La Toya Jackson may have a childlike voice when she speaks, but the words that flow from her mouth as she describes her turbulent life as a member of one of the world’s most famous entertainment families are anything but childish.
In her new book Starting Over, the 55 year old shares more than a few salacious details about her life as a Jackson. From the iconic singing group that made the family a household name to the father she once accused of physical abuse to the tragic death of her beloved younger brother, Michael, Jackson attempts to set the record straight on the controversial, outlandish and sometimes damaging comments and behavior that plagued her past—while defending the somewhat dysfunctional family she now clings to steadfastly.
“I started writing this book before Michael passed because I’ve wanted to start my life over for a while now,’’ she says. “I had to, because there were a lot of things I didn’t like about where I was and I knew I had to change them. Like a lot of women, I had to make the decision to do whatever it took to get to a different place.’’
As with her brother, Michael, and younger sister, Janet, the majority of La Toya’s life has been an open book for anyone even vaguely paying attention. Decades before the onslaught of weekly gossip magazines, blogs and entertainment websites appeared, the trials and tribulations of the most famous African-American family from Gary, Indiana, never seemed far from the evening news.
While she didn’t attain even half the megasuccess her two younger siblings enjoyed, La Toya did manage to make a modest mark on the entertainment world with regular appearances on her famous brother’s television variety show in the 1970s and by singing backup for Michael on the bestselling album of all time, Thriller. She would later release a few solo albums of her own that featured Michael on background vocals and offered the music charts minor hits like "The Heart Doesn’t Lie," and "If You Feel The Funk."
As Michael’s star continued to shine ever so brightly during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Latoya, with her signature braided headband, appeared content to hover in the background, comfortable with "OK" but not remarkable record sales and happy with budding romances with the likes of Prince, and Diana Ross’ brother, Chico.
“Michael always said he was going to be murdered.’’
Joe Jackson didn’t share her feelings, and in 1987 the Jackson patriarch hired Jack Gordon to co-manage and jumpstart his daughter’s lukewarm career. It was downhill from there, according to the singer.
“Those were some of the darkest days in my life,’’ remembers La Toya. “I was a prisoner. He took my passport on one out-of-country trip, and I couldn’t escape from his control or his abuse for years. I was afraid for my life almost all the time. No one should have to live that and I know so many people do.’’
Jackson holds little back as she recounts in Starting Over the brutal beatings she says Gordon regularly inflicted on her at a whim. Black eyes, swollen lips and other cuts and bruises on her body were the norm when she looked at herself in the mirror, the singer claims—so she stopped looking. Brain-washed and beaten down, Jackson says, she followed every instruction Gordon gave her, no matter how humiliating or degrading, allegedly to avoid being brutalized again.
La Toya says those instructions from Gordon—who at one point called the abuse of the singer “self-defense”—often included acts that were polar-opposite to everything the long-time Jehovah’s Witness believed in. Among them was posing topless for Playboy magazine in 1989. Her photo spread became one of the most popular in the magazine’s history, selling 8 million copies at the time and turning her into an overnight sex symbol.
While some might argue that, at least for a time, Gordon’s less-than-conservative methods gave Jackson the popularity bump her father desired, she says that hidden from the public and even from her family, was Gordon’ s deep desire to destroy both her family and the relationship she had with them.
“He wouldn’t allow me to see them or talk to them at all and if I left him—he threatened to kill Michael and Janet," says La Toya. “My family knew something was wrong, but they couldn’t know how bad it was because I couldn’t tell them.’’
After what she calls a forced marriage to Gordon in 1989, Jackson released the controversial autobiography La Toya: Growing Up In the Jackson Family, a particularly vicious account of her childhood as well as a crucifying portrait of Joe Jackson as a child abuser. She says she now regrets making such accusations, even though both Janet and Michael subsequently offered similar accounts of their demanding father.
“I was young then and had a lot of people in my life that didn’t need to be there,’’ says La Toya. “So l 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.’’
Still, the accusations against her father would not have the lasting impact of the allegations she later made about Michael in the midst of his first sex abuse trial in 1993. In a press conference Gordon—who died of cancer in 2005—arranged in Tel Aviv, La Toya read a statement claiming to believe the charges against her brother, and added that she had proof she would disclose at a later date for a fee. She never did.
“My family and Michael knew that that wasn’t really me talking,’’ La Toya says. “I never believed for a minute my brother was guilty of anything like that. When I spoke to Michael about it years later, he told me he knew it wasn’t me saying those things. I didn’t even have to explain it to him—he wouldn’t let me. You have to know how good that made me feel. He always knew it wasn’t true.’’
Still, La Toya can’t help but wish she could have done much more for her superstar brother, who she says feared for his life many years before his actual death from acute Propofol intoxication at age 50 in 2009.
She admits that initially she didn’t believe her brother’s claims and dismissed them for a time.
“I honestly didn’t believe what he was saying because it didn’t make sense,’’ she says. “He didn’t know or wouldn’t say exactly who was going to do it, and I couldn’t tell if it were a feeling or something more. So I didn’t know what to do. I mean what do you do when someone says that to you?’’
In the new book, the singer describes hearing news of Michael’s death and immediately remembering his eerie warning to her about his future. “I just kept hearing his voice and those words over and over again. It sent a chill up my body.’’
She also reveals the chaotic scene at his house the day he died and the alleged disappearance of millions of dollars he kept at home at all times. Michael Jackson’s death was later ruled a homicide.
Many have speculated that Michael Jackson never would have completed the grueling 50-concert stand in London that he’d committed to. La Toya agrees he would not have—and maintains that he was not well. She says his health was intentionally lied about to the insurance companies—so others around him could make money.
This weekend, Jackson will be “Auntie La Toya" and spend time with Michael’s three children and other Jackson family members as they mark the second anniversary of Michael’s death. The children live with their grandmother, Katherine Jackson.
“The children are doing so well,’’ says La Toya. “Michael put masks on them to protect them and to keep them safe from anyone who wanted to hurt him. He’s gone now. The first thing my mother did was say to them, Today we’re unmasking you. Today the masks come off.' "
La Toya says she’s getting to do something her late brother wanted more than anything else.
“I’m getting the chance to start my life over and Michael so wanted to do that too,’’ she says. “He never wanted to sing or perform again. He just wanted to direct films, television and videos. He was going to do what he wanted finally after this tour ended. He was going to get out of the spotlight completely and do his own thing. He just never had the chance.’’