The images of Michael Jackson’s three children trying their best to look brave at the pop icon’s memorial service in July 2009 were poignant, painful – and, for millions of people around the world, it’s all they remember about the pop icon’s tragic death.
Two weeks after Jackson’s death, from cardiac arrest brought on by powerful sedatives, the three siblings – Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr., nicknamed “Prince,” then 12, Paris Michael Jackson, then 11, and Prince Michael Jackson, II, nicknamed “Blanket,” then 7 – fought back tears in a downtown Los Angeles sports arena filled with nearly 10,000 mourners.
But when a trembling Paris unexpectedly took the microphone to share a few memories about her father, she could no longer hold back the raw emotion.
“Ever since I was born,” Paris sobbed, “Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine.”
In the nearly eight years that have passed since that day, Paris has blossomed into a budding actress and model, while Prince is a college student and music-video producer.
Blanket, who now goes by Bigi, attends a private high school in Los Angeles. (Debbie Rowe, Michael’s ex and mom to Prince and Paris, has been battling cancer and is close with Paris again, though less so with Prince; Blanket’s mother was an unidentified surrogate.)
Fatherhood, says longtime friend Navi — who portrays Jackson in the upcoming Lifetime movie Searching For Neverland — became the King of Pop’s sanctuary – especially after allegations that he sexually abused children began taking a toll on his image.
“Michael finally found a home and a world where he could be alive and be himself,” explains Navi in a story on the Jackson’s children that appears in this week’s PEOPLE.
The May 29 Lifetime biopic is based on the bestselling book about Jackson’s final years by two of his bodyguards and his fierce devotion to his three kids – who, according to sources, remain equally devoted to his memory.
Despite their unorthodox upbringing and the squabbles of the sprawling Jackson clan, the siblings have done their best to lead normal lives.
Adds a family friend, “The kids live like Michael is constantly looking down upon them.”
For more on the Jackson children and their life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Jackson’s oldest child, Prince, 20, loves music — and jokes about his failure to inherit his father’s musical chops.
According to a source, he loves to wisecrack: “Oh, my dad is the King of Pop, but I can’t sing or dance.”
He also long ago realized that he feels more comfortable working behind the scenes and is determined to make a name for himself in the entertainment business. In 2016, he launched the aptly named King’s Son Productions and went to work creating music videos.
Prince, who is fiercely protective of his siblings and described as “levelheaded,” studies business at L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University. This should come in handy – the kids are heirs to a family trust rumored to be worth more than $1 billion.
Ask anyone who knew Jackson and they’ll tell you that his daughter has the same “passionate personality” as her father.
“Basically, as a person,” her brother Prince told Rolling Stone earlier this year, “she is who my dad is.”
The stunning 19-year-old with the piercing blue eyes – who struggled with a number of issues (including, she says, depression, drug addiction and suicide attempts) while in high school – has emerged as Hollywood’s latest It girl, making headlines with appearances on red carpets and multiple magazine covers.
In March, she reportedly signed a seven-figure modeling deal with IMG Models in March.
Weeks later Paris, who sports 50 tattoos (including the logo from her father’s Dangerous album) and lives by herself in the tiny music studio Jackson built in his childhood home in Encino, California, landed a role beside Charlize Theron in the upcoming thriller Gringo.
“She’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her,” says a family friend.
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Jackson’s younger son, Blanket, “had the most problems adjusting after Michael died. He acted very lost and extremely upset,” says a family friend.
In 2015 after reportedly being bullied for years, he changed his name to Bigi.
Although still “shy around people he doesn’t know,” he is now “confident” in private school, focused on grades, sports, movies and hanging out with his friends and nearly 30 cousins.
It’s not exactly clear who is directly in charge of the teenager due to ongoing family disputes, but the 15-year-old lives at grandmother Katherine Jackson’s Calabasas, California, mansion under the custody of Katherine, 87, and co-guardian T.J. Jackson, 38, Michael’s nephew.