As summer approached, students at the private Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., were busy taking finals, planning vacations and buzzing about the prom. But on June 7, while her schoolmates danced the night away at a country club, 15-year-old Paris Jackson, a well-liked cheerleader, was 17 miles across town, confined to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Two days earlier the daughter of Michael Jackson had attempted suicide by cutting her wrist with a knife and swallowing some 20 over-the-counter painkillers. Says a business associate familiar with the situation: "It was a cry for help."
And it was a shocking turn in the life of a teenager who broke the hearts of millions with her tearful speech at her father's 2009 memorial service. Despite her attempts to forge a normal adolescence, "there had been problems for a while," says the associate. Sources (who would only speak on such private matters anonymously to prevent fallout from the family) say the teen has been cutting herself and, in fact, checked into the psychiatric ward at UCLA Medical Center several months ago to receive treatment for depression. Transferred back to UCLA on June 8, Jackson is now undergoing "intense therapy," says a family friend. While the Jacksons remain concerned she could harm herself in the future, the friend says, Paris "is feeling stronger" little by little.
But her path to recovery is already proving rocky. Though the teen is eager to see her friends, she's been less enthusiastic about the adults in her life whom she views as oppressive: her grandmother and primary caretaker, 83-year-old Katherine; Michael's nephew T.J. Jackson, 34, who became Paris's coguardian after a family power struggle last July; and Debbie Rowe, 54, the biological mother with whom Paris recently reconnected. Angry with both Katherine and Rowe for forbidding her to attend a recent Marilyn Manson concert, Paris, says an insider who has been close to the Jacksons for over a decade, has requested Rowe be banned from her hospital room and has asked to limit Katherine's visits. One of the few visitors to receive the okay from Paris: her former nanny Grace Rwaramba. "The kids adore her," says the family friend. But "Grace and Debbie don't get along," adds the family insider. "The whole situation is getting worse by the minute."
So it goes in the ongoing saga of the sprawling, ever-complicated, emotionally fraught Jackson clan. For Paris, a "sensitive 15-year-old," as Katherine's lawyer Sandra Ribera recently described her, the crisis marks a sad chapter in a young life marred by tragedy and constant family politicking. Having witnessed her superstar father's fatal heart attack in 2009 - just 11 years old, she shouted, "Daddy!" while medics frantically tried to resuscitate him - Paris "misses him greatly," says the family insider. An attempt last July by Michael's siblings Janet, Randy and Jermaine to take Paris and her brother Prince, 16, from the family's Calabasas, Calif., compound left her "emotionally exhausted," the family insider adds. And the turmoil just kept coming: As a witness in the civil suit filed by Katherine against AEG, the promoter for Michael's ill-fated This Is It concert tour, Paris has had to relive her father's final days. "She was poised" at her March deposition, says attorney Perry Sanders. But privately the case has taken its toll. "She's paying attention to every word," says the associate. "She's feeling that pain all over again."
In recent months Jackson had sought comfort with Rowe, who surrendered parental rights of Paris and Prince in 2001. (The mother of Michael's third child, 11-year-old Blanket, is an unidentified surrogate.) But even as the two spent time together on Rowe's horse ranch in Palmdale, Calif., Paris continued to struggle. "Everyone knew she was depressed," says the family insider. Recently "she's been throwing tantrums. She loves her grandmother but feels Katherine can't provide for her emotional needs."
Furthermore, as the heir, along with her siblings, to her father's estimated billion-dollar fortune, "Paris is the girl who has everything but the girl who has nothing," says the business associate. Despite the endless cousins, staffers and hangers-on at her home, Paris "is lonely," says the family insider, who adds she thought about legal emancipation but was talked out of it. "Paris feels that everyone just wants to make money off of her. She's saying, 'Who really loves me?'"
As Paris's grades slipped and she began to rebel more, Katherine felt helpless. "This is the most challenging thing Katherine has had to deal with except for Michael dying," says the family insider. "Paris is the wildflower and Katherine is not used to it. She just doesn't know what to do."
Meanwhile the bond between Paris and Prince has deteriorated as Prince chafed at his sister's renewed ties to Rowe. "Prince wants nothing to do with Debbie; he believes she abandoned them," says the family insider, adding that the budding actress's signing with high-powered manager Rick Yorn ignited some sibling rivalry too: "He wants a career, but she's the one getting the attention." Their grandfather Joe Jackson disagrees. "It's a lot of bull," he says. "Prince is trying to be there to support his sister."
As she works to heal, the length of her hospital stay is "up in the air," says the family insider, and the Jacksons have begun potentially contentious discussions about whether someone new needs to step in as Paris's guardian. Regardless of where she'll go when she is released, the world will continue to be transfixed by the girl Michael adored. Says a school source: "Everyone is rallying for her."
- With Champ Clark/Los Angeles,
- Pernilla Cedenheim/Los Angeles,
- Jessica Herndon/Los Angeles,
- Ken Lee/Los Angeles.