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Michael Jackson’s Family Feud: A Helpful Primer

Michael Jackson's children / Photo by Getty Images

Michael Jackson’s family has spent decades in the public eye, but its most recent internal conflict has been more public than most. What once would have been confined to tabloid speculation has now been blowing up via Twitter and online video posts. By now, you’ve probably heard some of the gossip. Here’s a handy guide to the facts so far on the fate of Jackson’s mother, his kids, and his estate, based on reliable reports from the AP and Reuters.

  • Where is Michael’s mom?
    The whereabouts of Katherine Jackson, the 82-year-old family matriarch, has been a central question in the ongoing power struggle. On Saturday night, a family member reported her missing. A day earlier, Katherine’s son Jermaine Jackson had tweeted that she was resting in Arizona on doctor’s orders. That’s where she turned out to be, and Los Angeles police closed their missing person’s case on Monday. As of this morning, Katherine appears to be back at her L.A.-area home. In an interview last night with ABC, she said she was “coming home.” Early this morning, Michael’s only daughter, Paris Jackson, tweeted, “grandma’s here ! #thankyougod <33"
  • Who’s taking care of Michael’s kids?
    When Michael died a little more than three years ago at age 50, he left everything to his mother and his three children. And he designated Katherine as the legal guardian of Prince, Paris, and Blanket Jackson. But for now, Katherine’s more than week-long absence has changed her status. On Wednesday, a Los Angeles judge awarded temporary guardianship of the kids to Tito “TJ” Jackson Jr., the 34-year-old son of Michael’s brother Tito. TJ had asked the judge for this authority after the tumultuous week of uncertainty surrounding Katherine. TJ told the judge he had spoken with Katherine on Tuesday but that she didn’t seem like herself.

    “Make your life an act of love,” TJ tweeted on Monday.

  • What’s this I hear about a fight at Katherine’s house?
    Janet, Randy, and Jermaine Jackson showed up at Katherine’s home on Monday. Michael’s children could see their grandmother, the visitors said, but only by coming along with them. Los Angeles police officials have said a “physical altercation” occurred, is still under investigation. Good Morning America broadcast security camera footage of the incident. If you’ve heard especially juicy speculation about the Jackson family feud, it probably involves this fight, but most of it is just that — speculation.

    Accounts still differ on what exactly happened at Katherine’s place. Officials were quoted using the phrase “battery.” Katherine’s attorney Sandra Ribera has said certain relatives got out of their cars and then “ran up to Michael’s children as they yelled and began to aggressively grab at the cellphones in their hands.” Michael’s brother Randy Jackson, no relation to the American Idol judge, told MSNBC that he and Janet went to the home on Monday but “were kind of denied access.”

  • Was Katherine being held against her will?
    Once again, it depends which Jackson you want to believe. On Tuesday, Katherine read a prepared statement on ABC in which she denied she had been taken to Arizona involuntarily. “I am here today to let everybody know that I am fine and I am here with my children, and my children would never do a thing to me like that, holding me against my will,” she said, with children Randy, Janet and Rebbie at her side. “It’s very stupid for people to think that.” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, who made the ruling giving temporary guardianship to TJ, didn’t exactly say Katherine was held against her will. But he did say, without further explanation, that it looked like “intentional acts of third parties” were keeping the children’s grandmother from carrying out her duties as guardian.

    This morning, Michael’s eldest son Prince suggested that even if Katherine wasn’t being held against her will, her grandchildren were being prevented from speaking with her. He tweeted a photo on his verified account of what he said was a group text message with Rebbie and Janet. Janet allegedly replied to his requests to contact Katherine by saying, “Please don’t let them.”

  • OK, so what about Michael’s money?
    As we said, Michael’s will left everything to Katherine, Prince, Paris, and Blanket. But that arrangement hasn’t always sat well with the late singer’s siblings. In fact, Randy has been rekindling allegations that the executors of Michael’s estate had illegally forged the singer’s will. “They know that they’ve been caught, they know that they’ve falsified a document and they know that there are questions that we want answered,” Randy said Monday night on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show. “This family is united to right a wrong.”

    The executors, John Branca and John McClain, said they have done nothing wrong, denying what they called “false and defamatory accusations.” In a statement issued before Randy’s interview, they said: “We are acutely concerned about the welfare of Mrs. Jackson, and most particularly with Michael’s minor children. We are concerned that we do what we can to protect them from undue influences, bullying, greed, and other unfortunate circumstances.”

    The exchange came after an undated letter surfaced that claims Branca and McClain were manipulating Katherine and that the matriarch had suffered a small stroke. Janet, Randy, Tito, Rebbie and Jermaine Jackson all signed the letter. Randy confirmed its legitimacy on Twitter, and Janet retweeted his confirmation. The executors deny the charges, and both Paris Jackson and a lawyer for Katherine have spoken out against the idea that Katherine suffered a stroke.

  • How much money are we talking, anyway?
    Financial documents filed recently in court show that the estate has grossed $475 million since Michael’s death and that much of Michael’s $500 million debt is now settled.
  • Aren’t some of the Jacksons supposed to be on a comeback tour right now?
    That’s right. Michael’s brothers Marlon, Jermaine, Tito and Jackie Jackson kicked off their Unity tour last month. The tour is set to end July 29 in Snoqualmie, Washington.
  • OK, so TJ is looking after the kids. Is this thing over?
    Unfortunately, not by a long shot. “This is not going away,” Randy is quoted as saying. Another of Katherine’s lawyers, Perry Sanders, told Reuters after Wednesday’s court hearing that he plans to ask the judge to make Katherine once again the legal guardian of Michael’s children. And Katherine, on ABC News yesterday, said the court ruling was “based on a pack of lies.” Prince’s tweets this morning will surely lead to further rounds of reporting, too. Granny may be OK, but if you’re looking for an end to the Jackson family drama, this probably isn’t it.