Twenty years after her controversial book La Toya: Growing up in the Jackson Family, a book that erupted a media tsunami around the most famous family in music, the outspoken fifth sibling of the Jackson family, La Toya Jackson releases the paperback version of her New York Times bestselling memoir, Starting Over. But this time, the recent contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”, doesn’t reveal painful accusations about her family, she’s turning the mirror on herself, unveiling a life of abuse and shame at the hands of former manager, and ex-husband Jack Gordon. Starting Over, re-released by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books and Ja-Tail Publishing Company, details in depth and personal accounts on how a once naive and sheltered child star managed to escape a world of torment, isolation, and trauma. In a recent interview with EBONY.COM, La Toya remembers her journey from hell and back, “I was embarrassed letting people know that I was treated this way—embarrassed to let people know that I was locked in closets and doors were closed on me, and just the beatings I endured.” But now this Jackson daughter is starting over.
Read on for an exclusive look at the first two chapters of Starting Over now!
LA TOYA JACKSON with JEFFRE’ PHILLIPS – “STARTING OVER”
I never believed I would survive to write a second book, but by the grace of God, here I am. Twenty long years have passed since I wrote my first autobiography, La Toya. The truth is that I didn’t want to author that first book. My ex-manager, Jack Gordon, made me publish the book and speak out against my will in its pages, just as he forced me to marry him in 1989, and made me make so many career moves that were contrary to my wishes and beliefs. For almost a decade, Gordon controlled me with a campaign of brutalization and manipulation, beating me several times a week, threatening my life and the lives of my family members, and proving he had the mob ties to carry out his most violent promises. As is very common with abusers, he also isolated me from anyone I loved, who might have come to my aid or inspired me to rebel against him. By the end of his first year of management, I was so insecure and traumatized that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I hated the person I saw there because everything about her was ugly to me, and I thought it was my fault.
I am thankful that, this time around, I have the freedom to write what I want, the way I want. It truly is the most wonderful feeling to finally be free from the misery of my prior life. I am absolutely overjoyed to find myself still here on this earth, experiencing the most extreme happiness every day, in the company of my dear family and friends. Believe me, this is no exaggeration. After the horrors I have lived through, and the despair I have felt, every breath is truly a gift. I am so grateful for my freedom and the person I am now, even if I had to endure such painful experiences to get here.
There was a time, before Jack Gordon, and all of the tragedy that befell my family, when I was extremely happy. I lived at Hayvenhurst, the family home in Encino, California. I traveled the world, making a very good living as an entertainer. I spent all of my time with my family, who were my best friends, and the people I loved most in the world.
Every day was a blessing, and I couldn’t wait to wake up each morning to hear my sister Rebbie singing Mandy Patinkin’s version of the song “When the Red Robin Comes Bobbin Along.” Even though my more famous siblings’ performances were already filling arenas at that point, nothing made me happier than hearing Rebbie croon that special song just for me. It would put the biggest smile on my face. My brothers’ fame, as well as the Jehovah’s Witness religion with which Mother raised us, meant that we were isolated when I was growing up. This was especially true of Rebbie, Michael and I, who were the most devout. I’m sure this helped to make Michael and I vulnerable to our eventual fates, as did the fact that we didn’t really understand the value of money, having always grown up with the ability to earn plenty. But as a child and young woman, I was cheerful and helpful, and I wanted for nothing in the world.
When Jack Gordon preyed on my naïveté and took me away from all of this, I could not understand why God had brought such dark forces into my life and allowed me to suffer so greatly. It wasn’t until I escaped from Gordon on May 3, 1996, and spent many years making sense of what I endured, that I realized why God put me in the worst possible situation. He did so to make me the strong person I am today, so that I could help other women to escape their abusers and also have the chance to start their lives over.
I assumed it would be easy. I thought I could just wake up one morning and say, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I’m starting over.” I didn’t realize all of the difficulties that life presents us on a daily basis, and that starting over isn’t something that we do once in a lifetime; it’s something we do on a continuous basis, by learning from our mistakes, until we eventually become the people we will be.
