Inside Paris Jackson's Ongoing Struggle to Stay Positive and Forge Her Own Path Apart From Her Famous Family

As she turns 21, the singer, activist and daughter of Michael Jackson has faced new challenges in the wake of Leaving Neverland

By Natalie Finn Apr 03, 2019 10:00 AMTags
Paris JacksonChelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock

Since her father's death, there has been no such thing as a simple year for Paris Jackson.

She's had triumphs and excitement and major success, love and laughter and light.

But Paris has seen some things, and heard some things. Just when one aspect of her life calms down, it seems as if there's always a controversy brewing to take its place, most of it having nothing to do with her directly. And that can take its toll.

As Paris celebrates her 21st birthday on April 3, the memory of her as a tearful 11-year-old memorializing her famous dad as her aunts and uncles closed ranks around her grows more distant. Yet at the same time, little Paris speaking publicly for the first time has remained a defining moment of Michael Jackson's overall story, a humanizing moment for the late artist who, by the time he died in 2009, had become more of an object of morbid fascination than a fully fleshed-out person.

You don't get to choose the family you're born into, but it's been Paris Jackson's mission both to honor her roots and chart her own course, away from the seemingly never-ending frenzy.

Hence this year being among the toughest she's faced yet.

Paris Jackson's 20th Birthday Party

Since what amounted to sort of a glossy media coming-out party in 2017, which included cover stories in Rolling Stone and Harper's Bazaar, Paris has been busy doing her own thing—modeling, making music, spending time with friends—sometimes in star-studded places like the Sundance Film Festival, the Met Gala, Coachella and the pages of magazines, where she's become an increasingly in-demand presence—and publicizing causes important to her, such as the environment, women's rights, global human rights (she was talking about the crisis in Venezuela two years ago), and stopping animal cruelty. She even left a Dior show in Paris last May because she was uncomfortable with how horses were being utilized in the production.

"i quietly got up and walked out trying my hardest to not cause a scene, because i do not support animals being branded and whipped," she tweeted in response to a report she had "stormed out." "not trying to become enemies in the fashion world in any way, but i will always be myself."

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

"I have so many causes that are dear to my heart and fighting for the people, I feel, is my duty," Paris told Vogue Australia via text message in 2017. "But right now since I'm doing the fashion thing, a huge focus—well, mostly what I'm putting a lot of effort into—is making sure my own personal creativity shows through whatever I'm doing while I'm working. I really want to leave a positive imprint in the fashion world, mostly regarding the media and the stereotypical beauty standard that is blasted all over every magazine you see, every article that pops up on your phone screen, every billboard you see while you're driving down the street. I already have many young girls looking up to me and I want to be something their parents are OK with them looking up to."

Also important to her: authenticity.

"All these 'perfect' women you see everywhere in the media?" she said. "It's very difficult to relate to that because it's not honest. What I want my job to be is to make it all very transparent, to be all inclusive, to expand on the word 'beauty.' If that makes sense lol."

Asked to name her current heroes, she mentioned Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Emma Watson and Michelle Obama. If she could interview any two people, one dead and one alive, it would be John Lennon and Paul McCartney, she said. Serendipitously, her busy 2018 included meeting Sir Paul that January at his daughter Stella McCartney's Autumn 2018 Collection Launch in L.A.

Since she was a teenager, which wasn't all that long ago, Paris has walked a tightrope between public and private life, the sheer force of her name commanding an audience that she didn't ask for. What she has chosen to do with her life has kept that audience around and won her plenty of new admirers—as well as her share of curiosity seekers and critics.

When she tried to get past a pack of paparazzi after the Tom Ford show at New York Fashion Week last year, apparently at least one of them told her that her dad wouldn't have hidden his face, as she did.

"he did… a lot lol," Paris reminisced on Twitter afterward. "does no one remember the hundreds of unique disguises he came up with all the time? the f--k."

