and jewelry, beautiful cars, homes in London, Paris, New York and Las Vegas. It was a lavish lifestyle that most could only dream of having. Yes, it was a dream all right: a total nightmare. Even though my surroundings were exquisite, I was living in what I called “a prison without bars.”
It was easy for me to pretend that life was oh so grand in public because I knew if I didn’t act right, I was going to get a good beating once I got home. I became such a skilled actress that I was actually envied, even by royalty.
Once, I was performing in Saudi Arabia when a king’s daughter snuck out of her palace to see my show. After returning to my hotel, I was asked to please come see the princess at the royal palace. When I arrived, the palace was dark and quiet. I was driven to a guard booth at the back, where security met me and scurried me inside. Like the rest of the building, the room was dim and quiet, and I could barely make out the shapes of exercise equipment around me. Sitting in a corner, on a plush bench, was a young girl completely covered in a burka.
“Hello,” she said in a faint, polite voice.
She introduced herself as the princess and told me she wanted to speak to me. As I listened, I wondered why I had been snuck in through a back entry, and why were talking in such a dark room. I soon came to understand. The princess proceeded to describe how she hated her life because she wasn’t allowed to leave the compound or have visitors. That night, she had only been able to attend my show because she managed to sneak out with a trusted guard. She then confessed, with tears in her eyes, that she had never felt happier than she did, watching my performance and seeing such freedom.
“La Toya, you’re so lucky,” she said. “I wish I could have your life.”
I just smiled and accepted the compliment as graciously as possible. But inside I was thinking: If you only knew what my life was like, you wouldn’t want it.
Of course, I was so miserable and worried about my own survival at the time, I didn’t realize until many years later that she was suffering through the same kind of abuse that I was. Both of us seemed to live the most wonderful existences on the surface while hiding the most painful secrets beneath.
The princess and I had another similarity that I didn’t see at the time. We were both raised in sheltered environments with strict expectations about what our behavior should be like and how obedient we should be. This made me the perfect target, although I didn’t come to understand any of this until years later. Because of my upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, at the time I met Gordon, I assumed everyone was telling me the truth and everything was as it appeared.
When I first crossed paths with Gordon in 1984, it was no Romeo and Juliet story, and it definitely wasn’t love at first, second or last sight. But I had no reason to think he was anything other than what he seemed, which was a slightly older businessman who had suddenly taken an interest in me. Our paths crossed while I was attending the Grammy Awards with my family. He kept following us everywhere that night and finally approached my father, Joseph. He opened the conversation by flattering Joseph, as was his way.
“How did you have so many talented kids?” Gordon asked. Soon after that, I was co-hosting the popular ‘80s television program Solid Gold,
which featured different established recording artists performing their latest hit song each week. As I smiled into the camera and read my lines from the cue cards, I could feel someone staring at me so intently that I couldn’t help but look in his direction. There was Gordon. Our eyes met, and I gave him a friendly smile, just to be polite. He was a small man, neatly shaven with close-cropped dark hair and an impeccably tailored suit. I wasn’t sure why he was on the set that day, because he didn’t appear to be doing anything. But I was busy with my co-hosting duties, and he never introduced himself or spoke to me, so I didn’t think too much about it. I later learned that the whole thing was a setup, and Gordon was only there because I was. He had set his sights on me specifically, and he wanted to meet me, so he could try to worm his way into my family.
Soon after, I was hired to host another show similar to Solid Gold. When I walked into my dressing room on the first day,