Sunday, April 21, 2024

Michael Jackson’s Father, Joseph Jackson, Terminally Ill, A Controversial King Lear Who Willed the Jackson 5 and Ended up with Nothing


Joseph Jackson, a controversial figure if ever there was one, is dying. TMZ reported it first. Now I can tell you Mr. Jackson– Joseph– is in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. To me, he’s an operatic figure, a great dying former Emperor, long ago deposed of his kingdom. He’s King Lear with no estate.

In reality, Joe Jackson was a clever hustler. He willed the Jackson 5 into being, and got his family from a small house in Gary, Indiana to the bright lights of Hollywood and international fame. It would be a rags to riches saga with a happy ending if only Joe hadn’t tortured his kids to make it happen.

Will he make it to 90 in July? It doesn’t seem like it. But Joseph will tell the gatekeepers in heaven that he made 90 just to sound good. No one will dispute him unless Michael, who feared his father, is waiting for him with a group of jurors. Everything about Michael’s tragic life, and now Janet’s admission of depression, has to do with Joseph Jackson.

This is the man who brought a Michael Jackson imitator with him to the BET Awards five days after Michael died. This is the man who locked a 10 year old Michael in a closet when he wouldn’t rehearse to Joseph’s liking. The stories of Joseph’s brutality, his lack of feeling, his greed, will follow him to the grave.

Flashback to the morning of Michael’s 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. Joseph calls a “press conference” and invites me– yes, me, the guy who’d been writing about this stuff for years. He announces he’s going to start Jackon Family Studios and license Jackson 5 videos. Does he have the rights? No. Does Michael even know about this? No.

I ask him, how did you punish your children? He answers: I’d beat them with the back of my hand, or a brush. He was not apologetic.

If this is it for Joe Jackson, he leaves all his children but Michael. That’s including an illegitimate daughter, Jovanni, born after Janet. For years Jovanni lived in Las Vegas, worked in McCarren Airport, and saw her father. Katherine Jackson at least twice contemplated divorcing Joseph; the couple has not lived together for years.

Joseph will be remembered as a mean son of a gun, but also in some ways sympathetic. By the time Michael took off as a solo act, Joseph had little to show of  his success with the Jackson 5. Motown had gotten all the publishing and royalties. A panic sent in that must have sent him right Off the Wall. “Don’t stop til you get enough” should have been his motto. But it was already too late.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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