Last June she mourned the death of her grandfather Joe Jackson with the rest of her family—and still the patriarch's death provided an opportunity for rumors that Paris and Janet Jackson were feuding because Janet, who welcomed her first child in 2017, didn't spend enough time at her father's deathbed. 

"janet and i haven't argued in over 6 years, stop with these stupid rumors. i have nothing but love for my family and they all know it. f--k off," read the tweet Paris fired off in response.

Todd Williamson/January Images/REX/Shutterstock

A source relayed last year that, in general, Paris doesn't talk to her aunt all that much (Janet lived primarily in London for years), but she remains especially close to both of her brothers, Prince Jackson and Prince Michael II (aka Blanket), and as well as her cousins, of which there are many. She has also shown a lot of love and appreciation for grandmother Katherine Jackson, whom she and her siblings lived with after their dad died, and she's close pals with her godfather, Macaulay Culkin, whom she's known all her life.

When she was about 13 Paris reconnected with her and Prince's mother, Deborah Rowe, who was briefly married to Michael Jackson before signing away her parental rights in 2001. Paris was at her mom's side when Rowe battled breast cancer a few years ago and they remain close.

"I've had a lot of mother figures," Paris told Rolling Stone in 2017, "but by the time my mom came into my life, it wasn't a 'mommy' thing. It's more of an adult relationship."

Meanwhile, Paris has long had an understandably prickly relationship with the media, reminiscent in a way of Prince Harry and Prince William, in that her perspective is rooted in how paparazzi and tabloids treated her now-deceased parent—though Paris is free to say exactly what's on her mind, while the royals have to maintain a certain composed facade. 


"My dad would cry to me at night," she told Rolling Stone in 2017, the article noting that she started to cry. "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?'"

These days, Paris fires back when she feels like it on social media, but overall all the stuff written about her dad and her family, let alone just about her, is too much to consume herself with.

"i smoke weed on my [Instagram] story ONE time and all of a sudden i'm a junkie meth alcoholic party raver that's also secretly married and pregnant and may or may not have a penis," she tweeted last month. Last week she wrote, "the worst thing about paps knowing where you live, worse than the fact that they're s--tting on your privacy, is they're literally s--tting on your safety, too. they're showing the whole world where you sleep and putting you in a lotttt of danger and do they care? nah. #paycheck."

Paris Jackson and Godfather Macaulay Culkin's Adorable Friendship

She has given more than one interview via text, perhaps because it's just more convenient when she's on the go, but also perhaps so she can think about her responses more and have it all in writing before a story comes out.

Paris told Oprah Winfrey in 2012 that her father, though he wanted his kids to have the childhood he didn't have, "had his doubts" that she'd be able to live a normal life.

But she eventually decided to go forth and conquer, rather than retreat.

"I honestly used to have no motivation whatsoever to be in the public eye; it scared me," she told Teen Vogue in 2017. "I've seen what it can do to people, [and] plenty get hurt. But after a long time of thinking, I started to really see the kind of impact I already have on people, how I was born with a platform, and I didn't want to waste it. There are so many people who work their entire lives to create a platform and mine was just handed to me.... Why not use it for something important?"

Gisela Schober/Getty Images

By the time 2019 rolled around, however, she needed a break.

"After a busy year of work engagements that took her all over the globe, Paris decided that she needed to take some time off to reboot, realign and prioritize her physical and emotional health," a source explained to E! News at the time. "She checked herself into a treatment facility to aid in her wellness plan and is looking forward to coming out of this revitalized and ready to tackle the exciting new projects that await her."

Paris has put a priority on self-care in recent years, having been hospitalized following a suicide attempt (which wasn't her first) when she was 15. But any time someone checks into anywhere, that tends to get funneled through the grapevine in more scandalous terms.

Presley Ann/Getty Images for Republic Records

".. yes i've taken a break from work and social media and my phone because it can be too much sometimes, and everyone deserves a break, but i am happy and healthy and feeling better than ever!" she clarified on Instagram. "gabriel and i have some new music we're stoked to share with y'all! (@thesoundflowers) hope you guys' new year started out with lots of love and light and all the things. i'll be back soon!! xxox."