I had considered the possibility of telling my story in a new book. But I was embarrassed and frightened of sharing my true story with the world. I had no self-esteem or sense of self-worth. I couldn’t believe I let someone take away my dignity and go against my beliefs, while my family was out there, creating beautiful, legendary music, and making the world a better place to live. And I did not think people would believe my story or relate to it. I was the subject of sensational tabloid reports and late night jokes for too many years to want to open myself up to ridicule once again. Also, Gordon had threatened me for so long about what would happen if I told anyone what he did to me behind closed doors that I was still terrified he might find a way to harm me, or my family.
For the longest time, I did not understand that abuse is a universal horror that happens to women of every race, religion and social class. Because I was ashamed that I let it happen to me, I tried to pretend it didn’t. And then, on March 4, 2003, I was an invited guest on Larry King Live after a self-imposed seven-year hiatus from the spotlight in America. During our conversation, Larry made a comment that I will never forget. It all began with a question about Gordon, which I did my best to circumvent.
“I really don’t wish to talk about it, Larry, because it’s negative energy, and I don’t like it,” I said.
“But you’ve come so far,” King said. “I promised I wouldn’t speak about this because it brings such negativity that I don’t wish to go through again,” I said.
While that negative energy line had worked on everyone else, it didn’t work for Mr. Larry King, who I’ve always admired for his ability to dig beneath the surface of a subject. “But people appreciate more how you’re doing when they know what you’ve been through,” he said.
His words got through to me in a way that nothing else had. I did not want to cry on national television, so I did not admit how much his statement had moved me. But it literally changed my life. That was the instant I realized I was going to help other women in the same situation that I had faced in my past.
I was further inspired when I began receiving countless letters following a sit- down interview I did on 20/20 on January 21, 2005, which contained a detailed discussion of my abuse. Women began walking up to me, wherever I was, to congratulate me for getting away and then they would tell me their own stories. The courage these women showed in opening their hearts to me, and the similarity of our stories, made me feel more comfortable about sharing my story. I started realizing, for the first time, that I wasn’t alone, and that this is a major problem that needs to be addressed to the world. But I still didn’t feel that I was the one to take on the subject.
And then, one day in 2007, I was at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills when a dignified, impeccably dressed woman approached me. I could hardly believe it when she pulled me into a dressing room and spent the next hour crying, shaking, and telling me her own story of domestic abuse, as a concerned sales lady knocked on the dressing room door.
“Ms. Jackson, are you okay?” the sales woman asked me again and again. “Yes, I’m okay,” I reassured her every time she asked. As I said the words, I actually realized I was okay. Even more than that, I had
grown strong from everything I had been through, and now had the experience, knowledge and power to help others.
Other women seemed to want me to help, too. The one universal comment I heard again and again, after women told me about their abuse was:
“You have to share your story with others, so abused women will gain the confidence they need to overcome their own situations.”
I was so honored to be acknowledged by so many women in this way, but I was still afraid. As I do with everything in life, I began praying to God every night:
Please give me the strength to help others who are in the same situation that you helped me to escape from.
My prayers were answered. I finally made peace with the fact that I was going to write this book and became excited to get started. My first thought was to tell my family before they heard about it in the media and got the wrong impression.
And then, before I had a chance to say anything, Mother came over to my house one day. We sat on the sofa in my living room discussing life, family, just our typical conversation we always enjoyed having, when my phone started ringing. It was Michael, and he asked to speak to Mother. When they were done with their conversation, Mother came right out with it.
“La Toya, Randy told Michael that you were writing another book about the family. Is that true?” she asked me.
I feared my mother’s reaction, but I knew I had to be honest. “Yes, Mother,” I said. “I am writing a book, a self-help book.” As soon as I spoke the words, I instantly went back into my shell, where I had
hidden from Gordon and the tension he caused within my family for so many years. “Oh,” Mother said. “I told Michael not to believe Randy; that he’s just talking.” Nothing more was said. I realized that I wasn’t the only one whose wounds had
been healed. The fact that I might write a book didn’t worry her because she knew Gordon was no longer around to make me include whatever he wanted. The real La Toya would never write or do anything to purposely hurt my family.
