Move aside, Joe. There's a new paterfamilias in town, and his name is TJ Jackson —the 34-year-old who's just been appointed by an L.A. judge to be temporary guardian of his uncle Michael's three kids.
His initials stand for Tito Joseph, since this Jackson was named for both his father Tito and grandfather Joe. But they might as well stand for "Tough Job," given the seemingly insurmountable odds that TJ faces in helping restore any peace or sanity to the suddenly deeply riven Jackson clan.
TJ had already emerged as 14-year-old Paris Jackson's most visible family ally. Some have said he was more directly involved in her care than her previous guardian, Katharine, 82, who has suddenly become the human football of the Jackson family. TJ tweeted Paris with his support on July 23, publicly telling her, "I know it's completely unfair for them to do this to you and your brothers (Prince and Blanket). We will keep trying. I love you."
TJ's name may have come out of nowhere for casual Jackson family observers, but he's got an illustrious past of his own. Along with his two brothers, he was part of the trio 3T, who uncle Michael co-produced and signed to his vanity label in the mid-'90s. The trio had modest success in the U.S. but racked up a series of much bigger hits overseas.
He's also renowned as the childhood sweetheart of Kim Kardashian. "We became extra close when my mom passed away," TJ told People magazine in 1995, when he was 17 and Kardashian was 15. "She dropped everything to be with me." Kardashian recently told Oprah in an interview that she lost her virginity to a boy when she was 14, leading many to assume that that boy was TJ Jackson.
Growing up, TJ and his brothers longed to follow in the nimble footsteps of father Tito and their uncles. "My dad has footage of us as little kids singing to the music of the Jackson 5," said brother Taj. "TJ was still in diapers, holding a microphone, trying to dance and sing, and he couldn't even talk yet."
Tragedy struck in 1994, in the midst of recording sessions for 3T's debut album, when the boys' mother, Dee Dee, who'd gotten divorced from Tito two years earlier, drowned in a mysterious swimming pool mishap. "I'd look over at TJ, and his eyes would just tear up. Everything changed for him," said Anthony Schiller, TJ's classmate at Buckley High. Though the death was ruled accidental, the Jackson family filed a wrongful death suit against Dee Dee's debt-riddled boyfriend, Donald Bohana, whom she'd only been dating for a month at the time, and who claimed he'd discovered her lifeless in his pool. The case was eventually reopened by police, leading to Bohana's second-degree murder conviction in 1998.
3T immediately became a buzz act upon the release of their first album, Brotherhood, in 1995. Their first and most successful single, "Anything," reached No. 15 on the Billboard chart in America but fared better overseas, rising to No. 2 in England—a peak also reached by a followup single, "Why," a collaboration with Uncle Michael.
But their momentum slowed, and when a sophomore album recorded without Michael's assistance finally came out nine years later, it didn't even merit a U.S. release. TJ has recently tweeted that he's been back in the studio with brothers Taj and Taryll, working on a third 3T album… perhaps keeping to their every-nine-years schedule. They did reunite at the "Forever Michael Tribute Concert" in Cardiff, Wales last October, singing "Why," of course.
TJ's dad and his brothers have been out on the road with their (irony alert) "Unity Tour." When they played L.A.'s Greek Theatre last week, TJ supportively tweeted, "So happy to see my father and his bros on stage. They are killing it!!!" But family observers have been curious where TJ stood in the brewing battle over Michael's will, with his young protege Paris on one side and his dad seemingly standing with the rest of Michael's brothers on the other… and Katharine being shuttled around in the middle.
This week, it became clear: He's Paris' foremost advocate. And now it looks like his father is standing with him, as Tito has now announced he now "completely retracts (his) signature)" on the will-contesting letter sent by his brothers and sister Janet to the executors of Michael's estate.
As a toddler, TJ wanted to be like Michael; now, he's stepping into his shoes in a role far different than he ever could have imagined.
He has a reputation as a family man, which surely helped with the court. TJ married his wife, Frances, in 2007; they have three children together. Though you hate to judge a man by his tweets, he comes off as stable and down-to-earth in the missives he shares with the public. One recent tweet, before things really got heated up at the San Fernando Valley compound: "It's official! Grandma has me hooked on Scramble With Friends. We've been going back and forth on our iPads for over 2 hours. #familylove" Another hopeful, if not necessarily prophetic, Twitter message from TJ quoted a Chinese proverb: "A family in harmony will prosper in everything."
Regardless of his musical talent or whether a 3T reunion ever amounts to anything, TJ still has a chance to stand out in the extended Jackson family, as… the sensible one. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.