LOS ANGELES — TJ Jackson was one of Michael Jackson's favorite nephews. An heir to the family's musical talent and striking good looks, he is the son of Tito, one of the original Jackson Five. Largely unknown to the American public until now, he has been anointed as co-guardian of Michael's most prized treasures — his three children.
Suddenly, TJ is the chosen Jackson, the one designated to work beside Michael's mother to look after the welfare of his three cousins Prince, 15, Paris, 14 and Blanket,10, who will inherit the King of Pop's fortune.
He's stepping into a sensitive situation just days after a family feud went viral. But he appears to have only one interest at heart — the children.
"He has been very dedicated to these kids since Michael Jackson's death and he was involved with them before that," TJ's lawyer, Charles A. Schultz, said at a Thursday court hearing.
Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, who appointed TJ to work with Katherine Jackson, said there is a strong bond between the 34-year-old T.J. and the children.
"They have a very significant relationship with TJ Jackson and they love him very much," said the judge. "There are things about his past that the kids can relate to."
Schultz agreed, saying outside court: "He had a loss early in his life of a close personal relative and they can identify with that."
In 1994, six years after his parents divorced, TJ's mother, Dolores, died in a drowning at her home swimming pool. Her boyfriend was later convicted of causing her drowning and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, Dr. Conrad Murray was accused of causing his death and was convicted of manslaughter. He is currently serving a four-year prison term.
Now, three years after his death, Michael's children are at the center of a familial battle and TJ's role has become even more important. Recently, Katherine Jackson was reported missing and Beckloff replaced her with TJ as the children's guardian. Now she's back, telling a story of having been held virtually incommunicado at a resort in Tucson, Ariz., unaware that she was the subject of a missing person's report.
In the court hearing Thursday, with neither of the parties present, the judge ruled that TJ and Katherine will share guardianship on a temporary basis. The arrangement could be made permanent later.
Beckloff had appointed an investigator to look into the domestic situation at the suburban Calabasas mansion where the young Jacksons have been living with their 82-year-old grandmother.
The result was a glowing report: "It appears from the report that Katherine Jackson has done a wonderful job and cares about the children very much," the judge said. "I think the kids are in terrific hands."
No mention was made of the Jackson siblings who were at the center of a family dispute last week that broke into a public shouting match on the driveway of Katherine's home. What one lawyer called "the chaos" ended with Jermaine Jackson calling for a truce.
TJ, who is movie star-handsome and has a band with his brothers called 3T, is named Tito Joseph for his father and grandfather. Always known as TJ, he appears to have emerged as a welcome stable force in the family.
When Paris began tweeting messages of distress over the temporary disappearance of her grandmother and the battles among Michael's siblings, TJ tweeted to her: "I know it's completely unfair for them to do this to you and your brothers. We will keep trying. I love you." Added a second tweet: "Make your life an act of love."
Thomas Mesereau Jr., the former attorney for Michael who knows the family, had high praise for TJ.
"I met him some time ago and he was a very nice young man, very mature and very sincere," said Mesereau. "It appeared to me that Katherine thought very highly of him."
But Mesereau said the current situation was unthinkable before Michael's death.
"Three years ago, these children had a father who loved them and gave them a wonderful upbringing," the attorney said. "He wanted them to be highly educated, to learn about the world and the wonders of nature. It's very tragic."
TJ's devotion to his uncle, Michael, has been evident. At his funeral, members of the family provided loving tributes in a glossy program. TJ's entry read: "You taught me how to smile. You taught me how to dream. You taught me how to live. Uncle Michael, I will always cherish all of our special moments and blissful time together. I love you so much."
Michael's ties to TJ and his two brothers was confirmed by his will, which named them among "contingent remainder" beneficiaries, who usually gain if the main beneficiaries pass away.
Like most of the Jacksons, TJ has lived among celebrities. The Internet was ablaze this week with reports that he was the first lover of Kim Kardashian when both were in high school. There was no comment from TJ but he has acknowledged that they were close and she consoled him when his mother died.
"We became extra close when my mom passed away,' TJ told People magazine in 1995 of Kardashian. "She dropped everything to be with me."
TJ married his wife, Frances, in 2007 and has three children.
When he and his brothers, Taj and Taryll, formed 3T, they were encouraged by their uncle, Michael, who sang with them on their first records, The 3T group had significant success in Europe with three songs that reached No. 2 on British charts. Two of them, "Why" and "I Need You," released in 1996, featured Michael Jackson's voice.
In 2010, the 3T group reprised Jackson's "We Are the World' with various famous voices to benefit Haiti relief efforts. The brothers also have appeared on reality TV shows with other members of the Jackson clan and have toured overseas.
Last October, the family staged a tribute concert to Michael in Cardiff, Wales. But typically, the Jacksons were divided over whether it was appropriate to hold such a tribute during the Murray trial in Los Angeles. Janet, Jermaine and Randy stayed away. Jackie, Marlon, La Toya and Tito performed. So did TJ and his brothers.