Hussein Samir/SIPA; Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images
Hussein Samir/SIPA; Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images
The world's most memorable glimpse at Blanket Jackson was bizarre by any standards, his father's storied quirks aside.
On Nov. 19, 2002, Michael Jackson carried his then-9-month-old son to the balcony of their suite at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and proceeded to hold him over the railing to show him off to the cheering fans horde of photographers angling for a glimpse at the pop icon's third child. A towel shielded the baby's face the entire time.
Jackson may have proudly envisioned a Lion King moment, and ironically he was in Germany to accept an award honoring his lifelong commitment to helping children, but the incident prompted outraged headlines the world over and even inspired a tragic plot point in a 2003 Law & Order episode.
"I offer no excuses for what happened," Jackson said in a statement as the concern over his fitness as a father reached fever pitch in the span of 24 hours. "I got caught up in the excitement of the moment. I would never intentionally endanger the lives of my children."
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The curiosities had only just begun, however, when it came to Jackson's parenting style and it was really only after he died in 2009 that glimpses of him as a "normal dad" started to emerge, thanks to loving memories shared by his children.
While the pains Jackson took to protect his children's privacy actually don't seem all that strange in hindsight, at the time his efforts—most memorably having the kids wear masks in public—only added to the artist's increasingly eccentric image. And after he was acquitted of child molestation charges after a circus of a trial in 2005, Jackson would spend the rest of his life distrusting the media.
But Jackson's relationship with fame was always complicated, as both the biggest star in the world at one point and as an at times childlike man who never had a chance to grow up properly after being shoved into the spotlight, his family's fortunes placed squarely on his inordinately talented shoulders, at barely 6 years old. Subsequently he wanted his own children to have a shot at a childhood.
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"My dad spoke to me like an adult. He told us the reason for the masks was he wanted us to have our own life without him," Prince Michael Jackson, the late artist's eldest child, told the Los Angeles Times in a rare interview in November 2016.
"I don't think I ever thought about if other kids lived like that when I was younger. But once I knew who he was, I realized it wasn't normal. I remember being in Disneyland and I went to the window and there were all these fans waving and taking pictures of me. I thought it was normal, so I just waved back...You could say my whole life has been unconventional. I really love that though, and it's all I've ever known."
Prince Michael is now 20 and sister Paris Jackson (full name Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson) is 19, and eight years after tragedy thrust them into the spotlight at a young age, they're both working out what sort of public life they want to lead, knowing more than most just how tricky of a balance that is once you've chosen to pursue a career in any sort of entertainment and fame is practically built into their DNA.
"My dad would cry to me at night," Paris told Rolling Stone at the beginning of 2017, recalling how Michael Jackson would speak frankly to her and Prince about the trial and the accusations against him.
"Picture your parent crying to you about the world hating him for something he didn't do. And for me, he was the only thing that mattered. To see my entire world in pain, I started to hate the world because of what they were doing to him. I'm like, 'How can people be so mean?'"
She added, "He did not bulls--t us. You try to give kids the best childhood possible. But you also have to prepare them for the shitty world."
All of which has also made the duo particularly protective of their brother Blanket, who at 15 understandably remains the least visible member of the Michael Jackson branch of the family tree, a new photo Paris just posted on Instagram being the first sanctioned pic we've seen of him in several years.
Blanket—born Prince Michael Jackson II—was only 7 when his father died on June 25, 2009. It was at the massive star-studded memorial for Jackson held at Los Angeles' Staples Center that the world really got their first look at the artist's children. Easily the most heartbreaking moment was 11-year-old Paris informing a till-then quite skeptical world in her never-before-heard voice, "I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much."
Blanket, who sat in the front row with his siblings and grandparents, clutched a program and a Michael Jackson doll.
All three kids were entrusted to the care of their grandmother Katherine Jackson, whom Michael had been extremely close to.
In addition to Katherine (she and husband Joe Jackson remain married but have lived separately for years) there was a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins who rallied around them, but Prince, Paris and Blanket all had their own challenges adjusting to their new world without their dad, who'd been their constant companion.
They had been home-schooled when they lived with their father at his Neverland Ranch and at the Jackson family's sprawling Encino, Calif., compound, designated "the Hayvenhurst House," but they were enrolled in private school after his death.
