It’s hard not to forget Joe Jackson’s bizarre actions just days after Michael Jackson’s sudden death last year. Remember his announcement on the red carpet at the BET Awards in L.A. about launching his record label, Ranch Records, to be driven by Blu-ray technology when CNN’s Don Lemon questioned him about the well-being of Katherine Jackson and their other children? Given Janet Jackson’s especially heart-wrenching acknowledgment of Michael’s many fans, not to mention the shock and pain in her eyes, during the actual broadcast, the elder Jackson’s earlier actions seemed even more suspicious.
Even knowing that people deal with grief in very different ways, explaining Joe’s behavior is difficult. Admittedly, most people don’t remain as sharp once they hit 80 but, even in senility, it’s hard to believe, that a parent could be so callous. It’s little wonder that Michael’s legions of fans immediately began recalling tales of Joe’s abusive behavior.
The July 2010 edition of Vanity Fair takes its readers back to the days of Thriller, the historic album and video that crowned Michael “The King of Pop” in “The Thriller Diaries” by Nancy Griffin. Writer Griffin was actually on the set for the video and caught up with such key creative talent as director John Landis and the video’s main vixen Ola Ray. Most alarming is an account of the 25-year-old Michael not wanting his father on set and asking Landis to have him removed. Of course, when Landis asked Joe to leave, he refused, and security was enlisted.
More disturbing than that, however, is a conversation recalled by an unnamed female art director at Epic. Michael called her, requesting that his nose on a childhood photo be readjusted. When she asked why, he reportedly said: ‘I don’t want to look like my father…. Every time I look at that photograph I think I look like my father.’
Of course there have been countless theories that Michael’s extensive plastic surgery was motivated by his desire to resemble his father as little as possible and not because he did not wish to look black. He first spoke openly of his abuse with Oprah in a televised February 1993 interview. To Oprah, he revealed that he felt very lonely as a child and that his father taunted him about his “fat nose” and beat him. Michael claimed to be so scared of his father that sometimes he would vomit at the sight of him.
During the media frenzy surrounding his well-publicized accusations of child molestation, Michael again disclosed details about Joe abusing him as a child in a much-anticipated 2003 interview with British journalist Martin Bashir. Michael recalled that his father would sit in a chair with a belt during rehearsals and would strike them if they messed up. When Bashir asked Michael how often Joe would beat him, Michael responded ‘too much’ and became emotional when Bashir continued his questioning. Michael also shared an incident where recalled his mother screaming: “Joe, you’re going to kill him. You’re going to kill him. Stop it! You’re going to kill him.”
Joe generally denied abusing and terrorizing Michael and his siblings when Michael was living and has continued to do so even after his death. Surprisingly, in 2003, Joe did admit the following to the BBC: “I whipped him with a switch and a belt…I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick.” To many African-Americans, especially of Michael Jackson’s generation, being disciplined with a belt and a switch was standard. And Joe’s consistent denial certainly suggests that he hardly considered his behavior inappropriate parenting.
Perhaps, for a man, born in Fountain Hill, Arkansas in 1929 and raised in Oakland with his father since age 12, who became a crane operator in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana with a wife and nine mouths to feed, such behavior was discipline. After all, Joe had once had big dreams for himself, first as a boxer, and then as a guitarist in a group called The Falcons. There was no blueprint in the 1960s for creating a family act that would one day produce the “King of Pop”. Such titles didn’t even exist then.
Joe fell victim to the smoke and mirrors a long time ago. At one point, he stopped seeing Michael or any of his children as human beings. All he knew was that the entertainment industry was a vicious one, in which only the best and the strongest survive. In his effort to toughen his children up, he lost sight of the most important part of himself. He became their Svengali instead of their father and, in turn, they became his ticket to make something out of himself in a world where he had only known poverty and racism.
Hearing Joe blame Katherine for their son’s death, as he did with the U.K.’s News of the World recently, is not that surprising. In their individual efforts to cope with the grief of losing a child, many parents actually turn on each other. According to many reports, Joe admitted to News of the World that he was concerned about Michael “looking kind of funny and frail” and urged Katherine to be with him but “she was afraid she was invading his privacy”. So, he blamed her for not preventing Michael’s death, telling her “We lost our son now.”
Blaming Katherine is ludicrous of course but it’s happened in other families as well. Their self-doubts and accusations never made it into the media, however, because their child was not “The King of Pop”. But, like the Jacksons, they also dealt with a loved one they could not reach to help. In an April interview with Oprah to promote Why Did I Get Married, Too?, Janet discussed her family’s many attempts to stage an intervention with Michael.
As unbelievable, as it sounds, Joe Jackson’s latest erratic outbreak may actually be reality finally catching to him. Right after Michael’s death, he seemed to be on auto-pilot, not fully aware that his son was actually dead. If Joe actually said that he blamed himself for Michael’s death, would we ever know? Given all the horrific things he reportedly did, is it possible that Joe may be like so many other people in this world: a parent who loved his child, who loves his children, but just never learned how to show it. And, unfortunately, for him, the time to make it right is gone.