Joe Jackson, patriarch of Jackson family of singers, dead at 89

Joe Jackson, the blue-collar steelworker who relentlessly moulded five of his sons into a singing group sensation and later defended his superstar son Michael in the face of shocking allegations, has died at the age of 89.

Jackson died at 2:55 a.m. on Wednesday at Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas, Clark County coroner John Fudenberg told The Associated Press. 

​”We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the death, but there is no reason to believe it’s anything other than a natural death,” Fudenberg said.

Jackson, who had been based in Las Vegas and had been estranged from much of his family, had been suffering from cancer, according to U.S. media reports. 

Michael Jackson’s estate released a statement mourning the death.

“We are deeply saddened by Mr. Jackson’s passing and extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Katherine Jackson and the family. Joe was a strong man who acknowledged his own imperfections and heroically delivered his sons and daughters from the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, to worldwide pop superstardom,” said John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the estate.

‘An amazing ringmaster’

Jackson was “certainly an amazing ringmaster” to be able to propel his children to stardom, but his legacy is marked by controversy, said Ian Halperin, author of The Final Years of Michael Jackson.

“His life was marked in extreme controversy — allegations of womanizing, child abuse, almost every allegation you could ever hear was associated with Joe Jackson. So his legacy will certainly be controversial, but he will be remembered probably first and foremost as one of the greatest impresarios ever in show business,” Halperin said.

Struggling to support nine children with his wife Katherine in a two-bedroom house in Gary, Ind., while working in steel mills and on farms, Jackson first helped steer his boys as performers, as they landed a record contract with hitmaker Motown, the label’s last star act of its golden era in Detroit.

The Jackson Five would top the charts with each of their first four singles in 1970-71: I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There. More pop and R & B hits followed, and the group would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

Like Michael, Jackson’s youngest child Janet would achieve superstar status as a solo artist.

Jackson was predeceased by two of his 10 children with Katherine — an infant who died in the late 1950s, and Michael, who died in 2009 of an accidental drug overdose as he was preparing a comeback tour.

A giant photo of Michael Jackson with his parents Katherine and Joe is projected over the stage at a memorial service for Michael at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in July 2009. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

His relationship with his son, the King of Pop, was often fraught. The singer said in more than one interview he feared and couldn’t understand his father.

For his part, Jackson admitted to the BBC he “whipped [Michael] with a switch and a belt,” and several of his other children described growing up with a taskmaster.

My incredible father… drove me to be the best I can.– Janet Jackson

Janet, the youngest child and a music superstar in her own right, seemed to have made peace with her stern father in recent years, telling CNN in a 2011 interview that he “means well.”

“I just think the way he went about certain things wasn’t the best,” she said.

It was reported earlier this month that Jackson was gravely ill. Receiving a community award on June 22, Janet thanked “my incredible father,” saying he, “drove me to be the best I can.”

Janet Jackson is seen attending the premiere of her 2000 film Nutty Professor II with her father Joe Jackson. (Lucy Nicholson/AFP/Getty Images)

Hardscrabble upbringing

Joseph Jackson was born July 26, 1929 in Fountain Hill, Ark., and some of his kids would later chalk up his disciplinarian streak to his own hardscrabble upbringing with a distant, violent father. Jackson dropped out of school in the 11th grade, hoping to pursue success as a boxer.

He had been briefly married by the time he met the Alabama-born Katherine Scuse in East Chicago, Ind., and they were wed within six months, in late 1949.

Joe Jackson, centre, is seen with son Jermaine, left, and estranged wife Katherine outside the Santa Maria Superior Court during Michael Jackson’s 2005 molestation trial. (Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

They were both musically inclined, but more often a study in contrasts: the husband a moody, demonstrative man while his wife was steady and resilient, having survived polio as a child. 

Michael would later say in his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk that music provided an escape for his dad from his “mind-numbing” work, which included jobs  in steel mills and on farms.

“My father and his brother had a group called the Falcons who were the local R & B band. My father played the guitar, as did his brother,” Michael recounted.

The patriarch one day brought a guitar home as a gift to be shared by any of the children who showed an interest. The boys were drilled into a tight, crowd-pleasing song-and-dance unit. Jermaine was originally lead vocalist, but Michael’s precocious talent — which featured moves inspired by James Brown and Jackie Wilson — proved undeniable.

Jackson scaled back his hours at the steel mill, the gamble taking place in a decade in which “white flight’ saw Gary became a majority black city. The steeltown was starting to be hit hard by the effects of de-industrialization, with crime rates rising.

