A decade after Michael Jackson’s death, his kids — Paris, Prince and Bigi (formerly known as Blanket) — are forging their own paths at a time when many are grappling with how to treat the late King of Pop’s complicated legacy.
In the years since their father’s fatal drug overdose in June 2009, the three kids have grown up under a microscope and watched as their occasional stumbles and personal struggles (like Paris’ battles with depression as a teen) have played out in the public eye.
“Things were very difficult for them after Michael passed away,” a family friend tells PEOPLE. “But it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come.”
Paris, 21, is now working as an actress, model and singer. Though she inked a lucrative modeling contract in 2017, her main focus at the moment is creating music with her boyfriend and Soundflowers band mate, Gabriel Glenn.
“She is very excited about creating music,” the family friend says. “This is her passion. She wants to do more gigs with her band.”
While another source close to the family says that Paris is currently “staying busy with work and doing well,” the family friend notes that she was the hardest hit by the accusations made in the shocking HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which renewed the longstanding child-abuse allegations against Michael.
“Of all the kids, she is the one who really gets worked up and upset about any kind of negativity involving Michael,” the family friend says. “It’s very difficult for her to deal with. She knows her upbringing with Michael was different, but she thinks he was the best dad. She is very defensive about him.”
Leaving Neverland was released in January and focuses on the stories of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who claim that Michael sexually abused them both as children. Prior to his death, the star had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and he was acquitted in a child sex abuse case leveled against him in California in 2005.
Still, the documentary had a lasting impact on Michael’s legacy; according to The Hollywood Reporter, sales of Jackson’s music, from both his solo career and his time with the Jackson 5, dipped. Additionally, several radio stations took Michael’s hits out of rotation and the star’s 2,700-acre Neverland Ranch (now renamed Sycamore Valley Ranch) was put on the market at 70 percent off its original list price.
In March, following a hospital stay in the wake of Leaving Neverland, Paris vehemently denied reports that she’d attempted suicide. Throughout the past couple of months, the family friend says Paris has been able to “peacefully focus on herself” and has remained close to her brothers.
Prince, 22, recently graduated from Loyola Marymount University in May and was joined by little brother Bigi — the most private of the siblings, who dropped “Blanket” in 2015 and is currently a 17-year-old high school student — at his commencement ceremony.
“Prince and Bigi are best friends,” the family friend says. “They share a lot of interests like science and sci-fi.”
Days after his May graduation, Prince announced that he and Bigi would be launching their own movie review YouTube channel. For their first video, they kicked things off with a review of Avengers: Endgame.
“We are very excited to announce that we are starting a movie review channel. Right now you can go see our first ever video on my YouTube channel (link in bio),” Prince, 22, wrote on Instagram, alongside a screenshot from the video.
In the video, the two brothers were also joined by cousin Taj Jackson, who will help host the series, as well as special guest James Sutherland, another one of their cousins.
Though Prince — who is currently dating fellow LMU grad Molly Schirmang — graduated with a degree in business administration, a source close to the family says that he is eyeing a career as either a director or producer.
“He’s so charismatic and well-spoken, [so] he would be great in front of the camera as well as a host,” the source says. “He’s very easy-going and makes everyone around him feel immediately at ease.”
Despite the complicated state of their father’s legacy and the fallout from Leaving Neverland, the kids “are all in a good place at this 10-year mark,” the source says.
For more on the Jackson kids’ lives now, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
- Reporting by MELODY CHIU and PERNILLA CEDENHEIM