Joe Jackson turned his children into stars, but at a price

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Joe Jackson (left) and his son Michael (right) are shown in this March 14, 2005 file photo. (AP Photo/ Carlo Allegri)
Joe Jackson (left) and his son Michael (right) are shown in this March 14, 2005 file photo. (AP Photo/ Carlo Allegri)

New York (AP) — Joe Jackson once had his own dreams of success. He tried to be a boxer and then played guitar with a group called The Falcons. But he realized early on that there was an overwhelming pool of musical talent in his children, particularly a little bright-eyed boy named Michael.

He channeled his ambition through them, creating one of the greatest pop vocal groups, The Jackson Five, and launched the career of one of entertainment’s greatest legends in Michael Jackson, as well as another superstar talent, daughter Janet.

Yet the legacy of Jackson, who died last week in Las Vegas at the age of 89, was steeped not only in the brilliant guidance of his children into the world’s premiere entertainment dynasty, but the iron fist with which he did it. Michael described beatings with the switch of a tree branch, and a fear so great of his father that he would sometimes vomit at the sight of him. His children called him Joseph — they weren’t allowed to call him by fatherly terms.

“You call me Joseph,’” Janet Jackson recalled her father telling her once when she called him dad.  “I’m Joseph to you.”

By the time they were all adults, his children severed professional ties to him, preferring to let others guide the careers he once nurtured.

Still, in times of turmoil, it was Joe that they continued to turn to. When Michael Jackson stood trial on allegations that he sexually abused a child (he was acquitted), it was Joe Jackson who was at his side on most days. Janet Jackson rationalized that her father wanted the best for his children, even if he didn’t go about it the right way.

Michael credited his father with making sure his children weren’t cheated by industry vultures, and noted that unlike some child stars, his parents didn’t take their children’s money to enrich themselves.

“I’d say we’re among a fortunate few artists who walked away from a childhood in the business with anything substantial — money, real estate, other investments. My father set all these up for us,” Jackson wrote in his 1988 autobiography. “But still I don’t know him, and that’s sad for a son who hungers to understand his own father. He’s still a mystery to me and may always be one.”

The relationship with many of his children never improved.  Janet Jackson said in a CNN interview in 2011 that she rarely spoke to her father, and by adulthood, they had severed ties with Jackson as their manager.

When Michael Jackson died of an overdose of the anesthetic propofol in 2009, he had been estranged from his father, and his bodyguards recall not allowing Joe Jackson in when he attempted to see the superstar at his estate.

In his own autobiography, Joe Jackson acknowledged being a stern parent, saying he believed it was the only way to prepare his children for the tough world of show business. But he denied many of the claims of physical abuse.