Joe Jackson, domineering father of a musical dynasty, dies at 89

Mandatory Credit: Photo by JOSHUA GATES WEISBERG/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9729021a) Joe Jackson Joe Jackson dies at 89, Santa Maria, USA - 26 Aug 2008 (FILE) - A file picture dated 21 March 2005 shows US singer Michael Jackson (L) exit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse with his father Joe Jackson (R) in Santa Maria, California, USA (reissued 27 June 2018). According to media reports, Joe Jackson has died at a Los Angeles hospital on 27 June 2018, after suffering from cancer. He was 89.
Joe Jackson with his son Michael in 2005. Mr. Jackson’s sons began performing professionally in the mid-1960s.

Joe Jackson, the domineering father and manager who molded his sons into the immensely popular Jackson 5 and helped launch his son Michael and his daughter Janet on explosive solo careers before alienating all of them because of his abusive behavior, has died in Los Angeles. He was 89.

The Michael Jackson estate confirmed the death in a statement but did not say when or specifically where he died. The celebrity news website TMZ said he died at his home early Wednesday morning.

Mr. Jackson had been admitted to a Los Angeles hospital on Friday with terminal cancer, according to news reports.


A crane operator and an unsuccessful rhythm-and-blues musician, Mr. Jackson was struggling to provide for his wife, Katherine, and their many children in the mid-1960s when he discovered his sons’ budding talents and began pushing them into the music business. He saw music as a path out of their cramped home in Gary, Ind.

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“Something inside of me told me there was more to life than this,” Mr. Jackson was quoted as saying in “Michael Jackson: The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story,” J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, first published in 1991.

By 1970, the Jackson 5 was an international sensation, with four No. 1 hits — “ I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” — in a little more than a year. The group, consisting of the brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael, had hits throughout the 1970s, with Michael as the lead singer and top showman before he moved on to a solo career.

Without some of Joe Jackson’s business decisions, like breaking ties with Motown Records in the mid-1970s, Michael Jackson might never have achieved the success he had.

But the elder Mr. Jackson was emotionally distant and physically abusive. He used the Jackson 5’s constant touring as cover for extramarital affairs that he rarely hid from his sons. His wife and their nine children, especially Michael, all eventually distanced themselves from Mr. Jackson.


In 1983, at Michael’s urging, they dismissed him as their manager.

“It’s not easy firing your father,” Michael said later.

Joseph Walter Jackson was born on July 26, 1928, in Fountain Hill, Ark., the oldest of five children of Samuel and Crystal Jackson. His father was a high school teacher and strict with his children. The parents divorced when Joe was a teenager, and he eventually joined his mother in East Chicago, Indiana.

He dropped out of high school in his junior year and was a Golden Gloves boxer when he met Katherine Esther Scruse at a party. They married in 1949. But as their family grew they had trouble making ends meet on Mr. Jackson’s earnings, which rarely exceeded $65 a week at the time.

When the R&B band with which Mr. Jackson played broke up, he hid his guitar so that his sons would not damage it. But they found it and played it in secret, developing talents that Jackson immediately recognized when, after discovering what they had been doing, he asked them to play for him.


Mr. Jackson returned from work the next day with a new electric guitar for the boys and soon imposed a relentless rehearsal schedule on them.

They practiced singing, dancing and playing instruments for at least three hours a day, every day. Michael, who joined the group at age 5, became the lead singer, sometimes sharing the role with his brother Jermaine.

The boys began performing professionally in the mid-1960s in Gary and nearby Chicago and toured in a Volkswagen bus to other cities on weekends, opening for established R&B artists like the Temptations, the O’Jays, and Jackie Wilson.

Mr. Jackson chased women while they toured. His sons knew about his infidelities but dared not tell their mother, who remained at home with the younger children.

Many years later the family learned that he had fathered a daughter, Joh’Vonnie, his 11th child, from one of his affairs. (He and Katherine Jackson also had a son who died shortly after birth.)

The Jackson 5 signed with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records in 1968. In October 1969 the Jackson family moved to Los Angeles, and Motown released the Jackson 5 single “I Want You Back,” which sold more than 2 million copies and was the first of four singles by the group to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

Mr. Jackson had achieved his goal — his family was world famous — and in 1971 he bought an enormous estate in Encino, Calif. The band continued to have hits, and Michael recorded his first solo single, “Got to Be There,” that year.

Also that year, Katherine threatened to divorce her husband after learning that he had had an affair that ended with a miscarriage. But they stayed together. They were still married, but long separated, when Mr. Jackson died.