The war of Jacko's will: First his mother 'vanished'. Now his brothers are accused of trying to make off with his children. So who'll win the feud over his 1bn legacy
07:38 GMT, 25 July 2012
Paris Jackson pictured near her home in Calabasas, California, where she lives with her grandmother and legal guardian Katherine and two brothers
How bitterly ironic that the remaining members of The Jackson 5 are in the middle of performing what, with dark humour — or monumental cynicism — they have christened The Unity Tour.
Few people, however, are buying the sham. Without the group’s one true talent — their late brother, Michael — the tour has been something of a flop, with 11 of the 27 concerts in the U.S. being cancelled because of poor ticket sales.
And even the most cursory examination of the internecine hostilities being waged within the warring clan gives the lie to the facade of familial harmony.
Indeed yesterday, in yet another astonishing development, police were called to the home of the family’s absent matriarch Katherine amid reports of a fight involving family members at her Los Angeles mansion.
Officers are investigating a possible case of battery at the property after three of the late singer’s siblings arrived and reportedly sought to leave with his children, who live there with 82-year-old Mrs Jackson, their legal guardian.
Although police would not name those involved, an entertainment news website published a photo of Janet Jackson and her older brother Jermaine engaged in what was reported to be a heated argument outside the house in the upmarket suburb of Calabasas.
According to reports in the U.S., the siblings and another brother, Randy, arrived at the house and wanted to leave with the singer’s three children, Prince Michael, 15, Paris, 14, and ten-year-old Prince Michael II, who is known by the nickname Blanket.
And as the civil war engulfing the family intensified, Sandra Ribera, Mrs Jackson’s lawyer, claimed the singer’s children had been taken to another location.
‘Jackson family members ambushed Katherine’s home after their vehicle tore through security gates on the tail of the SUV containing Michael’s children,’ Ms Ribera said.
Another website published footage of what it claimed was Janet Jackson attempting to take her niece Paris’s mobile phone during the alleged ‘ambush’.
There were even reports yesterday that the executors of Jackson’s estate will ask a court to appoint a temporary guardian for the children, who are the main beneficiaries of their father’s will.
This is only the latest murky episode in an increasingly tawdry tale of scheming, greed and factional fighting that is tearing the Jackson family apart.
At the weekend, 82-year-old Katherine was reported missing by one of her nephews after she apparently ‘vanished’ from her home.
As police were called in to find her, Paris used Twitter to beg for information about Katherine.
‘My grandmother is missing,’ a frantic Paris wrote. ‘I haven’t spoken to her in a week. I want her home now. If anybody sees my grandmother, please call the authorities.’
Almost immediately, members of the family, in particular Paris’s uncle — Michael’s brother Jermaine — tweeted that he and some of his siblings had removed the apparently frail Katherine from her home so that she could rest in Arizona on doctor’s orders.
And yesterday, after police had finally tracked Katherine down to the desert home of her eldest daughter, Rebbie, and pronounced her safe and well, a photo was issued of her happily playing cards with family members.
Just to add to the controversy, Paris, who says she is being kept away from her grandmother, tweeted that she had still not been allowed to talk to Katherine, saying: ‘Eight days and counting. Something is really off. This isn’t like her at all. I want to speak directly to my grandmother.’
Somewhat implausibly, surely, the implication seems to be that Katherine has been held against her will.
Now comes that alleged punch-up, which is said to have been sparked when security staff ‘evicted’ Jermaine, Randy and Janet Jackson from the property.
(The suggestion is that the trio intended taking Michael’s children to visit Katherine in Arizona, but guards intervened to stop them.)
Feuds: A surveillance video broadcast on Good Morning America yesterday which apparently shows an altercation between Janet Jackson and Paris Jackson
‘Welcome to the Jackson family,’ Brian Oxman, the clan’s long-time lawyer and former confidant of Michael, told me candidly. ‘They have been at the centre of a storm since Michael and his brothers were kids. I doubt whether the storm will ever abate.’
So what is going on Well, as is often the case when it comes to this shamelessly grasping showbiz family, it is necessary to follow the money.
King of Pop: Michael Jackson left a reported 1billion legacy to his mother and his three children
There are claims in the U.S. from legal sources representing Michael’s children that Jermaine and Randy are trying to have Katherine declared infirm, which would bring into question the 45,000 she receives each month from Michael’s estate to look after Paris and her brothers.
