Lifestyle

Saturday 20 September 2014

Lawsuits and family rifts: So what's next for Jacko's daughter?

Paris Jackson's attempt to take her life appears to be a result of 'a lot going on' in it, says Will Pavia

Paris Jackson attends a candlelight vigil at the childhood home of Michael Jackson. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Paris Jackson Photo: Twitter
Prince Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Prince Michael Jackson II and Paris Jackson attend the St. Paul Saints Vs. The Gary SouthShore RailCats baseball game at U.S. Steel Yard on August 30, 2012 in Gary, Indiana. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

'Being a sensitive 15-year-old is difficult, no matter who you are," a family lawyer said.

"It sounds more like a boy thing," an unnamed acquaintance suggested to a reporter from a New York tabloid. And according to her mother, she had "a lot going on".

These were the various reactions to the news that Paris Jackson had attempted to take her own life.

Everyone agreed it was not easy to be adolescent. Paris had exams to take, there was apparently some bullying at school and a disagreement at home about not being allowed to attend a Marilyn Manson concert.

"That conversation escalated quickly," she wrote on Twitter last week, and then: "I wonder why tears are salty."

But above and beyond the dramas and trials of a 15-year-old girl loomed a far larger drama: a colossal legal contretemps over who was to blame for the death of her father, Michael Jackson.

A lawsuit had been filed a year after his death on behalf of Paris, her brothers Prince Michael and "Blanket" and their grandmother Katherine, alleging that the entertainment company AEG was culpable in "the tragic wrongful death of the internationally beloved artist".

Now it has ground its way to court. Paris and Prince Michael had already given depositions, and they expected to be called and cross-examined on the grisly details of their father's last days. Armies of lawyers clashed each day, and the vast machinery of an American civil court dredged up both intimate insights and insults to their father's memory.

"We're going to show some ugly stuff," warned Marvin Putnam, a lawyer for AEG, in an opening statement in April.

As this dirty business began in earnest, new allegations that her father was a child molester were being aired in the press and raised, reportedly, by fellow pupils at her school. Then there is Paris's extended family: the uncles and aunts who contest the terms of her father's will and have seemed prepared to do anything to re-arrange matters to their satisfaction. Nearly a year has passed since they escorted her grandmother and legal guardian Katherine from the children's home in Los Angeles to Arizona, ostensibly so that the matriarch could obtain medical treatment "away from phones and computers".

Paris reported her grandmother missing, and Katherine's own lawyer contended that she was being "held against her will". Observers interpreted the bizarre manoeuvre as an attempt to gain guardianship of the children and wrest control of Michael Jackson's estate, which had become vastly more lucrative since his death.

So, as her mother Debbie Rowe said, Paris had "a lot going on".

When news that she had been rushed to hospital reached the Superior Court of the State of California last Wednesday, one member of the Jackson family legal team wept in the courtroom.

The civil case turns on the relatively limited question of whether AEG were responsible for hiring Conrad Murray, the doctor who administered the dose of sedatives to Michael Jackson in June of 2009. Murray, who has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, had signed a contract with AEG to serve as Jackson's physician as the pop star prepared for a comeback tour of 50 concerts. However, AEG, the tour promoter, had not counter-signed the contract and, though they had agreed to pay the doctor $150,000 (€113,000) a month, AEG say they were merely paying him an advance taken from Jackson's own expected earnings from the shows.

After the singer's death, his three children – long shielded by their father from public scrutiny – gradually emerged on to the public stage.

They were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. More recently, Prince Michael began appearing on the TV show Entertainment Tonight as a "special correspondent".

"You are 16 years old but you are so much older and wiser than your years," the programme's presenter Brooke Anderson said. Dressed in a suit but with his white shirt unbuttoned, he resembled a middle-aged stockbroker midway through a night on the tiles.

Anderson asked if he liked the film Oz the Great and Powerful. "Yes, I liked it a lot," he replied. "I thought it was very cinematic."

He said his ambition was to be a director, producer, screenwriter and actor. Despite these tentative steps towards success, the eldest of the children is still vastly outshone by Paris. Hers was the tribute everyone remembered from Michael Jackson's memorial service. "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said. "I just wanted to say I love him so much."

Appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2011, she said she had thought it odd that her father made her wear a mask in public. After years of homeschooling, her grandmother sent her to school in Los Angeles, where she found that she was not recognised. "I was like, yes, I have a chance to be normal," she said.

Normal still meant an exclusive private school. A reporter who visited the Mediterranean-style villa on the northern edge of Los Angeles where the children live with their grandmother described a mansion set behind two vast security gates and its own solar system of mansions for relatives and staff.

Still, life there appears vastly more stable than the hotel suites and shopping expeditions that characterised the last years of her father's life.

Paris described how he tried to make the hotels they stayed in feel like home. "He had this little projector and he'd take a white sheet off the bed and he'd pin it up. Then he'd put pillows all over the ground and we would watch DVDs and movies all the time – we had our own home theatre," she said. "It was difficult transitioning [to school], but I got the hang of it. I'm not socially awkward any more. I used to be so weird."

Although she felt she was still "on a tight leash, I have friends who are completely normal and hey, they don't even think of me as MJ's kid".

At school she had tried photography, American football and cheerleading. At home, she and her brothers "don't really have a lot in common. But when I do hang out with them we play video games a lot. Mortal Kombat gets pretty competitive".

Her grandmother said she wanted Paris "to have a proper childhood. The trouble is, there is a fine line between protecting her and allowing her to do her own thing and live her own life. That's a line I walk daily".

Michael Jackson's brothers and sisters have suggested the singer would have been alarmed to see his daughter posting updates about her personal life on Twitter.

Yet in her frequent missives about pets, friends and her taste in 1980s music, she appears, if anything, miraculously sane.

"Free periods = naps," she wrote recently. Also: "Everyone thinks I'm over dramatic when I'm upset but like when an octopus is stressed out it eats itself, so yeah . . . on that note, g'nite!"

Last week, a 20-minute video that she had apparently shot in her bedroom, offering advice on make-up, appeared on YouTube. "Those of you who have not seen me without make- up, well, hello, this is my face," she said. "It's kind of a shocker."

Her ability to appear normal and uninhibited on social media has made her hugely popular, thus perhaps denting her prospects of a normal and uninhibited life. She now has 1.2 million followers on Twitter and has entirely undone her father's careful attempts to keep her face out of the gossip columns.

"Michael always used to say that Paris had a steely ferocity to her," said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a friend of the late singer. "Prince was more pliable. She was very determined, and she's grown up like that."

Another person with a close knowledge of the family said Paris was "having to grow up very fast, but she understands her own strength. The kids realise that ultimately they hold all the power. The money follows them".

This also lays her and her siblings open to tremendous pressure.

"The kids represent Michael's legacy, and a lot of people want to control that," the rabbi said. "It's not just the money or the music – they are Michael's living legacy on Earth."

Irish Independent

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