The MTV Video Music Awards kicked off last night on a poignant note for the late King of Pop.

Madonna opened the show with a speech about her friend Michael Jackson, telling of her almost lifelong relationship with him. It all began when they were kids, she said, and she looked up to the young child star. Then they both got to hang out in the early '90s, going out to dinner and watching movies at her place later.

"Yes, Michael Jackson was a human being, but yes, he was a king," she told the crowd at Radio City Music Hall, which included Joe and Jermaine Jackson. "Long live the king."

After Madonna's opening homage - "It was good to finally get to say my piece," she said later in the press room - the musical tribute started with MJ look-alikes recreating his moves from such memorable videos as "Bad," "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller."

When "Scream," Jackson's duet with sister Janet, appeared on the jumbo screen behind the stage, she came out to dance as they both did in the original video. When the number was over, she looked up, and then bowed her head.

Host Russell Brand played nice, as well he should have, where Jackson was concerned. "Tonight is dedicated to the great Michael Jackson," the British comedian said. "Let's honor Michael tonight by loving one another in his memory."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

- With Glenn Gamboa

>> Relive the 2009 MTV VMAs with our live blog