The world's most memorable glimpse of 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 as a horde of photographers angled 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."
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 two eldest children, Prince Jackson (born Michael Joseph Jackson Jr.) and Paris Jackson (Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson).
Jackson's youngest, that little baby who was so memorably introduced to the world, is now 18. A few years ago he ditched the nickname "Blanket" and started going by Bigi. He loves movies, is "really into comics and the comic book world," a source told E! News recently, and he's living that regular-teenager life, astounding familial history aside.
He attends high school and is "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 wrote on Instagram Friday, 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."
"I think with any siblings, you know, you grow up in a situation and factors that are very similar," Prince told Access Hollywood in October at the "Thriller Night" benefit he hosted at the family home in Encino, Calif., for his foundation, Healing Los Angeles. "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 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.
"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 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, 23, graduated from Loyola Marymount University last year and has been focused on philanthropy, while Paris, 21, has been modeling and performing with boyfriend Gabriel Glenn in their band The Soundflowers. More than 10 years after tragedy thrust them into a different kind of spotlight than the one they were already under, 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 littlest brother, who has remained the least visible member of the Michael Jackson branch of the 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.
Bigi, then known as Blanket, 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 paternal grandmother Katherine Jackson, whom Michael had been extremely close to.
In addition to Katherine (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.'"
Katherine, fully funded by Michael's once again booming estate, eventually moved the kids to a gated community in nearby Calabasas. Prince graduated from the Buckley School (fellow famous alumni include Paris Hilton and Alyssa Milano) and then enrolled at Loyola Marymount, intending to major in film but choosing business instead. Paris suffered from depression and, after several suicide attempts—which she has spoken candidly about—spent her sophomore and half of her junior year of high school at a therapeutic school in Utah. 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 in 2017 and she most recently walked in Jean-Paul Gaultier's final couture show in Paris last month.
She first met her and Prince's birth mother, Debbie Rowe, when she was 13, and though Prince has kept his distance, Paris has kept up a relationship. She showed up by the former nurse's side when Rowe was battling breast cancer in 2016, and Rowe was in the audience at one of Paris' shows last year.
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 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.
But as his brother and sister have gotten older and moved away from the family's home base in Calabasas (though not far), 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 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., who's 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 he has 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."
The release last year of the documentary Leaving Neverland, which resulted in the Jackson estate suing HBO for allegedly breaking a decades-old agreement not to disparage the artist (the two sides are still fighting it out), further tested his kids' resolve. But their memories of their father remain unsullied.
"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 last year they represented their dad at a 60th anniversary celebration of Motown held in Beverly Hills.
As for his youngest boy, Prince Michael II, whom he called Blanket, Michael Jackson would be happy to know that the now 18-year-old at least had the chance to really be a kid. He has traveled to Japan and Italy with Prince and T.J.'s family, and last May 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. "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."
Prince initially said they were launching a whole movie review channel, but that's the only episode they've posted to date.
Perhaps Bigi will want to lean into his love of movies on a more regular basis once he's done with high school. But in the meantime, the teen is the one who got the closest to normal, and that's what his father wanted from the beginning.
(Originally published Dec. 26, 2017, at 1:15 p.m. PT)