‘He Would Tear You Up': Joe Jackson, His Famous Kids and Their Fractured Ties
"This is Bad, real bad, Michael Jackson / Now I'm mad, real mad, Joe Jackson..."
— Kanye West, "Knock Me Out"
Joe Jackson, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 89 yesterday (June 27), turned his children, the Jackson 5 and Janet, into international stars. But his methods of parenting were called into question when they were made public, and eventually left him isolated from most of his children.
As the late Michael Jackson would attest in past interviews, Joe was often a domineering and brutal father. In a 2003 interview with U.K. journalist Martin Bashir, Michael revealed that during Jackson 5 rehearsals, his father would use him as a whipping post to ensure the other brothers would learn the dance steps correctly. “He would tear you up,” the singer recalled. “He was tough.”
Sometimes the beatings were so severe that his mother, Katherine, would have to step in to stop the violence. “I just remembered hearing my mother scream, ‘Joe, you're going to kill him. Stop it. You’re going to kill him,’” said Michael. “I was so fast; he couldn’t catch me half the time. But when he did catch me, oh my God, it was bad. It was really bad.”
Jermaine also recalled the fear he felt hearing Michael scream as Joe beat him with a switch. "[I was] not so much petrified but —but just the excitement of him not understanding what it — what it means," he told ABC News in 2011. "He wanted to show us, 'I care about you. Even if I have to whip your butt, I care about you.'"
"We wouldn't want to be raised any other way, with the way he raised us. He taught us everything we knew about becoming what we became," he added. "He's very tough, very tough. I've never seen him cry."
As Michael reached full-scale stardom with both the Thriller and Bad albums, he slowly pushed his father away from his inner circle. But when Michael was accused of child molestation, Joe showed up and stood by his side during the 2005 trial. In an interview published after his death, Michael suggested that, although he still felt the trauma from the beatings he received, the two had come to some form of reconciliation.
"He is so different now," he said. "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."
Michael wasn't the only Jackson sibling to be disciplined by Joe. The three daughters —Rebbie, La Toya, and Janet — also allegedly suffered from the actions of her father.
In her controversial 1989 autobiography La Toya: Growing Up In the Jackson Family, La Toya described her father as a child abuser. While she said that Joe never hit her, she said that he was emotionally cruel to her and her siblings. However, in a 2011 interview with the Daily Beast, La Toya retracted all the evil descriptors she wrote about her father.
“I was young then and had a lot of people in my life that didn’t need to be there,’" she said. “So I lashed out at my father, both of my parents really, because of things other people said. Failing to understand that my parents did the best they could for us. They were the best parents they could be to us, and that’s all you can ask."
"I whip it like Joe Jackson used to whip Mike / I whip it like Penny got it on Good Times"
-- Lil Wayne, "Whip It Like a Slave"
But Janet tells a much different story. Like her superstar brothers, Joe was very instrumental in getting her into the music business. When Janet was 16 years old, Joe financed her demo recording and coordinated a meeting with executives at A&M Records. After her audition, she signed a record deal with Joe by her side as manager. Joe would assist in his daughter's 1982 self-titled debut album with a number of songwriters and producers. But upon its release, the record was a commercial flop.
Janet's follow-up LP Dream Street, in 1984, also failed expectations both musically and commercially. In 1985, Janet let her contract with her father expire, and she temporarily moved to Minnesota to begin recording Control with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The rest, as they say, is history. But the pain still lingered.
In a 2011 interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Janet revealed her own troubling revelations about her relationship with her father. The music icon described Joe as emotionally abusive to her and the rest of her siblings. "I think my father means well... and wants nothing but the best for his kids... but that is not necessarily the right way," she said. "I don't remember if I truly deserved it."
Janet also revealed that she was forced to call her father by his first name rather than "dad," and when she accidentally called him "dad" once she was given a stern warning never to do it again. "You call me Joseph," she said Joe told her. "I'm Joseph to you."
Janet maintained that she doesn't have any regrets being estranged from her father. The 52-year-old singer kept her distance from her father to the point where, as of November 2017, she hadn't let him see his grandson Eissa Al Mana. However, at the 2018 Radio Disney Music Awards a few days before his death, Janet thanked her family and "incredible" father for being an influenced on her music career.
"My mother nourished me with the most extravagant love imaginable, my father, my incredible father, drove me to be the best that I can," she said. "My siblings set an incredibly high standard, a high bar for artistic excellence...sometimes, having an impact can be as simple as a smile, a handshake, or a hug."
"I'm from the home of the old-fashioned, Joe Jackson ass-whoopin'..."
-- Freddie Gibbs (Freestyle)
For several years, Joe has always denied that he physically abused any of his children. He would often scoff at the words "beat" or "whip" when interviewers questioned his disciplinary tactics. But in 2010, Joe confessed to Oprah Winfrey, under duress from Katherine, that he did "use a strap" on Michael whenever he didn't obey him.
Three years later, in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Joe said that he had no regrets for being such a strict disciplinarian. "I had to be like that way,' he said, "because during those times, it was hard, and you have a lot of gangs there, you know, in the area where we were living, Gary, Indiana, and I had to make sure that they didn't get in any type of trouble, and things of that sort."
“I’m glad I was tough because look what I came out with,” Joe told Piers Morgan in 2013. “I came out with some kids that people love all over the world and they treated everybody right.”
After Michael's death in June 2009, the estate revealed in his will that the singer left 40 percent of his assets to his mother Katherine, another 40 percent to his three children and the rest to several children's charities. He left nothing for his father.