Joe Jackson, Jackson Family Patriarch, Dies at 89
Joe Jackson, who turned his children Michael and Janet Jackson into international superstars, has died in a hospital in Las Vegas. He was 89.
He'd been suffering from various illnesses for years, including a stroke in 2015. On June 22, his son Jermaine said Joe was "very, very frail, he doesn't have long," and that the family wanted to be by his bedside. His father had apparently given the hospital instructions, however, that prevented some visitors from seeing him or looking at his medical records. Later reports revealed that Joe had been diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer.
Born July 26, 1928 in Fountain Hill, Ark., the elder Jackson's family moved to East Chicago, Ind., where he later worked at Inland Steel and pursued a career in boxing. But he gave up the latter when he met and married Kathering Scruse in 1949. They settled in nearby Gary, Ind., with a daughter, Rebbie, arriving a year later. Around this time, Joe also began playing guitar in a local blues band called the Falcons.
Eight more children – Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Brandon (who died shortly after birth), Michael and Randy – were born in the next 10 years. Janet arrived in 1966. One day in the early '60s, Joe caught Tito playing his guitar, against his wishes, and was surprised to discover that he had talent. He began coaching his three oldest boys, with Michael and Marlon joining soon after. They called themselves the Jackson Brothers, with Joe Jackson serving as their manager.
By 1965, they had gained a local reputation by winning talent shows, which led to bookings in nightclubs. Word spread north toward nearby Chicago, where the group – now calling themselves the Jackson 5 – began opening up for national acts at the famed Regal Theatre. Over the next few years, they released a pair of singles on Gary's Steeltown Records – "Big Boy" b/w "You Changed" and "We Don't Have To Be Over 21 (to Fall in Love)" b/w "Jam Session" – and began playing even bigger venues like Harlem's Apollo Theatre.
Berry Gordy turned them down once before signing the Jackson 5 to his Motown Records a few years later. Their debut single, "I Want You Back," arrived in October 1969 and topped the Hot 100 a few months later. The group's next three singles, "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There," all topped the chart. the Jackson 5 remained global sensations throughout the early '70s, as their brand extended to all sorts of merchandise and even a Saturday morning cartoon.
But the perception the Jackson 5 presented to the world, of happy young men smiling as they sang and danced, belied the reality of their upbringing. Years later, Joe Jackson was accused of physically abusing them on a regular basis.
"He practiced us with the belt in his hand," Michael told Martin Bashir on ITV in 2003, "and if you missed a step, expect to be [whipping sound and gesture]. ... He would tear you up if you missed. Not only were we practicing, we were nervous rehearsing, because he sat in the chair and he had this belt in his hand. ... I got it a lot of times but I think my brother Marlon got it the most, because he had a hard time at first. And he tried so hard. It was always, 'Do it like Michael! Do it like Michael!'"
Fighting back tears, Michael said that Joe hit him with "whatever's around," if a belt wasn't available. "[He'd] throw you up against a wall [as] hard as he could. ... I just remember hearing my mother scream, 'Joe, you're gonna kill him! You're gonna kill him! Stop it. You're gonna kill him.'"
Watch Michael Jackson Discuss Joe Jackson
"I am scared of my father to this day," Michael added in an interview published after his 2009 death. "I have fainted in his presence many times. ... I have thrown up in his presence because when he comes in the room and this aura comes and my stomach starts hurting and I know I am in trouble. He is so different now. Time and age has changed him, and he sees his grandchildren and he wants to be a better father. It is almost like the ship has sailed its course, and it is so hard for me to accept this other guy that is not the guy I was raised with. I just wished he had learned that earlier."
Joe Jackson always denied abusing his children, though in 2010, he admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he did discipline them. Even then, he downplayed the extent, refusing to call what he did "beating" or "whipping."
"I'd chastise him but not beat him," he said. "I never beat him like the media tried to say."
After Oprah talked about the abuse she suffered as a child, Katherine intervened. "You might as well admit it, that's the way black people raised their children," she said. "He used a strap."
Joe added that he didn't regret his actions. "It kept them out of jail and kept them right," he said.
Watch Oprah Winfrey's Interview with Joe and Kathleen Jackson
The Jackson 5 left Motown for Epic in the mid '70s. Jermaine, who was married to Gordy's daughter, left the group for a solo career; Randy took his place. Rebranding themselves as the Jacksons due to Motown's ownership of the name, they launched a variety series that also gave fans a chance to see the talents of Rebbie, La Toya and a 10-year-old Janet. They remained popular, particularly as a live act both on the road and in Las Vegas, but couldn't match the record sales of their Motown years. The departure of Michael for a full-time solo career effectively ended the Jacksons, with the exception of the 1984 Victory reunion album and tour.
Under her father's guidance, Janet began her solo career in 1982. But four years later, after two light-selling records, she fired her father. The title of her next album, Control, reflected her new direction – and it turned her into a star.
In addition to his eight surviving children with Katherine, who is still alive, Joe Jackson fathered another daughter, Joh'Vonnie, during an affair with Cheryl Terrell. He had 26 grandchildren.
Earlier reports revealed that Katherine considered divorcing Joe in 1973 and 1979, but the papers were never signed. The couple remained legally married until the end, even though they did not live together. By 2014, Joe was essentially "no longer part of the family," according to the New York Post. Michael Jackson's will granted Katherine more than $1 million annually, but Joe received nothing.