On a day full of memorable moments, it was the one that everyone was talking about on Tuesday, the one that brought tears to so many eyes. It was the first time the world heard Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, speak. The 11-year-old broke her silence at the end of the memorial service for her late father in a speech that was reportedly unscripted.
"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said, breaking down in tears as her aunt, Janet Jackson, comforted her. According to close family friend the Reverend Al Sharpton — who also stirred hearts with a fiery eulogy in which he compared Jackson to civil rights heroes and assured Jackson's three children that their father was not the "strange" man he was made out to be in the press — the comments by Paris were impromptu.
"That touched everyone. And I think you couldn't script that. She's not reading a prompter," Sharpton told CNN's Larry King on Tuesday evening. "This is a young lady — in fact, if you saw it, they had really said they wanted Janet Jackson to speak. And Janet kind of brought her forward. And she spoke from the heart about her father. I think she's worried [about] the whole world [understanding] how human Michael Jackson was."
The producer of the memorial, Ken Ehrlich, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that the Paris Jackson moment was "not planned" and that he knew the family would take the stage near the end of the nearly three-hour event to speak, but that he "didn't know the kids were going to come up with them."
The three children, including older brother Michael Joseph Jr., 12 (known as Prince Michael), and Prince Michael II (known as Blanket), 7, were seated in the front row along with their grandparents, aunts and uncles in one of the first glimpses the world has had of them without their nearly omnipresent masks and facial coverings. Jackson nearly always kept his children in disguises out of a fear for their security, which is what made the Paris moment that much more touching.
The comments from Jackson's middle child appeared unscripted, as both Janet and grandmother Katherine struggled to lower the microphone stand for Paris, adjusting it several times as Paris closed her eyes tightly and struggled to get the words out. At one point, Janet, shrouded in a black hat and large sunglasses, and who was reportedly expected to speak on behalf of the family, urged her niece to "speak up" so she could be heard by the 11,000 mourners gathered at Staples Center. After ending with "I just wanted to say I love him so much," Paris crumpled into Janet's arms and was led away by her family.
Ehrlich told Blitzer that "a lot of the show was not scripted" and that while music was prepared ahead of time, most of the speakers "really spoke from their heart, people who knew Michael well, and I think that's what gave the show its heart."
"Nobody was prepared for that. That will be one of the iconic moments from today's service," media historian Ron Simon told Reuters of the Paris Jackson moment, comparing it to the salute to slain President John F. Kennedy by his son John during his 1963 funeral.
Syracuse University media scholar Robert Thompson told the news service that, after a lifetime of being shielded and hidden from the world, the first few moments of exposure for Jackson's daughter might actually help her deal with the grief. "This kid in an odd sort of way has been liberated," Thompson opined. "Literally, the veil has been dropped from her, and one gets the sense that this liberation will be a good thing. But then she opens her mouth and reminds us that she's lost her daddy."
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