I once again had that old happy spirit, and I looked forward to waking up each morning to hear the birds chirping and see the sun shining. I was rebuilding my professional reputation, making music, and living out my lifelong dream of becoming a businesswoman. Best of all, I had been reunited with my family, and we were closer than ever. I began writing Starting Over in February 2008. I had a good deal of it completed by January 2009, but I didn’t know how I was going to end it, and so I put it aside.
And then, on June 25, 2009, I lost my brother Michael, and I knew that I had a second purpose in my life now, and with this book. Michael had confided in me years earlier that he feared assassination by those who wanted to steal his valuable publishing catalogue and estate. I believed him because I too had been manipulated and abused so that a greedy, heartless man could profit from me. And my brother was Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, beloved by millions of fans around the world, and head of a music empire that was valued at more than a billion dollars when he died, with the potential to earn billions more. If I had been a target, it was even easier to understand how Michael could be one as well. While I was lucky enough to escape, he did not. I decided I must investigate his murder and go public with what I found, as I do in this book, with the hope of getting justice for Michael by identifying those who really killed him.
Because I almost lost my life, I want to dedicate the life I have left to helping save the lives of other abused women. I know it’s not easy, but it is possible. I am living proof. It’s ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL to have freedom, and that’s what I want for everyone who reads these words. We can all start over, whenever we want, and as many times as we want. We just have to take that first step, and then support each other to keep walking.
Chapter One: HE’S GOING TO KILL YOU
I was lying in a pool of blood on the cold marble floor of my New York City kitchen on April 21, 1993. My heart was beating so hard it felt like it was about to bounce out of my chest. Every inch of my body was in excruciating pain. I started thinking to myself: This is it. I’m dying. What was my purpose here? I then heard my manager/husband Jack Gordon somewhere above me, talking on the telephone.
“I’ve killed her,” Gordon said. “I think she’s dead. I’ve killed her.”
As I listened to his panicked words, I recalled a conversation in which my brother Michael had warned me about Gordon a few years prior:
“You have to get away from him or he’s going to kill you,” Michael said.
Not wanting to worry Michael any more than he already was, I didn’t say anything to him about how right he was to be afraid, both for me and for him. Michael knew that Gordon was a dangerous man, from his then-manager Frank DiLeo, and he understood he was taking a great risk to warn me about Gordon. While we talked, Michael interrupted our conversation several times to ask me if Gordon was listening in on another extension. Although I reassured him that Gordon was not eavesdropping because he was out of the house, Michael was still frightened. So I didn’t tell Michael that Gordon had threatened to harm him on numerous occasions if I disobeyed the orders Gordon gave me or revealed my abuse at his hands to the world. Instead, I reassured Michael, and vowed to myself that, whatever Gordon might do to me, I would never allow him to hurt a member of my family. Michael was relieved. But while my thoughts and voice were forceful, my conviction was meaningless in the face of Gordon’s power, and the harm I knew he could easily inflict on those I loved through his mob ties. The truth, as I knew it, was that something horrible was destined to happen if I didn’t follow his every order and work my hardest to earn him money. I know now that, in his mind, he thought he was my pimp, and I was his prostitute. In order to ensure my family’s safety, I did everything Gordon ordered me to do, even sitting in a closet all day without moving sometimes. That’s how powerful his control was over me.
I became a pro at anticipating what might set Gordon off. But I wasn’t able to avoid being nearly beaten to death that night in my penthouse. He often invented excuses to punish me, but on this occasion, he did not give me any reason or warning. When he came home earlier that evening, I was frightened by his behavior, which was very strange. I retreated into the bathroom, and when I came out, Gordon was waiting for me with a look of pure evil on his face. Surely, I was looking the devil straight in the eye. I was terrified.
