In her first-ever in-depth interview, Michael Jackson’s daughter discusses her father’s pain and finding peace after addiction and heartache
Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson is staring at a famous corpse. “That’s Marilyn Monroe,” she whispers, facing a wall covered with gruesome autopsy photos. “And that’s JFK. You can’t even find these online.” On a Thursday afternoon in late November, Paris is making her way through the Museum of Death, a cramped maze of formaldehyde-scented horrors on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s not uncommon for visitors, confronted with decapitation photos, snuff films and serial-killer memorabilia, to faint, vomit or both. But Paris, not far removed from the emo and goth phases of her earlier teens, seems to find it all somehow soothing. This is her ninth visit. “It’s awesome,” she had said on the way over. “They have a real electric chair and a real head!”
Paris Jackson turned 18 last April, and moment by moment, can come across as much older or much younger, having lived a life that’s veered between sheltered and agonizingly exposed. She is a pure child of the 21st century, with her mashed-up hippie-punk fashion sense (today she’s wearing a tie-dye button-down, jeggings and Converse high-tops) and boundary-free musical tastes (she’s decorated her sneakers with lyrics by Mötley Crüe and Arctic Monkeys; is obsessed with Alice Cooper – she calls him “bae” – and the singer-songwriter Butch Walker; loves Nirvana and Justin Bieber too). But she is, even more so, her father’s child. “Basically, as a person, she is who my dad is,” says her older brother, Prince Michael Jackson. “The only thing that’s different would be her age and her gender.” Paris is similar to Michael, he adds, “in all of her strengths, and almost all of her weaknesses as well. She’s very passionate. She is very emotional to the point where she can let emotion cloud her judgment.”
Paris has, with impressive speed, acquired more than 50 tattoos, sneaking in the first few while underage. Nine of them are devoted to Michael Jackson, who died when she was 11 years old, sending her, Prince and their youngest brother, Blanket, spiraling out of what had been – as they perceived it – a cloistered, near-idyllic little world. “They always say, ‘Time heals,'” she says. “But it really doesn’t. You just get used to it. I live life with the mentality of ‘OK, I lost the only thing that has ever been important to me.’ So going forward, anything bad that happens can’t be nearly as bad as what happened before. So I can handle it.” Michael still visits her in her dreams, she says: “I feel him with me all the time.”
Michael, who saw himself as Peter Pan, liked to call his only daughter Tinker Bell. She has FAITH, TRUST AND PIXIE DUST inked near her clavicle. She has an image from the cover of Dangerous on her forearm, the Bad logo on her hand, and the words QUEEN OF MY HEART – in her dad’s handwriting, from a letter he wrote her – on her inner left wrist. “He’s brought me nothing but joy,” she says. “So why not have constant reminders of joy?”
She also has tattoos honoring John Lennon, David Bowie and her dad’s sometime rival Prince – plus Van Halen and, on her inner lip, the word MÖTLEY (her boyfriend has CRÜE in the same spot). On her right wrist is a rope-and-jade bracelet that Michael bought in Africa. He was wearing it when he died, and Paris’ nanny retrieved it for her. “It still smells like him,” Paris says.
She fixes her huge blue-green eyes on each of the museum’s attractions without flinching, until she comes to a section of taxidermied pets. “I don’t really like this room,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “I draw the line with animals. I can’t do it. This breaks my heart.” She recently rescued a hyperactive pit-bull-mix puppy, Koa, who has an uneasy coexistence with Kenya, a snuggly Labrador her dad brought home a decade ago.
Paris describes herself as “desensitized” to even the most graphic reminders of human mortality. In June 2013, drowning in depression and a drug addiction, she tried to kill herself at age 15, slashing her wrist and downing 20 Motrin pills. “It was just self-hatred,” she says, “low self-esteem, thinking that I couldn’t do anything right, not thinking I was worthy of living anymore.” She had been self-harming, cutting herself, managing to conceal it from her family. Some of her tattoos now cover the scars, as well as what she says are track marks from drug use. Before that, she had already attempted suicide “multiple times,” she says, with an incongruous laugh. “It was just once that it became public.” The hospital had a “three-strike rule,” she recalls, and, after that last attempt, insisted she attend a residential therapy program.