"Gabriel" being her boyfriend Gabriel Glenn, the other half of her acoustic rock duo The Soundflowers and a key member of her support system. And, according to a recent Insta caption: "#mcm my muse, my vice, the love of my life."

Even grandma Katherine has watched The Soundflowers play.


Sources say she has been leaning on Glenn a lot lately, particularly in the wake of the loud pop culture reckoning being held last month on TV and all over the internet in response to Leaving Neverland, HBO's two-part documentary in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck recounted in graphic detail abuse they say they suffered as children at the hands of Michael Jackson. (Jackson's estate sued HBO for $100 million before it aired, saying the network violated a previous agreement, entered into in 1992, not to disparage the late artist.)

Paris denied in February, a few days after the film premiered at Sundance, that she was having a "meltdown" over it or otherwise "losing [her] s--t."

"I said it before and I'll say it again, I'm the happiest and healthiest I've been in a long time," she tweeted.

But even though most people hadn't even seen it yet, Leaving Neverland was the talk of the town (not to mention Twitter) for the rest of the month.

"Gabriel is super supportive and understanding about how hard the last few weeks have been for Paris," a source told E! News in March. "He's been there for her and they have grown closer through this. He's been a constant in her life and she really needs him right now."

Michael Jackson Family Photos: Court Exhibits

Paris has historically always maintained, since first speaking out at his memorial, that Michael Jackson was a great father, and she hasn't minced words about those who would smear his name.

She tweeted last month about haters and some media trying to tear down "everyone with a good heart and tries to make a difference," continuing "but do you really think that it's possible to tear his name down ? like do you truly believe they stand a chance ? relax and have peace."

"stay the way you are Paris," replied a supporter going by MJJJusticeProject. "you've got the right attitude - The people may try but they don't realize the world is in LOVE with your father - In areas of the remotest village, where there are no phones, his name is known and he is remembered lovingly. .much love and light -"

As always, the well of Jackson fans remains deep, but Leaving Neverland had members of the family up in arms, including her cousin Taj Jackson, who in addition to denouncing the project also started a GoFundMe campaign to finance a documentary that he said would be the real Jackson story. As of Tuesday it had raised more than $114,000.

"It is tremendously difficult for Michael's kids to have to relive all of this really graphic stuff a decade after his passing," a source close to Paris told E! News last month. Paris had a lot of family to turn to, luckily, including her brothers, her uncle Randy Jackson and cousin T.J. Jackson, who was appointed Prince, Paris and Blanket's co-guardian in 2012. (Blanket, now 17, is the only remaining minor of the group.)



The two Princes took a trip to Tokyo over Christmas break with other family members, and the elder Prince's social media accounts are primarily devoted to art, nature, his motorcycle and his beloved dogs. He didn't tweet for a couple of weeks after Leaving Neverland premiered and never addressed it publicly.

"There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said in regards to defense," Paris tweeted on March 14. "Taj is doing a perfect job on his own. and i support him. But that's not my role. I'm just tryna get everyone to chill out and go with the flow, be mellow and think about the bigger picture. That's me."

In response to another person who wrote, "The bigger picture is you father's legacy ruined and his name smeared forever..." Paris replied, "so.... not love and peace and trying to carry that message out? tabloids and lies are the bigger picture? i'll pray for you."

But though she professed to be doing just fine, a trip to the hospital on March 16 resulted in TMZ reporting that she had attempted suicide, making it impossible not to think of her past struggles with depression and self-harm.

Paris bluntly replied to TMZ's report: "f--k you you f--king liars."


Over on Instagram Story, she added a selfie stamped with "f--k you i'm chillen like bob dylan."

Paris did have what was characterized to E! News as an incident that required medical treatment, and by that afternoon she was fine and back home—after which she headed out with Gabriel for some KFC and a movie.

