Kevin Mazur / WireImage 1 / 7
Kevin Mazur / WireImage 1 / 7

NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Jackson, who was not only one of the most influential forces in MTV's history but also provided its Video Music Awards with some of its most irreverent moments, got reverential treatment Sunday as Madonna and his sister Janet provided emotional tributes — one through words, one through song.

Madonna kicked off the show Sunday with a poignant speech about her relationship with Michael Jackson, which began when she was a child idolizing the then-child star, then morphed into a friendship when both were at the apex of their careers, and later, grew distant.

Madonna lamented the negative publicity that dogged him in his later years.

"Sometimes, we have to lose things before we can truly appreciate them," said Madonna, dressed in black.

"Yes, Michael Jackson was a human being, but yes, he was a king," she told the celebrity-studded crowd, on their feet for the entire speech. "Long live the king."

The musical tribute began afterward, as Jackson clones dressed in some of his signature outfits recreated his famous dance moves from videos like "Bad," "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller."

Then, as "Scream," his duet with Janet, appeared on a large screen, his sister came out to recreate the moves from their only video together as the crowd, including Beyonce, cheered her on. Afterward, she looked heavenward, and bowed.

Jackson died in Los Angeles on June 25 at age 50. The medical examiner's office has labeled the death a homicide, and prosecutors are still investigating.

Jackson was not only an integral part of MTV's history — his legendary videos changed the way music clips were made and he was the first black artist whose work was aired on the fledgling network — but he also provided the VMAs with some of its most memorable moments, including his infamous smooch with then-wife Lisa Marie Presley, in 1994.

The Jackson tribute wasn't the only moment where Jackson's presence was be felt. The network is also aired the premiere of the trailer for "This Is It," the documentary about Jackson's preparations for his comeback concerts that were to be held in London. The film is due to come out in October.

Both the trailer and the tribute are sure to spark some sad emotions, but with a show to be hosted by British comedian Russell Brand and featuring acts ranging from Lady Gaga to Pink, those bittersweet moments won't last for long. Last year, Brand made his debut as host by poking fun at the Jonas Brothers' vow of purity, among other ribald moments.

There were plenty of colorful moments before the show began, as celebrities including Pink and Buzz Aldrin mingled in front of the cameras at Radio City Music Hall.

Lady Gaga made one of the more intriguing entrances, wearing a top hat, a gold mask looking like something out of "Phantom of the Opera" and feathered bodice. She also had some intimate moments with a celebrity date even more famous — Kermit the Frog. They kissed several times, leading Kermit to openly worry about the reaction from longtime galpal Miss Piggy.

Not to be outdone, teen sensation Taylor Swift arrived in a fairy-tale carriage drawn by white horses.

Beyonce and Lady GaGa lead all artists with nine nominations each, but the show's winners aren't nearly as memorable as the wacky and wild moments, and noteworthy performances.

Both superstars are expected to perform, along with Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Green Day and other acts. And the night won't just focus on music: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, the much fawned-over stars from the vampire film "Twilight," will present clips from the movie's sequel, "New Moon."

More on Wonderwall:

See pics from Michael Jackson's memorial service

See more pics from this year's VMAs

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