IN THEIR pained journey through adolescence, the progeny of Michael Jackson have discovered that a world without masks or veils is an unforgiving place. In the four years since the sudden death of their father, they have been asked to suffer a private loss under public scrutiny. It is an undertaking that would challenge even the most grounded of adults. To ask it of the children of one of the 20th century’s most enduring and contentious icons is another matter entirely.
On Wednesday, the singer’s only daughter, Paris, 15, was hospitalised after a reported overdose at the Los Angeles home she shares with her siblings Prince, 16, and Blanket, 10, along with their 82-year-old grandmother and guardian, Katherine Jackson.
Amid reports of multiple cuts to the teenager’s wrist, the incident saw history repeating itself. The Jackson name was in the headlines again and as so often before, the latest instalment of the saga had nothing to do with music.
The events prompted a welter of speculation as to the emotional wellbeing of a teenage girl forced to bear extraordinary burdens. Like her classmates at Buckley, a private school in California, Paris must cope with exams and fledgling relationships, but she must also endure a watching world intrigued by the ruinous circus that passes for her extended family.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the offspring of a man whose life served as a cautionary tale against childhood fame are the focus of such concern. The Jackson tragedy continues to be played out on myriad stages, from the websites and pages of sensationalist tabloids to courts of law.
Just two days before Paris was hospitalised, the head of a leading music promoter took to the stand at Los Angeles County Superior Court to accuse Jackson’s mother and children of conducting an extortion attempt.
Randy Phillips, the chief executive officer of AEG Live, was giving evidence in a wrongful death case brought by Jackson’s family against his firm. The lawsuit, filed by Katherine on behalf of the three children, accuses AEG Live of negligence in hiring Dr Conrad Murray as Jackson’s personal physician.
In a £25bn civil trial that is not expected to conclude until the end of July at the earliest, the witness list comprises characters who played both leading roles – Lisa Marie Presley, Diana Ross and Quincy Jones – in the sideshow that was Jackson’s life, as well as cameo acts, like Lou Ferrigno, the former Incredible Hulk star who worked sporadically as the singer’s personal trainer. Jackson’s children, however, are no mere spectators to the vaudeville. Both Paris and Prince are expected to testify.
Whether recent events preclude the late musician’s only daughter from giving evidence remains to be seen, but whatever the verdict, the conclusion of the AEG lawsuit will not deliver closure. For all the internal battles that the Jackson clan waged during Michael’s lifetime, none compares to the war that has broken out in the wake of his demise.
As is so often the case, the prize is money. Although Jackson was half a billion dollars in debt at the time he died aged 50, astute management of his legacy has ensured his is a particularly lucrative afterlife. It is thought that his estate has earned in the region of £385m since June 2009, generated by upwards of 50 million album sales, sellout performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson “One”, and profits from This Is It, the film documenting Jackson’s final concert rehearsals.
The largesse has created two camps within the family: on one side, Katherine and her grandchildren; on the other, the majority of Jackson’s siblings, including Janet, Jermaine, Randy, Tito and Rebbie. The latter group was excluded from the singer’s will, and they have repeatedly questioned the validity of the “fake, flawed, and fraudulent” document bearing his signature.
Last July, the stand-off culminated in the bizarre disappearance of Katherine for several days, promoting Paris to take to Twitter to warn she would “make whoever did this pay”. The following day, the LAPD were called to the gated community where she and her siblings live, amid allegations Janet, Jermaine and Randy had tried to confiscate her mobile phone. Prince, too, accused his aunts and uncles of denying access to his grandmother, denouncing “how badly she was lied to”.
Whatever the truth behind the episode, the hurt endured by the young Jacksons may be about to intensify. As part of the AEG lawsuit, it is understood defence lawyers claim to have information proving that Blanket alone is the singer’s biological child.
Jackson long claimed he was the children’s father, but the flurry of claims and counterclaims which followed his death included the suggestion that his dermatologist, Arnie Klein, acted as a sperm donor to allow nurse Debbie Rowe, to conceive Paris and Prince.
Although the Jackson family have convinced the trial judge that the paternity of the children is of no relevance to the case, AEG may use the information if it loses and a jury is asked to decided on a damages award.
In the meantime, the Jackson youngsters will find an all too familiar degree of intrusion into their lives as they take tentative steps towards adulthood.
With Paris having embarked on an acting career, and Prince working as a celebrity interviewer, they are increasingly regarded as legitimate targets by some sections of the media.
The world of masks and veils in which their father raised them must seem a distant memory. «