Paris Jackson lost her father when she was 11.
To the world, Michael Jackson had largely become a punchline thanks to his changing appearance, legal battles and unquestionably eccentric lifestyle.
To Paris, he was "the best father you could ever imagine."
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Interestingly enough, the world was more than happy to reclaim Michael Jackson the genius, the King of Pop who made some of the most iconic songs of all time, after his death on June 25, 2009. His musical legacy and the outpouring of tributes immediately overshadowed the oddities, the jokes, the disturbing and sad allegations that he had molested children at his beloved Neverland Ranch.
We're not questioning that. The man is gone, he was incredibly talented, he was found not guilty in a court of law and his life turned tragic any way you look at it, considering he was only 50 when he died of a propofol overdose, having enlisted a doctor to regularly administer the heavy sedative to help him sleep.
But Jackson also left behind three young children—Paris Katherine and her brothers, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince; and Prince Michael Jackson II, aka Blanket—who, while perhaps set for life financially, have had to grow up in the longest of shadows.
It was one thing when they were quite young and given over immediately to their grandma Katherine Jackson's care. But once they became teenagers, life got more complicated as they simultaneously had to navigate adolescence and inevitably start to learn more about their dad's life and legacy—as well as become more familiar with the different things people have had to say about Michael Jackson over the years.
In retrospect, despite their famous name, the Jackson children have grown up in almost shockingly normal circumstances—even Paris' struggles, though the causes and concerns are all her own, could be relatable for so many other teens.
Paris suffered from depression and was hospitalized after a reported suicide attempt when she was 15 and it was easy to assume that that would be the beginning of a much darker story. But though Paris' recovery—which included more time spent with birth mother Debbie Rowe—made its share of headlines, her family deftly helped steer her out of the spotlight. After taking some time off to heal, she moved to Utah to continue high school.
Prince graduated from Buckley, a private high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., last year, and his little brother (baby Blanket is 14 now!) is reportedly going there as well.
Forget their name for a second and, other than a few red carpet appearances and their devoted following on social media, they're a decidedly un-Hollywood bunch.
But as Prince and Paris have started to wade into adulthood, they're presumably realizing more than ever that they may never not be known as "Michael Jackson's kids." And Paris, in particular, has come forward as a fierce protector of her dad's name in a day and age when it's become easier than ever to cast anonymous stones.
Just yesterday she took to Twitter to slam a story about unearthed reports from a Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department raid on Neverland Ranch in 2003 that claimed deputies found child pornography on the premises. (Jackson was acquitted on all counts when he was tried on charges of child molestation in 2005.)
"Unfortunately negativity will always sell. I urge you all to ignore the trash & the parasites who make a career trying to slander my father," she wrote Tuesday night.
"The most pure people are always torn down.. It will continue to be proven that my beloved dad has always been and forever will be innocent."
She added a picture of her dad from his "Scream" video ("Tired of injustice / Tired of the schemes / Your lies are disgusting / What does it mean") in which he's flipping the bird and captioned the tweet "#mood."
On Wednesday Paris also retweeted her cousin Taj Jackson, who wrote, "A well-timed and planned out smear campaign targeting my uncle's name. This is cyber bullying at it's finest. The eagerness and willingness of world media outlets to copy and paste a headline and story from a click bait gossip blog is irresponsible and shameful. No one wishes this done to them, so why is it ok to do this to us?"
The seventh anniversary of Jackson's death is on Saturday.
"Seven years ago this coming Saturday, the world lost an amazing artist and humanitarian devoted to helping children in need in all corners of the world," read a statement released by Jackson's estate. "Everything in these reports, including what the County of Santa Barbara calls 'content that appears to be obtained off the Internet or through unknown sources' is false."
The report popped up a day after Paris called out Twitter critics who gave her crap for not posting a tribute on Father's Day—a glaring example of just how strange her life actually must be, despite the striving for normality on any other given day.
"It you try to harass someone into posting online about a holiday (fathers day), ask yourself if it's any of your business," she tweeted Monday. "having 8 tattoos dedicated to someone overrules a single post about them on a stupid social media acc because of a holiday. #justmyopinion."
Paris had been planning to get inked in honor of her dad for years, first tweeting the sentiment in 2012: "I kinda want to get August XXIX tatted on my back." (Aug. 29 being Jackson's birthday.)
While that tattoo could very well exist now, when she turned 18 Paris showed off fresh ink on her wrist, the words "Queen of My Heart" in her dad's handwriting.
Around that time Prince got the Egyptian deity Anubis—a man with a canine head, wielding a scythe, who's known for easing the transition between this life and the afterlife—behind his right shoulder.
And the two have continued to bond over tattoos. A week ago, Paris shared pics of the siblings' recently stamped Dangerous art: She and Prince both got the image of their dad's eyes surrounded by detailed animals, angels and other illustrations that's on the 1991 album tattooed on their inner forearms. Prince also got an eye on his inner wrist and Paris got a smaller version on her right thumb.
"bart & lisa back at it again," she captioned her Instagram.
"The meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life. It is present in the infinity of forms and phenomena that exist in all of creation," Paris captioned another shot of the Dangerous tat when she first got it. "Never forget your roots, and always be proud of where you came from."
Paris has certainly maintained that perspective, but it isn't hard to imagine how difficult it must be to be faced with such salacious headlines that, apparently, can surface at any time.
They have a doting grandmother, five uncles, two aunts and a ton of cousins (including one on the way), but Paris, Prince and Blanket are what's directly left of their father.
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And no matter how many people prefer to think of him as "the late, great Michael Jackson," there may always be headlines to deal with.
Prince tweeted back in October in response to a guy who told him to drop the "FAKE front" and admit Jackson wasn't his father: "'The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb' I was raised by my dad with my brother and sister." And when people couldn't handle that either, he clarified, "Ok so I guess everyone took my last tweet and twisted it around(as usual) my dad is my dad through and through same with my siblings. The tweet was just to let the people who would like to argue otherwise that their accusations don't phase [sic] me or my siblings."
Lord knows people have tried.
"I have lots of memories of my father," Paris told the U.K.'s Mail on Sunday in a rare interview in 2013. "He was an incredible father. We all loved him to death. He'd try to educate us as much as he could and was always looking out for us. He was very protective."
When Neverland's Ferris wheel was torn down, Paris "cried and cried," she said. "It's beautiful there. It still has good energy."
The entire 2,700-acre estate—renamed Sycamore Valley Ranch—is currently on the market for $100 million.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
But in the end, losing that Ferris wheel may have been harder for Paris than saying goodbye to Neverland entirely. Fifteen is a long way from 18, and Michael Jackson's only daughter had far less time than most to learn that nothing lasts forever and it's how we process life's ups and downs that can make or break us.
"I don't see a dark past anymore. My scars and past of self-hatred have been covered by loving marks, creativity, ingenuity and depth. Sure, I will always carry my past with me, but I see ink as a way of changing for the better, always improving. They represent strength for me.
"i look back at my old self and then i look in the mirror, and i see a fighter looking back at me. i'll always keep fighting, and encouraging others to stay strong. we all go through hell every now and then but it makes us the warriors of love we were meant to be. so to anyone struggling, it gets better. you're not alone."
Wise beyond her years.