"The children are doing so well,'' aunt La Toya Jackson told The Daily Beast in 2011. "Michael put masks on them to protect them and to keep them safe from anyone who wanted to hurt him. He's gone now. The first thing my mother did was say to them, 'Today we're unmasking you. Today the masks come off.'"
Katherine, fully funded by Michael's once again booming estate, eventually moved the kids to a gated estate in nearby Calabasas. Prince graduated from the Buckley School (fellow famous alumni include Paris Hiltonand Alyssa Milano) and then enrolled at Loyola Marymount University, intending to major in film but choosing business instead. Paris suffered from depression and, after several suicide attempts—which she has since spoken candidly about—spent her sophomore and half of her junior year of high school at a therapeutic school in Utah. She first met her and Prince's birth mother, Debbie Rowe, when she was 13, and has kept up a relationship with her through Rowe's recent battle with cancer. Paris graduated from high school in 2015 and briefly enrolled in community college before deciding she'd rather go to work; IMG Models signed her this year.
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And then...Blanket. Even his nickname ensured that he would be considered an enigma.
"It's an expression I use with my family and my employees," Michael Jackson explained the moniker in an interview. "I say, 'you should blanket me, you should blanket her with something—meaning, like, a blanket is a blessing. It's a way of us showing our love and caring." Meanwhile, the identity of Blanket's biological mother was never revealed.
After his almost literal unveiling when he was 7, Blanket would make the occasional appearance with Paris and Prince at events honoring their dad, such as the 2011 premiere of Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour in Las Vegas and a tribute concert in 2013, when all three went onstage to introduce a satellite performance by Beyoncé.
But for the past few years, as his brother and sister have gotten older and moved away from the family's home base in Calabasas (though Paris didn't go far, moving into her father's private studio at the otherwise empty Hayvenhurst property), Blanket has stuck to just being a teenager and his family has helped him lead a private life.
"They always say, 'Time heals,'" Paris told Rolling Stone. "But it really doesn't. You just get used to it."
In 2012, after Katherine Jackson fell out of touch with her grandkids for 10 days, sparking a dramatic family rift that was only recently settled, the kids' then-34-year-old cousin T.J. Jackson (a son of Michael's brother Tito Jackson) was appointed co-guardian of Blanket, Paris and Prince, with their grandma's blessing.
"Given her own age and the fact that the Minor Child is now 15 years old, Katherine feels that T.J. is able to assume all necessary responsibilities of the guardianship for the Minor Child," her attorney Ryan G. Baker said in a statement to E! News in October.
In the controversial 2017 Lifetime biopic Searching for Neverland, based on a book penned by two of Jackson's former bodyguards, much was made of the teen wanting to shed the nickname "Blanket" for good—which he very well may have done in his private life.
A source told People in May that the teen, despite Paris' more public struggles, "had the most problems adjusting after Michael died," acting "very lost and extremely upset." But he has long since settled into regular (albeit expensive and exclusive) school life, playing sports and hanging out with friends. According to People, he did drop "Blanket" and preferred to go by Bigi.
No individual family member, including any of his kids, commented on the Lifetime biopic, but a statement from Jackson's estate made it clear that none of them were involved in the making of the movie in any way (Paris reportedly turned down an invitation to visit the set), nor did they sanction any projects, the film included, that sought to "exploit Michael's legacy."
Though Paris Jackson posted her photo with Prince, Blanket (or, if he'd prefer, Bigi) and their close family friend Omer Bhatti on Christmas, and captioned it "happy christmas from ours to yours #brahdas," it's unclear if they spent the holiday together, since other pics posted by Prince and Paris indicate they were in separate locations.
"My brother and my sister, we've all coped differently. I've gotten better the older I get," Prince told the L.A. Times last year.
Prince and Paris, being "adults" now, have set out to greet the media on an even keel, to hit restart on the narrative that got so wildly out of control when their father was alive and for years after his death. They've remained fiercely protective of his legacy and have amiably talked about the ways in which they've chosen to honor him. Both have also decorated their bodies with various tattoos of parental significance.
As for his youngest boy, Prince Michael II, whom he called Blanket, Michael Jackson would be happy to know that the 15-year-old at least had the chance to really be a kid, nor does he appear to be growing up too fast—though he's on his way to surpassing his brother and sister in height.
Blanket is the one who got the closest to normal, and that's what his father wanted from the beginning.