The plot of this story is so compelling, it’s practically made for television. The famous breadwinner and de-facto head of a prominent family dies suddenly, suffocating under a mountain of bills after years of odd behavior and slow career death. He conspicuously cuts his siblings out of his will, leaving almost everything to his mother and children of dubious parentage. The snub leaves his relatives squabbling in the wake of his death, especially after he proves to be more valuable in death than he was in the latter part of his life. Throw in some ferocious bickering, accusations of kidnapping and fraud, and you’ve got the makings of a ratings-bonanza.
Sadly, we’re not talking about Dynasty, or the reincarnation of Dallas.
Welcome to the gripping yet undignified spectacle into which Jackson family has devolved. Three years after the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the bizarre and opportunistic (a polite substitute for money-grubbing) ways of his family have outlasted the King of Pop himself. A “civil war” has erupted over the money bequeathed to his children, which in itself underscores how little faith the musical icon had in any of his siblings — including Janet Jackson, a superstar in her own right and the sister with whom he reportedly shared the closest relationship.
Janet is often regarded as the Jackson with the comparatively better track record. Her success has allowed her to cultivate a safe distance from the shenanigans of her siblings. Yet now she finds herself occupying the central role at the heart of this drama, standing accused of hitting her 14-year old niece Paris in a bout of rage. The strange confrontation – and her own fading fortunes – indicates that she too may have finally succumbed to the disease that long ago infected her other family members: fighting over money.
Sometimes, blood and money are as compatible as oil and water. The events of the last few days – indeed, the entire three-year span since the pop star’s death – suggest that Michael may have been on to something when he ignominiously stripped his brothers and sisters out of his will. His free-spending ways and elongated career flameout left his estate with a debt burden that rivals Greece. At first blush, it makes one question why the Jacksons seem intent on humiliating themselves over a bankrupt legacy. Yet since Michael passed into the hereafter, the extraordinary revival of interest in his music has all but wiped the slate of his debts clean.
Hence why his siblings can’t seem to contain themselves, as they vie for control of the remainder of the money his will leaves to his mother and his children. True to their reputations as one of America’s most contentious families since the Hatfields and McCoys, the Jacksons have provided nonstop grist for the tabloids. It all plays out against a backdrop of money troubles that have dogged each of them throughout their lives, and provides a perverse incentive for them to stake a claim on Michael’s estate – even if it means trapping his children in the crossfire.
Truthfully, none of the Jacksons inspire confidence. Virtually every member of the dynasty – if they can truly describe themselves as such anymore – have messy past histories that raise serious questions about their judgment. In recent days, Randy Jackson – who helped manage Michael’s business in his twilight years and reportedly convinced friends to loan money to the pop star – has leveled charges that Michael’s will was fraudulent (nearly three years after a judge dismissed such claims). Jermaine has floated in and out of financial trouble for years, prompting him to cook up a reality TV series in order to earn a living; Joe the abusive patriarch has a track record with money that’s almost as checkered as his personal back-story; Janet’s career decline has led her to take up with a Middle-Eastern billionaire; and let’s not even get started on LaToya, the family’s reigning black sheep.
Even Katherine, the normally serene 82-year-old Jackson matriarch who won custody of Michael’s kids seemingly by default, apparently felt the need to flee the strange implosion of her family. The slow-motion train wreck has now temporarily cost her custody of her grandchildren, and kicked the family drama up several notches. Hardly the sort of people in whom a dying man would repose his confidence, money and the lives of his children.
As Paris merrily chronicles the saga via Twitter, one can’t help but wonder about the long-term impact of all this feuding on Michael’s young children. The pop star was more than guilty of his own bizarre antics during his lifetime, but surely he must be spinning in his grave over this recent turn of events. It all underscores how Michael’s mistrust of his family may have been the one area of his life where he demonstrated sound judgment.