th-century church to say adios to the popular Mexican boxing champion killed in an automobile crash at the height of his career.
Sonny Liston (1971)
Contrary to belief, the former heavyweight champion did have a funeral service in Las Vegas attended by many boxing luminaries and one who arrived late. Joe Louis, scheduled to be one of Liston’s pallbearers, was playing craps at Caesars Palace.
“Sonny would understand,” said the Brown Bomber.