The world's most memorable glimpse of the baby known as 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, born Prince Michael Jackson II, 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 his cheering fans. A horde of photographers angled for a glimpse at the pop icon's third child, but a towel was shielding his face.
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."
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 so-called normal dad started to emerge, thanks to loving memories shared by his two eldest children, Prince Jackson (born Michael Joseph Jackson Jr.) and Paris Jackson (born Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson).
Jackson's youngest, that little baby who was so memorably introduced to the world, is now 20. A few years ago he ditched the nickname "Blanket" and started going by Bigi. He loved movies, was "really into comics and the comic book world," a source told E! News as his high school graduation approached, and he was living that teenage-boy life, astounding familial history aside.
He was "especially tight" with older brother Prince, though all three siblings are close, the source added.
"My little brother is a legal adult today. what the f--k," Paris, now 23, wrote on Instagram for Bigi's 18th birthday in 2019, sharing a few old photos. "i used to change his diapers. this is such a trip.. proud of the handsome, intelligent, insightful, funny, and kind young man he has become. he likes privacy so that's all i gotta say. hbd lil bro."
The most low-profile of the Jackson children, Bigi agreed to an interview in November with Good Morning America, during which he toured a room full of memorabilia from his father's legendary career.
"There's a lot of really cool stuff here," he said. "I think there's a lot of history in this house and studio here. And that's what he was all about and that's just kind of what each of us want to do...make things that people hopefully enjoy, but also can benefit their lives."
While there's no sign yet that Bigi's interested in a more public profile, he did join his siblings for a rare appearance all together Feb. 1 for the Broadway opening of MJ: The Musical.
"When we were growing up, my father would say, you know, 'We could have nothing, but you look around in this room, your brother, your sister, and me, that's all you'll ever have,'" Prince, who turned 25 on Feb. 13, told Good Morning Britain in October. "And that always stuck with my siblings and I, and we have such a close relationship."
He shared that, because he was the oldest, their dad told him that he'd be responsible down the road for looking after his brother and sister. Sadly, that stop on the road came sooner than anticipated when Michael died in 2009 at the age of 50, and Prince admitted he wasn't ready to step up.
"After his passing, and us being thrown into the 'real world,'" he continued, "my siblings, honestly—they picked up the slack that I unfortunately left behind."
And now they're all young adults, which for anyone who remembers when they were born, their arrivals shrouded in secrecy, is just wild.
Prince noted that, with only a few years separating them, no one really acted the role of oldest or youngest anymore. "Every moment that I get with them—any little family dinner, any little family outing," he said, "is really a special moment for me."
Moreover, they've got a legacy to oversee.
At the "Thriller Night" benefit he hosted at the family home in Encino, Calif., for his Healing Los Angeles foundation, Prince told Access Hollywood in October 2019 , "I think with any siblings, you know, you grow up in a situation and factors that are very similar.
"Just like in that situation you have a bond with them because nobody else really understands how you grew up or how you were raised. But they 100 percent understand you and it's a very raw, unfiltered relationship. And especially, you know, when there's a lot of people who may not have the best intentions for you, it's very easy to get caught up in a lot of fake personalities, so I think it's only made us stronger as siblings to have that bond, to have that very real relationship and raw relationship with each other, that we know it's always love."
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 notably having the kids wear masks in public—only added to the artist's eccentric image. After he was acquitted of child molestation charges following a circus of a trial in 2005, Jackson would spend the rest of his life distrusting the media.
But the artist'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.
"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 told the Los Angeles Times 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 graduated from Loyola Marymount University and has been focused on philanthropy, while Paris started modeling and singing, for awhile forming The Soundflowers with then-boyfriend Gabriel Glenn.
Almost 13 years after tragedy thrust them into a different kind of spotlight than the one they were already in, the Jackson siblings are still 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 Bigi, who has remained the least visible member of the Michael Jackson branch of their sprawling family tree. When Paris posted a photo of herself with both brothers around Christmas in 2017, it was the first sanctioned pic the public had seen of Bigi in several years.
He was only 7 when their 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."
The child still known as Blanket sat in the front row with his siblings and grandparents, clutching a program and a Michael Jackson doll.
All three kids were entrusted to the care of their paternal grandmother Katherine Jackson.
In addition to their grandma (she and husband Joe Jackson remained married but had lived separately for years before he died in 2018) 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 had been their constant companion.
They had been home-schooled when they lived with their father at his Neverland Ranch and at the sprawling family compound in Encino, 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.'"
But even the nickname Blanket ensured that Prince Michael II 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 showing love and caring." Meanwhile, the identity of Blanket's biological mother was never revealed.
"I used a surrogate mother and my own sperm cells," Jackson did divulge, per J. Randy Taraborrelli's Michael Jackson: The Madness, the Magic, the Whole Story. "She doesn't know me and I don't know her. I didn't care what race she was so long as long as she was healthy and her vision was good. And her intellect—I wanted to know how intelligent she is."
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.
"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 took awhile to settle, the kids' then-34-year-old cousin T.J. Jackson (the youngest son of Michael's brother Tito Jackson) was appointed co-guardian of Blanket, Paris and Prince, with their grandma's blessing.
Katherine filed the paperwork to transfer full guardianship to T.J., a married father of four and stepfather of two, in October 2017.
"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 at the time, Blanket being the remaining "Minor Child."
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.
A source told People that May that the teen, despite Paris' more public struggles, "had the most problems adjusting after Michael died," acting "very lost and extremely upset." But by then he had long since settled into regular school life, playing sports and hanging out with friends.
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."
"My brother and my sister, we've all coped differently. I've gotten better the older I get," Prince told the L.A. Times in 2016.
Prince and Paris 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, and in November 2019 they represented their dad at a 60th anniversary celebration of Motown held in Beverly Hills.
As for his youngest, Michael Jackson would be happy to know that Bigi did get to have a childhood. In recent, pre-pandemic years, he traveled to Japan and Italy with Prince and T.J.'s family, and in May 2019 he and Prince recorded a movie review show on YouTube with their cousin Taj Jackson (T.J.'s brother). Naturally, comics aficionado Bigi started with Avengers: Endgame and the Marvel Universe.
"My brother has a really unique talent to be able to tell you, even a movie he hasn't seen, he'll tell you what year it came out," Prince told Entertainment Tonight in October 2019. "He knows the director, the staff, the crew, everybody behind it that you wouldn't know. He really thinks and studies about film in a different way that you would notice and that comes with his upbringing with my dad encouraging him to study film.
"We had a film teacher at a very young age. So it was really his idea and he was championing behind it. I feel like I have an outgoing personality that kind of lightens the mood a little bit and then Taj is a fantastic mediator, where we balance each other all out."
The ability to balance each other out sounds like what their father wanted for all three of his kids all along.
(Originally published Dec. 26, 2017, at 1:15 p.m. PT)