Why Michael Jackson’s children are still trapped in a Neverland of toxic family feuds over his $1.2bn legacy

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Written By Maya Cantina

Fifteen years have passed since they stood, grief-stricken, young and vulnerable, at their father’s memorial service. Since that highly-charged day, watched by the world in 2009, Michael Jackson’s three children have rarely been seen in public together.

Last week, however, the siblings caused quite a stir as they walked the red carpet in London for the opening night of MJ: The Musical.

But while Prince – Jackson’s eldest son, 27, dressed in a dapper maroon shirt and tie – smiled easily and 25-year-old Paris was all high-cheekboned elegance in a rust-coloured dress, the singer’s youngest son, Blanket, 22, looked tense and uncomfortable.

From left: Prince, Paris and Blanket, who looked tense and uncomfortable, on the red carpet in London last week

Janet, Paris, La Toya, Jermaine and Prince looking grief-stricken, young and vulnerable at the pop superstar's memorial in 2009

Janet, Paris, La Toya, Jermaine and Prince looking grief-stricken, young and vulnerable at the pop superstar’s memorial in 2009

With his long dark hair tucked behind his ears, Blanket – once notoriously dangled by his father as a nine-month-old baby from a balcony and now known as Bigi – remained unsmiling, even as Michael’s ever-loyal fans cheered the three youngsters on.

His solemnity was perhaps unsurprising because just like his music legend father, Bigi is at the centre of a bitter family rift.

Yet again, it seems the famously dysfunctional Jackson family, long riven by rivalries and egos, are about to set themselves against each other in an unseemly legal battle over Michael’s financial legacy. On one side of this lucrative fight are the publicity-shy Bigi, supported by his siblings. On the other is Michael’s mother, Bigi’s grandmother and one-time legal guardian Katherine Jackson, 93, who took the children in after their father died.

The children and their grandmother are reportedly going head-to-head in court in a disagreement over a deal which saw half of Jackson’s music catalogue reportedly purchased by Sony Music Group for at least $600million.

This figure was negotiated by the executors of their father’s estate, who have taken the family business from being a debt-laden albatross at the time of Michael’s death at 50 to a multi-billion dollar money-making machine, of which MJ: The Musical is only one lucrative element.

Indeed, the new Sony deal values the entirety of the King of Pop’s music at $1.2billion, which could be the largest valuation ever of a musician’s music assets.

Katherine and Bigi were originally united against the Sony deal, believing the executors of the estate should have waited as Michael’s music would only appreciate in value.

But when earlier this month a Californian judge sided with the executors, and said the deal could go ahead, a split emerged between them. Katherine wants to appeal but Bigi believes that they would be better off not spending their money on a hopeless case.

Katherine Jackson with her son Michael in 2005. She and her grandchildren are reportedly going head-to-head in court in a disagreement over the star's back catalogue

Katherine Jackson with her son Michael in 2005. She and her grandchildren are reportedly going head-to-head in court in a disagreement over the star’s back catalogue 

Paris Jackson and her grandmother Katherine. Paris, who was 11 when her father died, previously said she wanted to stay out of the spotlight but has since gone on to act, sing and model

Paris Jackson and her grandmother Katherine. Paris, who was 11 when her father died, previously said she wanted to stay out of the spotlight but has since gone on to act, sing and model

‘Bigi decided not to waste his resources to participate in an appeal,’ his lawyers wrote in court filings. ‘Nonetheless, Katherine has decided to appeal this court ruling. That decision is not for the benefit of the heirs.’

What’s more Katherine’s side argue the estate should cover her $500,000 legal fees, while Bigi is strongly opposed.

You might be forgiven for wondering what more the aged Katherine Jackson could possibly want from the family purse.

Since Michael’s death from a prescription drug overdose she has been handsomely cared for – receiving more than $55million from a family trust, as well as having considerable lifestyle perks, including a driver, personal chef and 24-hour security.

Yet the clue to the family row, according to one source who spoke to The Mail on Sunday, lies in the fact that Katherine is the only family member, apart from the three children, who receives a direct income from the global superstar’s estate as a trustee.

This Jackson family source has alleged Bigi’s intervention is in part because he believes Katherine is out of her depth in business matters, at the mercy of lawyers, and that some family members are trying to use her to wrest yet more money out of the estate.

‘Katherine is still letting herself be bullied by family who never got over the fact Michael didn’t leave them a considerable amount in his will,’ says the source.

Writer Stacy Brown, who has known the family for 25 years, agrees Bigi and his grandmother are at odds over the Sony deal. But he believes Bigi has Katherine’s interests at heart. ‘Bigi and his siblings want the Sony deal but Katherine believed the estate could have gotten twice as much. She didn’t want them to undervalue Michael’s vast catalogue, given that she and his fans believe it has far more value than any catalogue in history,’ he says.

Prince, Paris and Blanket in 2012. Yet again, it seems the famously dysfunctional Jackson family are about to set themselves against each other in an unseemly legal battle over Michael's financial legacy

Prince, Paris and Blanket in 2012. Yet again, it seems the famously dysfunctional Jackson family are about to set themselves against each other in an unseemly legal battle over Michael’s financial legacy

A  childhood snap of the Jackson children with their father. Before his death he was said to be about $500 million in debt and losing his grip on most of his assets

A  childhood snap of the Jackson children with their father. Before his death he was said to be about $500 million in debt and losing his grip on most of his assets

‘Bigi is challenging the fees for the appeal because he believes Katherine has no chance of overturning the decision and thinks lawyers will charge a premium – perhaps $1,400 an hour.’ Before Michael’s death, Brown continues, ‘he was about $500 million in debt and was losing his grip on most of his assets.