She has been open in the past about drug and mental health issues and her struggle to stay positive, knowing as a public figure she has a chance to impact the ongoing conversation about the increasing instance of suicide among young people and the importance of reaching out if you're in need of help.

When she was in the 8th grade, newly enrolled in private school after being home-schooled till she was 12, Paris told Oprah Winfrey for Oprah's Next Chapter that there was "drama" among the girls at school and some kids had attempted to bully her, at school and online. "They try to get to me with words," she said, smiling, "but that doesn't really work."

Child Stars Then and Now

When Oprah puzzled over the idea of why anyone wouldn't be trying to be Paris' friend, she replied matter-of-factly, "A lot of people don't like me." She didn't know why. 

But those tween years can be tough, no matter who you are. And sometimes being famous (and yet, not, at the same time) only makes it worse. 

"It was just self-hatred," she told Rolling Stone about her suicide attempt at 15, after which she went to a therapeutic high school school in Utah for a year and a half. "Low self-esteem, thinking that I couldn't do anything right, not thinking I was worthy of living anymore." Going away to school made her "a completely different person," she said. Before, "I was crazy. I was actually crazy. I was going through a lot of, like, teen angst. And I was also dealing with my depression and my anxiety without any help."

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly

Talking about her dad all the time was also hard enough even in less charged times and, speaking to Harper's Bazaar in 2017, she acknowledged that it made her sad.

As far as the inevitable presence of online trolls in her life, she said bluntly, "Who gives a f--k? You're on their mind—how is that a bad thing? Doesn't matter if they're saying good or bad things about you. They're thinking about you enough to write about you. You just can't care."

Because of the home-schooling, Paris was used to being around mostly adults and family members. "For the past six years, I've been learning how to communicate," she said. "And I think I've gotten pretty good at it."

Celeb Kids Who Model

But after baring her demons during her run of reflective interviews in 2017, some of which noted that she was happily clean and sober, Paris seemed to want to turn the attention away from herself and back toward the causes she was passionate about. 

"So many people right now are so focused on what kind of shoes this person has, the designer purse they carry, what car they drive, [or] whether they wear the same outfit more than once," Paris told Teen Vogue. "I want to use my platform for something other than that. I want to actually make a difference. So everything that I'm doing—the acting, the modeling—it's all just to grow my platform so I can use my voice for things that matter."

She didn't really miss a step publicly after her medical issue last month. She went to the premiere of Netflix's The Dirt with Gabriel on March 18, attended a taping of Culkin's Bunny Ears podcast on March 19 and, a few days later, a family source told us she was feeling much better. Paris firmly maintains she did not hurt herself on March 16, but she was unquestionably going through a tough time, with the release of Leaving Neverland and the 10th anniversary of her father's death approaching in June.

"It just added up," the family insider said.

But, the source added, "She's really on the mend and is listening to people who are giving her solid direction. She was ecstatic to see Diana Ross' comments on her dad after everything that has happened."  (Ross tweeted on March 23, "This is what's on my heart this morning. I believe and trust that Michael Jackson was and is A magnificent incredible force to me and to many others. STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE") 


Music has been one of Paris' saving graces lately. "She's very musically motivated and it's been therapeutic for her," the family source said, adding, "everyone is rooting for her to do well."

Paris was making plans to celebrate the big 2-1, the family source said, and she was on stage Saturday night at the Mint in L.A., singing with Gabriel and Soundflowers. Brother Prince, photographed out and about for the first time since Leaving Neverland came out, and mom Debbie were among those who turned out to support her.

"Paris was in a fantastic mood Saturday," a source told E! News. "Music is really an emotional outlet for her, so whenever she has the opportunity to perform—it is when she truly shines and is in a good place. Paris knows she has a lot going for her right now, so she is excited to just take the next right step and get back on track. She has several modeling and music gigs in the pipeline, and her birthday is on Wednesday, so things are looking up from just a few weeks ago."