Although my body trembled and my knees buckled, I ran out of the room, and down the hallway to the kitchen. I could feel the blood rapidly pounding, and creating pressure, in my ears. I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, even though I was hurrying away from him as fast as I could. I knew there was no escape, nowhere to hide, and no one to come to my rescue. Gordon hired all of our help from among his mafia connections. They were paid, from money I earned, that he controlled one hundred percent, and spent to help control and intimidate me.
I was certain this would be the end of my life. I could easily imagine the lies Gordon would tell the world to cover up my murder. The headlines that probably would have read: La Toya Jackson Jumps to Her Death from the Balcony of Her NYC Condo. Or Gordon would bring in a shady doctor to shoot me full of drugs and claim I overdosed. I had no doubt that he knew enough evildoers to help him avoid responsibility. I wondered if my family would investigate, or if they would believe what they were told and never know the truth.
As I was cornered in the kitchen, Gordon came up close behind me. I was so afraid that I could hardly breathe, but I knew better than to beg for mercy.
Without saying anything, he punched me in the face. At 110 pounds, I was no match for him and fell to the floor. I curled into a ball to try to avoid his blows, but they came at me from every direction. He kicked me and beat me with his fists, and it just went on and on. He then picked up a heavy wood chair and beat my legs with it. This was very brutal, even for him.
I couldn’t understand why he was acting this way towards me. I wondered if it was because he had been diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier, and he was taking it out on me. Maybe he was angry that he was sick, or maybe he was afraid he would die. But, as far as I knew, he was in remission. And he constantly kept me working so he could afford to get the best medical care possible. So that couldn’t be it. I knew he had good days and bad days. Maybe this was a bad day. Or, maybe there was no explanation, and he was just mean. I couldn’t understand how he could live with himself after doing such horrendous things to me.
The beating went on and on. He kept kicking me, until there was blood everywhere. I was bleeding from my face, stomach, and vaginal area. As the blood spread around me on the floor, I drifted in and out of consciousness. I came to when he finally stopped beating me. That’s when I heard him talking about how he thought he had killed me.
My blood was everywhere. As I lay there, motionless, the woman who was our live-in help got a towel and wiped up the evidence of what Gordon had done to me. She immediately washed the towel in the washing machine, so no one could see how badly I had been hurt. I’m dying, and she’s already helping him to cover up the evidence, I thought.
Gordon had hired this woman to be my assistant and housekeeper, but I knew her real purpose was to watch me for him. Still, we spent a great deal of time together, and I was always pleasant to her, even though I didn’t trust her. What hurt me more than anything else that night was the fact that she did nothing to protect or help me. Just like all of the other workers, she was Gordon’s friend from Las Vegas, where he had a great deal of power thanks to his little mob connections and other shady dealings. Before I met him, he served six months in prison for attempting to bribe the then-Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission Harry Reid, and he was later suspected of putting a car bomb on Reid’s car. So this woman was completely on Gordon’s side, and probably feared him as much as I did.
I was in so much pain that it was hard for me to focus. The next thing I knew, several policemen entered the room. That must have been the phone call that Gordon made. But I couldn’t figure out why he called them, when he would surely get in trouble. Then, I became aware of an object in my hand. I had no idea how it had gotten there.
One of the police officers squatted down near me, so he could check my injuries and question me. I tried to focus on his face as he spoke, but everything was blurred.
“Who did this to you?” he asked.
I knew better than to tell the truth because Gordon had often warned me that if I ever spoke of his abuse to anyone, he would kill me, or even worse, kill Michael.
But I didn’t have to say anything. “Who did this to you?” he asked again. “I did it,” Gordon said. “Put your hands behind your back,” one of the cops said to Gordon. “You’re under arrest. You’re going to jail.”
They didn’t know Gordon like I did. He had prepared for this. He pointed to the knife someone had put in my hand. “She came after me with a knife,” he said. “It was self defense.” I couldn’t believe he would try to assassinate me, and then my character, in an attempt
to avoid blame for his awful abuse, on top of everything else he had done to me that night. I would never have come after him with a knife, even to save my own life, and he knew it. I wanted to shout out that it wasn’t true, but I could barely breathe, let alone speak. And of course, I never would have dared to disobey Gordon, especially in front of the police. Luckily, the cops weren’t impressed with his story, and they handcuffed him and led him away.