Home-schooled before her father’s death, Paris had agreed to attend a private school starting in seventh grade. She didn’t fit in – at all – and started hanging out with the only kids who accepted her, “a lot of older people doing a lot of crazy things,” she says. “I was doing a lot of things that 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds shouldn’t do. I tried to grow up too fast, and I wasn’t really that nice of a person.” She also faced cyberbullying, and still struggles with cruel online comments. “The whole freedom-of-speech thing is great,” she says. “But I don’t think that our Founding Fathers predicted social media when they created all of these amendments and stuff.”
There was another trauma that she’s never mentioned in public. When she was 14, a much older “complete stranger” sexually assaulted her, she says. “I don’t wanna give too many details. But it was not a good experience at all, and it was really hard for me, and, at the time, I didn’t tell anybody.”
After her last suicide attempt, she spent sophomore year and half of junior year at a therapeutic school in Utah. “It was great for me,” she says. “I’m a completely different person.” Before, she says with a small smile, “I was crazy. I was actually crazy. I was going through a lot of, like, teen angst. And I was also dealing with my depression and my anxiety without any help.” Her father, she says, also struggled with depression, and she was prescribed the same antidepressants he once took, though she’s no longer on any psych meds.
Now sober and happier than she’s ever been, with menthol cigarettes her main remaining vice, Paris moved out of her grandma Katherine’s house shortly after her 18th birthday, heading to the old Jackson family estate. She spends nearly every minute of each day with her boyfriend, Michael Snoddy, a 26-year-old drummer – he plays with the percussion ensemble Street Drum Corps – and Virginia native whose dyed mohawk, tattoos and perpetually sagging pants don’t obscure boy-band looks and a puppy-dog sweetness. “I never met anyone before who made me feel the way music makes me feel,” says Paris. When they met, he had an ill-considered, now-covered Confederate flag tattoo that raised understandable doubts among the Jacksons. “But the more I actually got to know him,” says Prince, “he’s a really cool guy.”
Paris took a quick stab at community college after graduating high school – a year early – in 2015, but wasn’t feeling it. She is an heir to a mammoth fortune – the Michael Jackson Family Trust is likely worth more than $1 billion, with disbursements to the kids in stages. But she wants to earn her own money, and now that she’s a legal adult, to embrace her other inheritance: celebrity.
And in the end, as the charismatic, beautiful daughter of one of the most famous men who ever lived, what choice did she have? She is, for now, a model, an actress, a work in progress. She can, when she feels like it, exhibit a regal poise that’s almost intimidating, while remaining chill enough to become pals with her giant-goateed tattoo artist. She has impeccable manners – you might guess that she was raised well. She so charmed producer-director Lee Daniels in a recent meeting that he’s begun talking to her manager about a role for her on his Fox show, Star. She plays a few instruments, writes and sings songs (she performs a couple for me on acoustic guitar, and they show promise, though they’re more Laura Marling than MJ), but isn’t sure if she’ll ever pursue a recording contract.
Modeling, in particular, comes naturally, and she finds it therapeutic. “I’ve had self-esteem issues for a really, really long time,” says Paris, who understands her dad’s plastic-surgery choices after watching online trolls dissect her appearance since she was 12. “Plenty of people think I’m ugly, and plenty of people don’t. But there’s a moment when I’m modeling where I forget about my self-esteem issues and focus on what the photographer’s telling me – and I feel pretty. And in that sense, it’s selfish.”
But mostly, she shares her father’s heal-the-world impulses (“I’m really scared for the Great Barrier Reef,” she says. “It’s, like, dying. This whole planet is. Poor Earth, man”), and sees fame as a means to draw attention to favored causes. “I was born with this platform,” she says. “Am I gonna waste it and hide away? Or am I going to make it bigger and use it for more important things?”
Her dad wouldn’t have minded. “If you wanna be bigger than me, you can,” he’d tell her. “If you don’t want to be at all, you can. But I just want you to be happy.”
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