Latoya Jackson has started over. For years, we never quite knew what to make of the fifth sibling of the famous Jackson clan; we cast her as either a recluse, a sex goddess or the black sheep in the famous family.
The truth? She was living in a private hell. Jackson, 56, wrote what is now a best-selling account of her life with former husband and manager Jack Gordon. Her second memoir, Starting Over, is now in paperback, and she says that writing about the years of abuse she endured at the hands of Gordon has proved itself to be therapeutic.
Jackson talks with EBONY.com about the book, bullying and why even after Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, she and her family are still fighting on behalf of her late pop-star brother Michael Jackson.
EBONY: You look amazing on the cover of your new paperback. Is this because you’re at a much better place today?
Latoya Jackson: Thank you very much. Yes, it’s just getting all the toxic energy and the cancer out of your life and you feel free and vibrant and that’s what that picture represents.
EBONY: What gave you the courage to do that? You are very forthcoming in the book.
LJ: It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. (My writing partner and I) have been writing it for a while. And then of course the tragedy happened with my brother and we continue to keep writing it, and basically this is what you guys are getting from us. I hope that no one should be able to go through this, and if you’re going through it, you can do something about it. People were like ‘you’re LaToya Jackson, how could that possibly happen?’ But that can happen to anybody in any walk of life and that’s what’s so interesting about abuse, is that it has no … prejudices; it affects every person in every walk of life. We have to realize that when someone takes away your self worth and your self esteem, what do you have? They take everything away from you.
EBONY: Was this therapy for you?
LJ: It was very cathartic … I didn’t leave anything out. I covered everything I have every gone through and why I went through it.
EBONY: Was there any hesitation before you sat down to write this book? You put it all out there and didn’t exclude much.
LJ: It was. You’re putting your life out there to the world. From the beginning of the book, 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. I want women to look at this and say, ‘Well gee, if she can talk about her life. If she’s gone through this then I shouldn’t be afraid and ashamed to talk about mine.’
EBONY: You talk about your close relationship with your brother Michael and that he predicted some of the things that you went through. Was he a backbone for you during this time?
LJ: Actually he would tell me that this was going to take place, and that I had to be careful because he said ‘you’re going to end up dead; he’s gonna kill you.’ At the time, I couldn’t tell him, ‘that’s what he’s telling me about you!’ I just couldn’t say that because I didn’t want to hurt Michael, because he was so adamant about my protection and I was so afraid.
EBONY: So what was the light bulb moment for you? What got you out of that situation?
LJ: I tried so desperately to get out so many times, but I wasn’t allowed to because I wasn’t allowed to use phones, I wasn’t allowed to have friends. The only time I saw the world was when I was on television or in concert and I’d go directly back to the car, back to the hotel, back to the airplane and back and forth. He didn’t allow me to have any kind of contact with anybody whatsoever. So the strength that I got came when one of the workers. I kept asking him, begging for a Bible, because I wasn’t allowed to look at television or read books. I kept begging for a Bible, and they wouldn’t give me a Bible. Eventually, (one of the workers) finally went and got a Bible for me. And he laughed about it. He goes, ‘I went to the Kingdom Hall and got you a Bible and I want you to know that I was totally intoxicated when I went.’ I kept that Bible in my hand, and I would take a shower with it in my hand. I would sleep with the Bible because that was giving me strength. I kept praying to God: ‘Please free me from this situation.” But I didn’t want to harm anybody in my family and get them involved. So that breakaway moment was when G [Jack Gordon] had an offer for me to do pornography. And they had offered him several millions of dollars and he said, ‘I’ve used you up, there’s nothing else left to do but pornography and you’re doing it.’ And I said, ‘please don’t do this to me, please don’t. You’ve destroyed me. Please don’t make me do this, please.’ And he said, ‘you’re doing it whether you like it or not.’ That’s when I asked for my passport. Then, of course, a beating came, because I wasn’t allowed to have a passport, keys to the homes, nothing. And once I got the passport I was courageous enough. I picked up the phone and said, ‘If you don’t give it to me, I’m calling the cops right now.’ I don’t know where that strength came from, but it came. And that’s when he beat me with a Coca-Cola bottle for doing that and when he got in the shower, I picked up my phonebook and I turned to the ‘J’s and the first Jackson that I found, I called and that was Randy. He answered the phone, and he put my mother and father on the phone and they said, ‘You go get your sister right now. Get on the plane right now and get her.’ And that’s when Randy came and I kept my pajamas on so it didn’t look like I was going somewhere. Because he normally would lock me in.
EBONY: Oh my gosh.
LJ: Oh yeah, especially in France, because the keys, you can lock a person in and he would just lock me in the house. So the fact that Randy came as soon as he came, I ran and we got on the plane and then I was free.
EBONY: That’s horrific. What type of feedback have you gotten?
LJ: All the response is absolutely wonderful, and it makes me feel so good to know that people are reading the stories, reading about the life and maybe this will make a difference in their life.
EBONY: That has to feel amazing.
LJ: You know, it does. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through, because there’s something that happens when they control you—mentally brain wash you—and make you think that you have to do these things or else.
EBONY: What’s life like for you now, LaToya?
LJ: Life is absolutely wonderful. It is absolutely wonderful. You have absolutely no idea. When I left him, he begged for me to come back and he says, ‘I’m coming to get you. You’ll be back, you’ll see. I’ll give you all your money; I won’t steal anything from you.’ He controlled everything. I didn’t see one penny when I was with him. And he said, ‘I will treat you with respect’ and I said, ‘It’s too late. It’s over.’ I got a restraining order. When I escaped, I became very analytical and I wanted to know what made him do the things he did to me. What made him treat me this way? When I was a strict about Jehovah’s Witness, knew nothing about life, and this guy just saw this innocent character and said, ‘I wanna take advantage of her,’ and that’s what he did.
EBONY: Last time we talked, you were picking up your brother’s philanthropic efforts. Are you still doing that?
LJ: Oh yes, I’m definitely still working with different organizations. I’m working with his charity, but I’m also … trying to make a difference for bullying. I’m against that, because to me bullying is nothing but a form of abuse. In July, I’ll be going to Washington D.C. to the legislature to make sure all that is taken care of.
EBONY: And how is the family doing? Now that the court case is over, are you all finding peace? Or is there more work to be done?
LJ: Oh no, there is so much more work to be done. You have absolutely no idea. And of course there are cases that are ongoing that you guys probably don’t really hear about in the news as much. Everything gets delayed, but in September, we deal with AEG, the wrongful death (suit) with my mother, she filed that. And it’s been a nightmare all around. But we’re all moving with that and moving through it all.
EBONY: What’s keeping you guys strong through this time period?
LJ: I think believing in faith and also his kids, making sure everything’s going well with them. They are very healthy, and they’re doing very good.
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EBONY Entertainment Editor