Gordon knew better than to threaten me in front of the police officers, but he gave me a warning look that told me I’d better not say a word, OR ELSE. Those of you who have been through abuse, or are going through it now, know what those unspoken words meant: I’d get a worse beating than the one I had just received if I didn’t obey him. Not that he needed to warn me. Like so many victims of domestic abuse, I always protected my abuser. Even after he left the room, it was as if he was still watching me.
I was certain I was dying. My ribs felt broken, and the pain in my sides forced me to take short, shallow breaths. Big chunks of blood were coming out of me and forming new puddles on the floor.
And still, I was covering up for Gordon. I didn’t want to answer any questions. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I just wanted everyone to go away, so I could climb into bed and be alone with my pain, my shame, and my fear. But, no matter how much I closed my eyes and wished them away, the cops wouldn’t leave.
“You have to go to the hospital, whether you want to or not,” a cop said. “You don’t have a right to say that you won’t go. You have to get checked out.”
I must have drifted into unconsciousness again because I don’t remember leaving my home, or what the bellhop or doorman must have thought as I was carried out through the opulent lobby of our building. I don’t know whether the police officers called an ambulance or transported me in one of their squad cars, but when I came to, I was in Lenox Hill Hospital. And I wasn’t alone. The woman Gordon had hired to watch over me was looking at me with the same expression Gordon had given me when he was led away in handcuffs. I sunk deeper into the emergency room cot where I lay, trying to avoid the force of her menacing gaze.
“You’d better not say anything,” she said to me.
When she left to get the doctor, tears welled in my eyes. I wanted to cry because of the terror I had just experienced, the pain that gripped me now, how alone I was, and how helpless I felt.
But I knew better than to show any emotion, and I was afraid that if I started crying I would never stop. Before long, a young doctor came in with the woman. I immediately began lying, because I knew she would report exactly what I said back to Gordon.
“Oh I’m fine,” I said. “You don’t have to do this.”
The doctor clearly didn’t believe me. He gently moved his hands over my torso and legs, trying to measure the damage. I kept myself from wincing at his touch.
“Does this hurt?” he asked. “No,” I said. “Don’t touch me there. Please. It’s okay.” “Well, we need X-rays,” he said. “No, you don’t have to do that,” I said. “I’m fine. Can I go home, please?” I forced myself to sit up, even though the pain was excruciating, just so the doctor
would think my injuries weren’t bad and allow me to leave. I checked myself out and refused to make a follow-up appointment. Once outside, the town car that Gordon and I kept for traveling within the city was waiting for me. The woman and I rode home in silence. All I wanted was to get into bed before Gordon was released from custody and came home to torment me further.
The ordeal was not yet over. Assistant District Attorney E. Loewy came over with several people the following day and insisted she be allowed to check up on me. Gordon’s hired woman refused. The district attorney kept up, until she finally got her way. When she first saw me, she gasped. I could understand her reaction. I felt like the Elephant Man. My left eye was swollen shut and my right eye was back and blue. My lips, which were the size of a saucer, were so big and swollen that I could not close my mouth. Saliva constantly dripped out, no matter how often I inhaled to try to keep this from happening.
“Would you like to press charges?” the assistant district attorney asked. “No, thank you,” I said. No mater how painful and uncomfortable my injuries were, I definitely knew better. “Can I at least take pictures of your injuries?” she asked. The woman intervened then, defiantly. “Absolutely not,” she said. The assistant district attorney tried to convince her. “No, no, no!” the woman said. She knew that if pictures of my face got out, Gordon would be in a great deal of trouble, and she took her job to protect him very seriously. As desperate as I was to receive help of any kind, I did not dare speak up. I actually wished the people would stop trying to help me and leave me alone. I was still convinced that, if I could just find the perfect way to behave around Gordon, I could make the situation better. Little did I know, it would only get worse.