‘At his death, the estate told the tax authorities that Michael was worth only $2,500. The executors have turned that into a $2billion money-making machine.’

Brown spent decades at the heart of the Jackson family, first friends with Jermaine Jackson and then the rest of the clan. He helped them write books, accompanied them on tours and was the first to tell Michael’s sister Rebbie her brother had died.

He once paid for Katherine’s food shopping when she was short of cash after Michael fell out with her. He was also called as a witness for the prosecution in the 2005 child abuse trial against Michael. If anyone knows the depths to which the Jackson family can descend, it’s him.

Brown witnessed the weirdness of Michael first-hand, too. Once, in 1997, he stayed at the Neverland estate and says Michael made all guests sign waivers to let him eavesdrop on phone calls, videotape comings and goings and spy on those in the grounds.

‘Jackson siblings warned me to cover my bedroom and bathroom walls with sheets because you likely were being filmed, even if you were naked,’ he said.

Brown, who has since become estranged from Jackson family members, says: ‘The estate will continue to provide for Katherine until she dies. Mostly because they rarely got along and there was always a rift, Michael didn’t leave his brothers anything. He didn’t leave his sisters anything either, nor his father.’

Against such a tumultuous family backdrop, it’s heartening to see how supportive Michael’s three children are of each other.

The eternally smiley Prince, whose godparents are actor Macaulay Culkin and the late Elizabeth Taylor, has a business administration degree and co-founded a charity Heal Los Angeles, supporting young people.

Jackson on stage in 2008 during fashion designer Christian Audigier's 50th birthday party in Los Angeles

Jackson on stage in 2008 during fashion designer Christian Audigier’s 50th birthday party in Los Angeles

After dabbling in acting, he founded a film production company called King’s Son.

He has said of his closeness to his siblings: ‘You have a bond with them because nobody else really understands how you grew up.But they 100 per cent understand you and it’s a very raw, unfiltered relationship. Especially when there’s a lot of people who may not have best intentions for you.

‘It’s very easy to get caught up in a lot of fake personalities, so it’s only made us stronger as siblings to have that very real relationship with each other, that we know is always love.’

Paris, who was 11 when her father died, previously said she wanted to stay out of the spotlight and be a ‘psychologist or a nurse at a psychiatric ward’ but has since gone on to act, sing and model. She has also spoken of attempting suicide ‘multiple times’ by the age of 15.

Bigi, in contrast, is averse to public attention, not doing interviews and with no social media accounts. Home is a $2.6million LA mansion with 24/7 security.

He’s making his way in the film industry, with his short movie, Rochelles, released this year. The trio’s childhood was eccentric: home-schooled, they were constantly stalked by paparazzi and only seen in public in masks.

As for their mothers, after years of upset, Paris and Prince are thought to have a good relationship with theirs: nurse Debbie Rowe, who offered to have Jackson’s children, delivering Prince in 1997 and Paris a year later.

Bigi was born via an unknown surrogate: ‘I used a surrogate and my sperm cells,’ Michael said. ‘She doesn’t know me and I don’t know her. I didn’t care what race she was so long as she was healthy and her vision was good. And her intellect – I wanted to know how intelligent she is.’

What next for Michael’s children? Brown says: ‘Michael’s will gives complete control to his children once they are 33. With the job done by the executors, it’s not yet known what the kids will decide – they could elect to keep them on to run the business of Michael Jackson.’

You could argue this latest family row couldn’t have come at a worse time for the estate, which is at a crux moment.

After significant worries about whether Michael would be ‘cancelled’ after notorious abuse allegations which saw him charged with ten counts of child molestation in 2005, his musical genius appears to have prevailed.

His songs are still played on radio worldwide and, as well as the Sony deal and new musical, next year sees the release of a new film biopic, Michael.

Much of this commercial success is down to the executors, attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain.

But all is not quite settled when it comes to money. Jackson’s probate case is still open, meaning the trusts set up for the star’s three children and his mother have not yet been funded.

‘Several issues remain to be resolved,’ says a legal source. ‘There is an unsettled tax dispute involving more than $700 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.’

Another concern is the revived lawsuits being brought by two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who alleged in the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland that Jackson abused them for years when they were boys.

Robson, now a 40-year-old choreographer, met Jackson when aged five and appeared in three of his music videos. He alleges Jackson molested him for seven years.

Safechuck, 45, says he was nine when he met Jackson while filming a Pepsi advert. He says the star lavished gifts on him and went on to sexually abuse him.

Both men had lawsuits dismissed in 2013 and 2014 but a new California law that temporarily broadened the scope of sexual abuse cases has allowed the appeals court to restore them.

The Jackson estate has denied the men’s claims and Michael’s brother Marlon says of the accusations: ‘It’s about the money.’

Steve Knopper, author of the 2015 book MJ; The Genius Of Michael Jackson, says any trial would revive memories of previous allegations that Michael abused children.

Accusations that the singer abused three boys in 1993 saw Michael, who denied any wrongdoing, reach a $20 million civil settlement with the ‘primary alleged victim’ and his family because the boy decided not to testify.

‘There may be the possibility of a settlement, the way Michael settled in 1993, as another drawn-out public trial would be damaging to all the work the estate has done to get Michael’s assets back on track,’ Knopper says.

Despite the undoubted financial success of the executors, Brown says family members have mixed feelings about how the estate has been run for the past 15 years.

So the dysfunction in the family continues. ‘There were lots of rifts and lots of egos,’ Brown says.

One can only hope the next generation of Jacksons continue to love and support each other – unlike their predecessors.

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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