To Jackson, that backdrop was important in understanding how he raised his kids. He told Oprah Winfrey in a 2010 interview he didn’t regret hitting them.

“It kept them out of jail and kept them right,” he said.

Rise of the Jackson 5

The group, including older boys Randy, Marlon and Tito, won a citywide talent show when Michael was eight by covering My Girl by the Temptations. They increasingly booked paying gigs away from home, even playing Harlem’s legendary Apollo theatre in New York City.

Because their first album would be called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, it has often been written that Supremes’ star helped discover the group for Motown. But the truth was that Motown singers Bobby Taylor and Gladys Knight had tipped off label executives to their charms.

Their first single I Want You Back began to make a splash in January 1970, and they would soon become familiar faces with TV appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand and Soul Train.

The family moved to a home in Encino, Calif., in 1971, but Jackson spent much of his time on the road with group, while Katherine raised the children who were still at home.

Jackson, father to all of his children, bristled at early promotional attempts to elevate the lead singer above his siblings, although by 1972, hits began appearing under 13-year-old Michael’s name as a solo artist.

Sales eventually levelled off for the group, and in 1975 they informed label boss Berry Gordy they were leaving Motown for CBS, despite having a year left on their deal and the fact Jermaine was married to Gordy’s daughter, Hazel.

The label executive felt the decision was in no small part due to their manager.

Joe Jackson attends a screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

“Joe went from being quietly behind the scenes to having many complaints and demands. It was everything from wanting a say in how they were produced, what songs they or didn’t do, to how they were being promoted and booked,” Gordy said in his 1994 autobiography To Be Loved.

Litigation followed, but the move ultimately paved the way for Michael to embark on his string of mega-sellers with CBS-Epic, beginning with 1979’s Off The Wall.

For the rest of the brothers, the verdict was less clear. Their albums and various solo efforts sold modestly, and they could no longer perform under the moniker The Jackson 5, which Gordy had long before patented for Motown.

After 1982’s Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time, Michael began to assert more control over his career, hiring his own representation and relieving his father of any official duties, while buying a house specifically for his mother.

Family estrangement

Court documents revealed that Katherine had twice initiated paperwork to divorce her husband — he had fathered a child out of wedlock in the early 1970s and never shared his wife’s devotion as a Jehovah’s Witness. In more recent years, husband and wife were said to live in different cities.

“I loved Joseph,” Michael said in a 2003 interview. “At the same time I hated him for what he did to my mother.”

Michael Jackson, centre, is seen with his parents Joe Jackson, third from left, and Katherine Jackson, right, and his brother Jermaine Jackson, second from left, outside the Santa Barbara County Superior Court in 2005 ahead of closing arguments in the pop icon’s child molestation trial. (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

Janet emancipated herself even earlier than Michael. Achieving success as a child actress in Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes, she later expressed regret at allowing her father to convince her to record an album when she was 14.

At 19, and to her father’s chagrin, she picked up stakes and moved to Minneapolis to work with in-demand producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on the album that established her as a musical force, Control.

“Moving beyond my father’s reach was probably the most difficult thing I ever did,” she wrote in her 2011 book True You.

“He had done so many good things for me.”

After helping to bring about 1984’s Victory Tour — the last sustained touring for the Jackson brothers — Joseph tried to gain a foothold on his own, but a record label never took off, and some commercial investments failed.

Daughter LaToya accused him in a 1993 autobiography of sexual abuse that occurred when she was a child. Years later, she retracted that allegation, saying she was in an abusive relationship with her Svengali-like husband at the time of the accusation.

He would file for bankruptcy in 1999 jointly with his wife, ending a tumultuous decade.

Michael, who had increasingly become a subject of tabloid reports for eccentric behaviour, found himself under criminal investigation regarding improper acts with a young boy. No indictment resulted, but the singer in early 1994 paid a settlement of $22 million US, according to Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness by J. Randy Taraborrelli.

In 2005, Michael would be put on trial and found not guilty of charges of child molestation involving another boy.

Joe Jackson, right, and Rev. Al Sharpton, speaks to media outside the Jackson family compound in Encino, Calif., days after the death of his son Michael. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Jackson believed his son to be a “big kid” who never grew up, and a target of those wanting to extort him. He had no time for psychoanalysis, angrily stopping one interviewer who wondered if his parenting style decades earlier helped explain why the singer enjoyed the company of young boys.

Despite numerous health problems in recent years, including some stemming from a car accident in 2017, Jackson continued to make public appearances.

After enjoying a May performance of Cirque’s MJOne in Las Vegas, where he lived, he tweeted: “My son’s legacy will live on and continue to inspire people.”

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