The day that the world said goodbye to Michael Jackson was also the day it was formally introduced to the reclusive singer's three young children. Most prominently in the spotlight was his 11-year old middle child, daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, whose tearful remembrance of "the best father you could ever imagine" instantly became the most memorable moment of the nearly three-hour public memorial for the King of Pop.
The world knows very little about Paris, her older brother,
Michael Joseph Jr., 12 (known as Prince Michael) and Prince Michael II (known as "Blanket"), 7, whose faces and private lives were kept intensely guarded by Jackson during his lifetime as a means of sparing them from the harsh spotlight he lived under as a world-famous child star.
But, given that they were the offspring of the most famous pop star in the world, the ceaseless scramble to get photos of the children and find out about their lives led Jackson to shield their faces behind veils, masks and other disguises, making their public debut at his funeral all the more dramatic. In what has been described as a spontaneous act, Paris broke her lifelong public silence with the heartbreaking plea: "I just wanted to say I love him so much."
Like Michael Joseph Jr., Paris is Jackson's daughter from his second short-lived marriage, to Debbie Rowe, a nurse who worked for the singer's dermatologist. In the wake of Jackson's death, a variety of allegations have come forward claiming that he was not the biological father of the children — with some reporting that Rowe's boss, dermatologist Arnold Klein, was the sperm donor, a claim he denied
on Wednesday on "Good Morning America." (Jackson's youngest was carried by a still-unidentified surrogate.) Jackson and Rowe divorced in 1999, less than a year after Paris' birth, and Rowe agreed to give her ex-husband full custody of the children, although she has said she may attempt to gain custody in the wake of his death.
From the time of her birth, Jackson tried to keep Paris' face hidden from view as he moved his children across the globe following his acquittal in 2005 on child-molestation charges. Occasional glimpses of the girl — who was hidden behind feathered masks, Halloween get-ups and printed veils — were seen as she joined her unconventional family in a nomadic existence that took them from Neverland Valley Ranch to Bahrain, Las Vegas, the East Coast and various rented Los Angeles residences.
Despite her unconventional life, friends and former employees of Jackson recently told Us Magazine for a July 13 cover story that Paris and her brothers were very polite, well-adjusted and free of their father's notorious eccentricities. Jackson's former photographer Ian Barkley said they were "some of the most intelligent kids I've ever been around," with several sources describing Jackson lending a hand in the home-schooling of his children by teaching them lessons on African-American history, art and music.
While the confidants describe the children as remarkably well-adjusted, Barkley said the homeschooling and isolation from other children — Jackson reportedly didn't let them stray far from the home at Neverland because he allegedly feared coyotes would attack them — took a toll on them, especially Paris. Worried that they would be subject to constant questions about their paternity, Jackson kept them close, which Barkley said weighed on his daughter. "Sometimes you'd just see her sitting in her window looking like she was kind of depressed when they were out on the ranch," he said, though former publicist Raymone Bain — who sued Jackson for $44 million weeks before his death — said they weren't that isolated and often had sleepovers with friends.
Even with the doting attention they got from Jackson, Barkley said Paris often yearned for a mother figure. "Paris had issues where she wanted a mother instead of just a dad," he told the magazine.
It's unclear if Rowe will reassert her rights as the children's mother in the wake of Jackson's death, but for now they have been put in the temporary custody of the singer's mother, Katherine Jackson. On Tuesday, they were seated in the front row along with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, with Blanket clutching a copy of the memorial program and an action figure of his father as Paris and Prince Michael sat stoically just feet from their father's flower-draped golden casket.
In a sad irony, Jackson's first marriage was to Lisa Marie Presley,
the only child of Elvis Presley and wife Priscilla, who, like Paris, was forced to grow up in public following the death of her unimaginably famous father at a young age (42). Like Paris, Lisa Marie grew up in her father's secluded playground — in her case, Elvis' Graceland mansion — and was showered with lavish gifts by her doting dad, who died when she was just 9 years old.
Even if Paris Jackson fades back into a life of seclusion, the world will always remember her as the little girl who just wanted to say that she loved her dad.
What did you think of Paris Jackson's appearance at the Michael Jackson memorial? Let us know below.