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Las Vegas Public Viewing of B.B. King Draws Hundreds

More than 350 people were already lined up when doors opened to see B.B. King one last time.

B.B. King, 1925-2015

May 15, 201501:40
/ Source: Associated Press

B.B. King kept drawing fans in Las Vegas, and a family feud simmered, during a public chance to say goodbye ahead of a weekend memorial service and a final King of the Blues road tour leading back home to the Mississippi Delta.

More than 1,000 people streamed past the body of the music legend during a four-hour public viewing Friday, said Matt Phillips, manager of the Palm South Jones Mortuary several miles west of the Las Vegas Strip.

Ushers ran out of 900 printed cards bearing King's dates of birth and death and lyrics to his signature song, "The Thrill is Gone."

A steady string of King's hit songs — "Everyday I Have the Blues," "Sweet Little Angel," "Why I Sing the Blues" — never stopped as ushers directed people to move past a casket framed by floral arrangements and two of his guitars, always called Lucille.

Georgia Jackson (L) of California and Jerry Wilson of Nevada play blues music as they wait for a public viewing for blues musician B.B. King at Palm South Jones Mortuary on May 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. King died on May 14 in Las Vegas at age 89.Ethan Miller / Getty Images

King died May 14 at home in Las Vegas. He was 89.

One of his 11 surviving children, daughter Rita Washington, greeted some of the 350 people in line when the doors opened. The day smelled like desert rain, but just stayed gray.

“Dad is just loving this," she said. "This is part of his homecoming."

Hours later, another daughter, Shirley King, said she was nothing but angry about the venue and the viewing.

"I'm very upset," she said. "I don't want to be out here disrespecting my father's rest. But something's wrong here."

Shirley King lives in Chicago, and it was her first glimpse of B.B. King since December. She said she thought there should have been seats for people to sit and talk, not just an aisle to shuffle past the body.

People who brought guitars had to leave them outside. No photos were permitted, and ushers stopped several people from trying.

But Marilyn and Tommy Burress weren't disappointed.

The couple from Milwaukee knew when they heard B.B. King had died that they had to pay their final respects. They were in Las Vegas this week for Tommy Burress' 72nd birthday.

"It's inspiring to see how many lives he touched," Tommy Burress, a retired auto worker, said afterward, "how many people loved his music and loved his attitude — friendliness, friendship and love of the people."

A Saturday memorial was set at a Palm Mortuary chapel in downtown Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, the family feud began weeks ago, when King was hospitalized and then brought home for hospice care. Several of his adult children accused his longtime business agent, LaVerne Toney, of endangering his health and raiding his wealth.

A judge said two investigations found no evidence that King was mistreated or abused.

Daughters Karen Williams and Patty King accuse Toney of keeping them from seeing their father for a week after he died — and of preventing them from taking photos of him in his casket.

"We're his children," King said after a private family viewing of King's body on Thursday. "We're going to fight with every breath in our body."

Toney, who worked for King for 39 years, said she's doing what B.B. King said he wanted.

"They want to do what they want to do, which is take over, I guess," Toney said of the family group. "But that wasn't Mr. King's wishes."



— The Associated Press