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Broken family ties: Michael Jackson and his father

world Updated: Jul 03, 2009 16:27 IST
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It could be weeks before the world finally knows what killed Michael Jackson. What became clearer than ever in the week since the unexpected death of the legendary singer was that the self-proclaimed King of Pop was just a knight in mournful armour, a deeply insecure, lonely child who seemed to have never grown up.

A key figure in the unhappy life of Michael Jackson was his father Joe, 79, who through the often chaotic years of his life kept emerging, unwelcome, into the spotlight.

Even in the days after his death, Joe Jackson was glad-handing at the Black Entertainment Television awards, promoting his own record label and welcoming the adoration by fans, laughing as he said it was too bad Michael had not lived to see the outpouring of emotions for his son.

No mention is made at all of Joe Jackson in Michael's will, which was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The King of Pop named his mother, Katherine, as guardian of his three children. In case his mother became incapacitated, the back-up designation for guardianship named Diana Ross, the legendary Motown entertainer with her own string of hits including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".

In 1993, Michael Jackson told talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey that his father teased him and beat him. "He was very strict, very hard, very stern. Just a look would scare you," Jackson said. "There's been times when he'd come to see me, I'd get sick, I'd start to regurgitate."

Joe Jackson's reaction said it all. "Yeah, he regurgitated all the way to the bank," the father said.

His mother, on the other hand, was "perfection", Michael said. His parents apparently live separated from one another.

Joe Jackson was a crane operator at the steel yards in the early years of his marriage to Katherine in the grimy, industrial city of Gary, Indiana. After failing in his bid to launch a band with his brother, he turned his ambition onto his nine children.

Determined to see his musically gifted kids write the family success story, he pushed the "Jackson 5" boys hard onto the stage, with little patience, indulgence or even a loving touch, Michael said.

Afterward, Joe Jackson confirmed that he had indeed physically punished Michael. "I whipped him with a switch and a belt. ... I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick," he told the BBC in 2003.

Michael's brothers, jealous as he became the family's breakout star, teased him because of his acne and his large "African" nose - a lingering legacy possibly linked to the star's series of plastic surgeries and skin treatments.

They were taking the lead from their father, however.

"I had pimples so badly it used to make me so shy. I used not to look at myself. I'd hide my face in the dark. I wouldn't want to look in the mirror. And my father teased me, and I just hated it, and I cried every day," Michael told Winfrey in 1993.

The King of Pop's biographers saw the seeds for much of his later bizarre behaviour in his loneliness and his sense that his childhood had been stolen. Michael told Winfrey how he would watch with envy kids playing games after school while he was confined to the recording studios.

Without "a strong inner self and a realistic approach to the world, people like Jackson retreat into fantasy", the Los Angeles Times wrote.

With the purchase of Neverland Ranch in the late 1980s, the singer gave himself one of the most expensive toys of all time. Significantly, he named the huge property outside Santa Barbara after the mythical land of Peter Pan, where children never grow up.

With the children of poor and socially weak families, later with his own children, the star caught up with his lost childhood on Neverland's carousels, playgrounds, a little zoo and other luxury installations.

"The kids were Michael's life," Mike La Perruque, Jackson's long-time confidant and security manager, told the Daily News. "If there is anything that can be said about Michael, he was a very good father."

That warm relationship contrasts to the irony over the questions now being raised about the biological parentage of his three children: Prince, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7, also known as Blanket.

In the early years, Jackson's obsession with success as a solo performer was seen as a way of buying his father's affection with fame. In his hard times, as he was tarred with child abuse allegations in 1993 and a criminal trial in 2005, the clan pulled together and closed the gates to protect him. During one of the lowest points of the circus-like trial in California in 2005, the old man appeared side by side with his son, holding his hand.

That the King of Pop omitted the family patriarch from his will, signed July 7, 2002, could be a final act of revenge - or it could be that Joe will still benefit from the Michael Jackson Family Trust set up by the will. The trust will receive all of his assets, but details were not given in the document filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.