Joe Jackson, polarizing patriarch of iconic showbiz family, dies at 89

Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo Music

“We are deeply saddened by Mr. Jackson’s passing and extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Katherine Jackson and the family,” John Branca and John McClain, the co-executors of Michael Jackson’s estate, said in a statement. “We had developed a warm relationship with Joe in recent years and will miss him tremendously.” 

Daughter La Toya led the tributes.


Grandsons Prince and Randy Jr. also posted messages on social media.



Jackson had a complicated history overseeing the careers of his children — including superstars Michael and Janet Jackson. He was the prototypical stage father, employing heavy-handed tactics with both outsiders and his children, which eventually led to sometimes strained relationships with his family later in life. Nonetheless, wife Katherine Jackson and several of his children were said to be at his bedside in his final days.

Born in Arkansas, the eldest of five children, Joe Jackson moved to California with his father following his parents’ divorce when he was 12. At age 18, he relocated to East Chicago, Ind., where his mother and siblings lived; there he began pursuing a career as a professional boxer.

After a brief first marriage, he met and married Katherine Scruse. The couple moved to Gary, Ind. Following the birth of their first child, Jackson abandoned his hopes of becoming a professional boxer and instead concentrated on supporting the family by working in a steel mill. The couple would go on to have 10 children, with nine living to adulthood (son Brandon died shortly after birth).

A guitar player who dabbled in a blues band in the early ’50s, Jackson noticed musical aptitude early in his children and began concentrating on developing these talents, starting off with his three oldest sons (Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine) and soon adding younger sons Marlon and Michael to the mix. The group became known as the Jackson 5 and was first signed to a local record label and then the legendary Motown Records in 1969 — eventually leading to massive international success as one of the first black groups to gain a crossover following.

Joe Jackson would also oversee the careers of daughters Rebbie, LaToya, and Janet, as well as youngest son Randy. Joe Jackson had a hand in managing his most successful son, Michael, during his subsequent solo career, but ceased that involvement in the early ’80s.

Jackson’s legacy as his sons’ manager is infamously laced with reports of intense training, including long rehearsals with corporal punishment meted out for mistakes. Son Michael detailed his father’s controversial methods as abusive, but also admitted that they were instrumental to his success. Jackson’s other children have similarly corroborated but also defended him in this regard.

“If you messed up you got hit, sometimes with a switch, sometimes with a belt,” Michael wrote in his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk“Dad would make me so mad at him that I’d try to get back at him and get beaten all the more.

“We had a turbulent relationship,” he said, adding, “Most of the time we just rehearsed. We always rehearsed.”

Ultimately, Michael wrote of his father, “He’s still a mystery man to me and he may always be one.” 

In a 2011 interview with CNN, Janet Jackson was equally candid about Joe. “I think my father means well … and wants nothing but the best for his kids … but that is not necessarily the right way,” she told host Piers Morgan, revealing that she remembered the one time he struck her, while she was a child getting ready for a bath. He also insisted they never call him “Dad.”

“You call me Joseph,” she recalled her father telling her once when she slipped up. “I’m Joseph to you.”

“We don’t speak that much … honestly it’s not that often,” she added. “I wish our relationship was different, but I know that he loves me.” Despite their troubled history, Joe Jackson made a prominent public appearance in 2015 accompanying Janet Jackson to the BET Awards. At the Radio Disney Awards on June 22, Janet praised her mother, her siblings, and her father: “My father, my incredible father, drove me to be the best that I can,” she said upon accepting the inaugural Impact Award. 

The drama continued until the end. There were reports that Joe Jackson’s caretakers initially prevented the family from visiting him before relenting. Then granddaughter Paris Jackson blasted a post that appeared on Joe’s Twitter feed on June 24, saying that he wasn’t physically capable of tweeting out his farewell message.


The elder Jackson suffered from a variety of ailments in his later years: He was diagnosed with dementia and suffered multiple strokes and at least one heart attack. He was injured in a car accident a year ago. Although Katherine Jackson always disputed the notion that they were estranged, Joe made his home in Las Vegas in recent years, while she lived separately in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She was at her husband’s side in his final days, however.

Joe Jackson is survived by Katherine, eight of his 10 children by Katherine, and one other daughter from a longtime affair, as well as 26 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

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