Chapter 2: I WISH I COULD HAVE YOUR LIFE
During the time I was married to Jack Gordon, no one ever thought I was being abused or even saw me look anything less than perfectly happy in public. I was always so polite, and full of smiles, how could anyone suspect what was happening in my personal life? To strangers, I looked like the perfect little wife, with the perfect little life. I was a successful entertainer, born into the world’s most famous musical family, who traveled the world performing and making appearances. I had the nicest clothes 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, it looked like a florist’s shop. I had never seen so many beautiful flowers in one room in my life. I opened the many cards, and they were all from the same person, Gordon. I thought it was a nice gesture. But these kinds of gifts – admittedly, in smaller quantities — happen so often in show business that it’s almost customary. When Gordon and I met again before the taping, I didn’t immediately recognize him as the same man from the Solid Gold set and the Grammy Awards. But he told me that it had been him, and that he later contacted my father, who was then my manager, to negotiate a deal to have me host this program, which he was producing. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t want to host his show and was only there because Joseph had told me to do it. The entire time I was there, I behaved with the courtesy and professionalism that my siblings and I had been taught growing up. When I was done with the taping, Gordon asked for my direct number. I declined because I did not feel comfortable giving my number to a man I didn’t know. I was a devout Jehovah’s Witness at the time, and we had extremely strict rules about dating, and it wasn’t something I was really interested in anyway.
Gordon kept in touch with Joseph and began working on my father’s vast sympathy, calling him daily and finding ways to be around constantly. In fact, Gordon earned everyone’s trust by being the nicest person in the world. He knew my mother loved board games, so he’d come over and play with her for hours. Every time my family had an event in another state, he would either just show up, or say he was already going to be in that particular state while we were there. He hung around so much that, eventually, my father hired him.
Joseph has the biggest heart and can never say no to a person in need. When Gordon told him that he had fallen on hard times, my father found work for him in his own office. After that, Gordon quickly made himself indispensible. This was not unusual, as there were always aggressive people who wanted to work with our family. It used to be that anyone who hung around Hayvenhurst for long enough would be given a job. But with all of the times my family’s kindness and generosity have caused us to be taken advantage of over the years, and sue, everyone is much more careful with who they trust now. Especially me.
In 1984, when I went on a ten-city radio promotional tour for my third studio album, Heart Don’t Lie, I started receiving the biggest bouquet of flowers in every hotel suite, all from Gordon. At first I was a little uncomfortable that he might want to date me. Then, I started to fear that he was stalking me, which was not uncommon in my family. Screaming girls had waited outside the gates of Hayvenhurst for my brothers since the first day we moved in, and we once found an obsessed female fan that had been living in Michael’s closet for three days. I was both relieved and upset when I later found out that my father had given Gordon my itinerary. If I had known the depths of misery he would later bring me to, I would have been even more afraid than I was at the time.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Los Angeles from the radio tour because my mother and I were about to go on the road with my brothers for their “Victory Tour.” Before we left, I had a doctor’s appointment because I wasn’t feeling very well. The doctor had bad news: I needed an emergency hemorrhoidal operation. I guess that’s what I get for my lifelong love of Tabasco sauce, jalapenos, and anything else that burns the stomach. The whole experience was so painful that I could barely walk, even after surgery. The doctor suggested I stay home and rest. I was devastated to miss the excitement of the tour, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. My brothers were expecting Mother to be with them, so she went ahead without me. I was left home alone with only the staff and security.
Gordon made his move. He sent flowers, get well cards, and candy. Every day there was a new gift waiting for me. He kept calling the security booth, trying to talk to me. When I wouldn’t see him, he tried another tactic.
“I have a gift for you,” he said when he finally got me on the phone.
“You shouldn’t have,” I said. “But thank you. If you leave it at the security booth, they’ll bring it to me. I really appreciate your generosity.”
“No, this is something I have to give you in person,” he said.
