NEW YORK – At the BET Awards over the weekend, Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, was back in front of the cameras. Wearing a black fedora and oversized sunglasses, he spoke proudly of his son, paid tribute to “a superstar” and promoted his own new record label.
Joe Jackson has returned to the spotlight. It is a place he is familiar with, having long presided as the iron-willed patriarch who managed his talented children in the music business, driving Michael in particular to enormous fame at a young age.
The 79-year-old former steelworker is again fully immersed in the family’s dealings since his son’s death. The return of Joe Jackson – a controversial, sometimes vilified figure who Michael said abused him as a child – is sure to renew questions about his influence on his troubled son.
Since Michael Jackson died Thursday of what his family has said was cardiac arrest, his father has been vocal about his son and the posthumous arrangements being made. Medical examiners in Los Angeles are perhaps weeks away from officially determining the cause of death, though a second autopsy has been requested at the family’s request.
The elder Jackson and other relatives have been mostly holed up at the family’s compound in Encino. He made an unexpected appearance Sunday night at the BET Awards, which became a tribute to the King of Pop.
Joe Jackson said in an emphatic statement at the show that he and his wife, Katherine, have the “personal and legal authority to act, and solely … have authority for our son and his children.”
Michael Jackson’s 79-year-old mother asked a judge on Monday to name her administrator of the singer’s estate so she can ensure his three children – two boys and a girl – are its beneficiaries. Her husband supported her in the request.
Also Monday, Katherine Jackson was granted temporary guardianship of the children and is asking to be named their permanent guardian. The judge later gave her the authority to take control of some of Michael Jackson’s items in the hands of an unnamed third party. It does not detail the nature of those items.
L. Londell McMillan, the Jacksons’ attorney, said the family has not heard from Deborah Rowe, the mother of Jackson’s two eldest children, about custody. The youngest son was born to a surrogate mother. In court papers, Jackson’s parents said they believe the singer died without a valid will.
“This is where they belong,” Joe Jackson said a news conference Monday. “We’re going to take care of them and we’re going to give them an education they’re supposed to have.”
Joseph and Katherine Jackson married in 1949 and settled in Gary, Ind. They have nine children together, Michael being one of the youngest.
Jackson, who turns 80 on July 26, was a boxer, a guitarist for a local band and a crane operator at U.S. Steel. When he recognized the musical talents of his children, he organized and trained the Jackson 5, also serving as their manager.
“When I was little, it was all work, work, work,” Michael Jackson said in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Joe Jackson was a strict father who pushed his children relentlessly in rehearsals and performances. He had them call him not Dad or Father, but “Joseph.”
In Michael’s 1988 book “Moonwalk,” he called his father “a mystery man to me,” but also noted that he “wasn’t forced into this business by stage parents the way that Judy Garland was.”
“I did it because I was compelled to do it, not my parents or my family, but by my own inner life in the world of music,” he wrote.
However, he also noted that his father was incredibly strict with his children, some would say abusive, beating his children if they missed a step or note during rehearsals.
Years later, in the interview with Winfrey, Michael’s tone was different. He said that his father beat him and that “just a look would scare you.”
Michael said that he would get physically sick – as a child and as an adult – just at the sight of his father. He also spoke of emotional abuse.
“I was so shy I would wash my face in the dark,” Michael said, referring to an acne outbreak. “I wouldn’t look in the mirror and my father teased me. I just hated it. I would cry every day. He would tell me I’m ugly.”
Appearing still fearful of his father, Michael repeatedly turned to the camera during the interview and said, “Sorry, Joseph.”
Michael always believed that he had missed out on childhood and sought to experience it again as an adult. He surrounded himself with children and built an amusement park at his Neverland Ranch, his nearly 3,000-acre California property named after the Peter Pan fantasy island.
Joe Jackson disputed his son’s claims of abuse, telling the BBC in 2003: “I whipped him with a switch and a belt. … I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick.”
In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, Jackson said: “Katherine whipped Michael more than I did.” He also acknowledged driving his children hard: “When they said they didn’t want to go, I pulled them by the hand and said, ‘We’re going. We’re going to do this.”‘
Joe Jackson’s parenting is likely to be brought up in court as part of the request for custody of his grandchildren.
It was Joe Jackson who brought the Jackson 5 to a deal with Motown Records and helped build the solo careers of Michael and Janet. By the 1980s and the mega-success of “Thriller,” Michael was operating professionally on his own. All of Joe Jackson’s children eventually cut professional ties to their father.
“It’s not a secret that Michael had conflicted feelings about his father,” said J. Randy Taraborrelli, a friend and biographer of Jackson’s who is now working for CBS News. “He spent a lot of his adult life looking for ways to keep his father out of his business affairs. So I’m not 100 per cent sure that he would be happy his Dad is so involved. But I’m also not sure what their relationship was like in recent years.”