Janet Jackson took the stage at tonight’s BET Awards in Los Angeles looking visibly shaken. Just three days after the death of her brother, Michael, she told the audience after a long pause to gather herself, “My entire family wanted to be here tonight, but it was just too painful. So they elected me to speak with all of you.” Promising to keep it short, she added, “To you, Michael is an icon, to us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much. Thank you so much.” Her speech was followed by host Jamie Foxx singing “I’ll Be There” with a pianist and Ne-Yo.
The performance capped a night of tributes to the King of Pop, who loomed large over the network’s annual awards show; producers have said they frantically retooled the broadcast to recast it as a celebration of Jackson’s life and career. The ceremony opened with New Edition (including Bobby Brown) performing a medley of Jackson 5 songs and segued into an opening monologue by Foxx that was heavy on Jackson imagery, from his red leather jacket to his Moon Walk across the stage. Ne-Yo sang “Lady in My Life,” and before commercial breaks artists including the O’Jays, who were on hand to receive a lifetime-achievement award, shared their favorite MJ memories.
Jackson’s father Joe was in the audience with Rev. Al Sharpton, and received many shout-outs and calls for applause from presenters and award winners. Before the show, the Jackson family patriarch granted an interview to CNN on the red carpet in which he spoke about the loss of Michael and briefly plugged his new business venture. “I’m great, my family’s doing pretty good,” he said. “It has been really tough,” he added. “Remember we just lost the biggest star in the world.” Saying Michael’s mother was “fine, thank you” he asked for his rep to read the family’s statement, which specified their attorney is Londell McMillan, and said nobody else has authority to speak on behalf of the family. “I wish the world would have recognized him while he was living,” he said of Michael. “I wish he was here to see all this, to hear all this.”
Asked if he had concerns about those who surrounded his son during his final months, Joe Jackson responded, “I have a lot of concerns … I don’t like what happened.” Before the interview concluded, he said, “I want to make this statement,” and then mentioned, “I own a record company called Ranch Records,” which a companion noted was a blu-ray company.
Janet’s brief speech from the podium marked the second time one of Michael’s siblings have spoken publicly since Thursday afternoon. His brother Jermaine addressed a press conference at which he explained that paramedics attempted to revive Michael for more than an hour before he was declared dead.