I felt obligated to see him after everything he had done for me. I agreed to let him come into the house. It was incredibly painful for me to walk down the grand front stairway to where he waited in the foyer below. But I smiled wide, determined to hide my discomfort. Little did I know that this would become our standard roles in years to come, only Gordon would be the one inflicting the pain.
When I started feeling better, Gordon invited me to lunch. As a Jehovah’s Witness, I couldn’t socialize with men unless a third party was there because we might have sinful thoughts. I declined as politely as possible. That’s when the mental manipulation began, only I was too naïve to see it at the time.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you too good to be with a normal person who’s not a Jackson?”
His accusation wounded me deeply. I didn’t want him, or anyone else, to think I was a snob when it wasn’t true. And because he wasn’t someone I wanted to date, I didn’t think it would go against the rules of Jehovah’s Witness.
“Of course I’ll have lunch with you,” I said.
“Great,” he said. “Could you bring some money? I’m not doing very well financially at the moment, and I don’t have any.”
Rather than being put off, or suspicious, I actually felt better about meeting him. Here was someone who needed help. I could provide it and was more than happy to do so. This all made our lunch perfectly acceptable for me as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Since it wasn’t a date, I dressed like any other day, in slacks and a blouse, and I wasn’t nervous about seeing Gordon. As I drove to meet him at Gaylords, an Indian restaurant on La Cienega, I stopped at my bank and withdrew a thousand dollars.
While we ate, Gordon grilled me about my family, career and income. Having only known members of my family and my religion, it didn’t occur to me to be suspicious, and I answered honestly. When the bill came, I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I handed him the money under the table. He paid the bill and pocketed the rest. I was a little shocked by this, but I didn’t say anything. I had never confronted anyone in my life, because Joseph or security always did so for me. Here I was alone, with a man I didn’t know very well, and I didn’t want to be rude.
That was the first of many lunches over the next few weeks. Gordon had found an easy mark, and he knew it. At each lunch he asked me to, I handed him a thousand dollars. Looking back, I can’t believe what a fool I was. But at the time, I was acting with the generosity I had been taught to show others.
After I had given Gordon about $10,000 at these lunches, he called to tell me that if he didn’t have $15,000 by the end of the day, he was going to have to start sleeping in his car. I was startled by his implicit request and hesitated before answering.
“You wealthy people don’t care about people in need,” he said. “There’s no way you would give me $15,000.”
Just as he had intended, his words made me feel bad.
“That’s not true,” I said. “You can come over and pick up a check at the security
“Actually, I need it in cash,” he said.
And just like that, I went to the bank, and took out the money for him. A few days later, he needed another $30,000. This time, he said he wanted me to partner with him in an investment. After that, he was always trying to involve me in some scheme. He wanted to buy several of those arcade games where players attempt to grab a prize with a mechanical arm. And he wished to open a souvenir store on Hollywood Boulevard. He needed $50,000 for this last plan. He even told me where the store would be, and mother drove me by the space. Without thinking to ask him any questions about his plan, I gave him the money. When he later told me his business partner had stolen the money from him, I couldn’t believe that the world was full of such crooks. The world was full of crooks alright; I just didn’t know how to spot them.
I really was an exceptional target. Having grown up a Jackson, I wasn’t just raised wealthy. I could earn a good income for myself from the time of my debut at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas when I was sixteen. As my manager, my father not only never cheated me, as sadly happens to so many child entertainers; he never seemed to take a commission from my earnings. I’m sure he did for the appearances he booked for me, but never for my royalties. I always had enough funds, and more coming in all of the time, so money had no value for me at the time.
Besides, I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, which meant I had been instructed to never worship money; to avoid all sinful thoughts, actions and people (“Bad association spoils useful habits”); to only surround myself with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were just as good as I was; and to trust everyone. Although my mother brought up all of us children as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we never celebrated Christmas or birthdays as the religion forbade it, only Rebbie, Michael and I really took these religious teachings to heart. Even after Michael was a mega pop superstar, he and I went door-to-door with the Awake and Watchtower, spreading God’s news. Michael wore a fat suit so no one would recognize him, but for some odd reason, the littlest children could see through his disguise.