Jermaine and Randy are said to be trying to get themselves assigned to the role of ‘conservators’ after claiming their mother is ill after a stroke. But the real battle centres on a far bigger prize — the rest of the Thriller singer’s 1 billion legacy.
Pointedly, Jacko’s father Joe, who the singer accused of being a violent bully when he was growing up, was left nothing in the star’s will.
Nor were Jackson’s eight surviving brothers and sisters — many of whom the star had funded.
Instead, 50-year-old Michael bequeathed everything to his mother and his three children, along with a handful of charities. Two previous attempts by five of his siblings to have the will overturned ended in failure.
But last week the same five — sisters Rebbie, 62, and Janet, 46, plus brothers Jermaine, 57, Tito, 58, and 56-year-old Randy — launched a new offensive against the two lawyers who administer the singer’s highly lucrative estate. They wrote to Jacko’s executors, John Branca and John McClain, accusing them of manipulating Katherine into increasing their fees, and making their mother ill due to stress. The letter was immediately leaked on the internet.
The sense of grievance among the Jackson siblings has led in recent weeks to some of Katherine’s children reportedly turning on her because she has refused to back their legal action.
I am told their anger is also focused on Mrs Jackson’s grown-up nephew, Trent, who reported her missing, her manager Lowell Henry and another member of her legal team named Perry Sanders, all of whom exert increasing influence over Katherine.
Within hours of the letter becoming public, Randy Jackson went on Twitter to state it was authentic.
That led Paris, who has more than 500,000 Twitter followers, to publicly accuse her uncle Randy of lying about Katherine’s health. ‘I am going to clarify right now that what has been said about my grandmother is a rumour and nothing has happened, she is completely fine,’ she tweeted.
In another message to Randy, she said: ‘I don’t appreciate you letting everyone think things that aren’t the truth, thank you very much.
‘I will defend my beloved family member with all I have, even if that means [protecting Katherine] from other family members.’ And when one of her followers on Twitter suggested Paris should have respect for her uncle Randy, she replied: ‘Maybe he should have respect for his mother.’
Mystery: Katherine Jackson was reported missing, then found. But her granddaughter Paris has taken to Twitter to accuse her relatives of disrespecting her
Clearly Paris, who has starred in a children’s film called Lundon’s Bridge And The Three Keys, due out next year, is a headstrong girl.
Still, your heart cannot help but go out to her and her brothers — particularly as they would lose out on millions if their uncles and aunts have their way.
The latest challenge to the will comes as the executors of Michael’s estate announced that the 300 million debts he left have been paid off, thanks to a posthumous 166 million album contract, and the 194 million earned by the film of Jackson’s rehearsals for the UK comeback shows he was planning when he died in June 2009.
The vast bulk of the future earnings from his vast catalogue of hits will go to his mother, Katherine, and his children, the eldest two of whom have almost no contact with their natural mother, Debbie Rowe.
The identity of Blanket’s mother — like his siblings, he is said to have been fathered by an anonymous sperm donor — has never been revealed.
Controversy: Jermaine, Janet and Randy Jackson on a visit to Micheal Jackson's grave at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, on the first Anniversary of his death
Part of the reason Michael’s siblings are so keen to cash in on the 1 billion expected to be generated in the next ten years is that Jermaine and Randy are both seriously short of money.
Last year, Jermaine claimed he could not afford to pay 1,900-a-month child support to his ex-wife Alejandra for their two children, Jaafar and Jermajesty, when she took him to court over 64,000 of missed payments.
And before Michael’s death, struggling musician Randy had to resort to doing odd jobs and changing tyres in a garage to support himself.
The siblings claim that Michael’s signature on the will that cut them off without a penny was forged. They say he was in New York, not Los Angeles, where the will was supposed to have been signed, on July 2, 2002.
But the executors of his estate say the siblings’ claims are nothing more than ‘stale internet conspiracy theories’.
Battle: Jackson's children, from right, Prince Michael Jackson, Paris Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II, aka Blanket, stand to lose millions if other members of the family successfully contest the star's will
To exacerbate the family schism further, Katherine’s three remaining children — LaToya, 56, Jackie, 61, and 55-year-old Marlon — have refused to join in the bid to have the will declared void.
Long-time Jackson friend and lawyer Brian Oxman told me: ‘Katherine is fine. There is no more or less tension between her and her children than there has ever been.
‘It has been that way for ever, but they always come together. This is no different, it’s just another chapter. They are used to the controversy.’
Which, given the all-out war raging over Michael Jackson’s lucrative legacy, might just be the understatement of the year.