“Mommy! Mommy! That’s Michael Jackson!” the children would say.
The mothers would never believe them, and Michael and I would walk away laughing about it.
My sheltered approach to the world was fine, as long as Joseph and Mother were there to protect me. But Gordon was already pulling me away from my family. He made me promise I wouldn’t tell anyone I was giving him money because it would have embarrassed him, and so my parents didn’t have a clue about the way he was continuously taking money from me. Gordon also began influencing my thoughts about my family and their relationship to my career.
“It’s your money anyways,” he said. “It’s nobody’s business what you do with it.” Because I didn’t realize he had ulterior motives, I thought he was being
supportive of my desire to gain greater independence. He then started asking me about my banking information and offered to help me with my money. Again, he made it sound like he only had my best interests at heart. “Dealing with money can be a headache,” he said. “It’s something I don’t think you should have to deal with.” I thought it was very nice of him to be concerned, but I reassured him. “It’s no big deal,” I said. “We have accountants who take care of that.”
Without realizing it, Joseph soon set Gordon up perfectly by allowing him to start handling certain areas of my career. Up until then, I had been happy to have Joseph manage me. But I was becoming restless. Although I was twenty-eight, I was very naïve to the world. I thought I should be on my own, even though my parents disagreed. I begged them to let me get my own place, but mother and Joseph always felt it was too dangerous out in the world.
“You can move out when you’re married,” they told me.
I didn’t want to be under my parents’ control anymore. I wanted to grow up and do things on my own, and in the way I thought was best.
Back then, I didn’t realize how fickle the entertainment industry was and how many people would love me and want to work with me while I was hot, only to drop me the instant some hot new act came along. But Joseph would love me unconditionally and want what was best for me. All I knew was that I wanted to be independent, and that meant I wanted out of my contract with Joseph. As soon as Gordon heard this, he did everything in his power to make the split happen as quickly as possible. Although I can’t say Gordon was the reason I wanted to leave my father’s management, I do know I never would have gotten up enough nerve to do it without Gordon pushing me on a daily basis. Finally, Gordon brought an attorney to see me who had written a letter stating that I was resigning from my father’s management. All I had to do was sign.
As soon as Gordon convinced me to do it, I felt knots in my stomach as I thought about it making its way to Joseph’s office, where he would open and read it. I was scared of how he would react, and every time I saw him for the next few days, I waited for him to explode. But he never said anything to me about it. I later learned from Mother that he had been very upset by the letter, but I guess he accepted the fact that all of his children had to grow up eventually. Now that I’m older, I look back at this moment with regret. I know now I didn’t handle the situation properly, and I hate to imagine the pain I caused Joseph. I was his little girl, and yet I wanted to leave his side, which was the only place he knew he could protect me from an industry that didn’t care for me as he did.
Around this same time, I had to go to Japan on business. Mother often traveled with me, when she wasn’t with one of my siblings, and she was supposed to go with me, but she couldn’t. Joseph was unable as well. Because Gordon had been working with Joseph for several months now, Joseph felt comfortable sending him to Japan to oversee my business during the trip. Joseph and I weren’t close then like we are now, and he didn’t know Gordon had taken money from me and masterminded the letter severing our working relationship. If he had, I’m sure he never would have let Gordon anywhere near me, and he certainly wouldn’t have sent him to a foreign country alone with me. Given what happened on that trip, I’m sure it’s a decision Joseph came to regret greatly. But at the time, it was business as usual. Meanwhile, Gordon had hit the jackpot, and he knew it.
Gordon called a meeting with Joseph to let him know how I felt, and that he should let me go from under his wing. To my surprise, Joseph agreed. He told Gordon that he could manage me, and he would stay completely out of my business. I was happy. I thought this moment was the beginning of my freedom. But, really, it was the beginning of the end for the La Toya Jackson my family, friends, and the world had once known.