In her new memoir, La Toya Jackson candidly discusses her bond with her superstar brother Michael and her own insights into the still-hotly-contested circumstances surrounding his untimely death. Here’s an excerpt.
I always dreaded seeing the words breaking news on my television from the day that Michael told me he was afraid for his life. In the spring of 2009, I grew increasingly concerned for my brother’s life. Whenever I saw the familiar graphics scroll across my television screen and heard the telltale music, informing me that something earth-shattering had happened, I immediately feared it would be upsetting news about Michael. Then I would be relieved to hear that it was something else.
On June 23, 2009, I saw those dreaded words pop up on the screen while I was watching CNN. My heart raced until I learned that the breaking news was actually the death of television announcer Ed McMahon.
Then, on June 25, 2009, I saw those same words on CNN once again, and again my heartbeat quickened.Story: La Toya Jackson: Michael predicted he would be killed
What is it now? I thought.
I soon learned that the breaking news was the sad loss of actress Farrah Fawcett. I mourned the passings of Ed McMahon and Farrah, who had both given the world so much with their talents. But my main feeling was an immediate sense of relief that, as far as I knew, my brother was at that moment safe.
I called Jeffré, who was staying in Las Vegas at the time, and informed him of Farrah’s passing. Just as moved as I was, he turned on his television to learn more. After we discussed Farrah for a little while, we began talking about death more generally, and we discussed the way in which famous people always seemed to die in groups of three.
“I wonder who’s going to be next,” I said.
This statement of the most innocent variety, spoken without really thinking, would soon come back to haunt me in the most upsetting way possible.
After Jeffré and I hung up, I spent the rest of the morning watching the news on Farrah. Although I was truly saddened, it wasn’t a big surprise, because everyone knew she was battling cancer. While watching the coverage of Farrah’s life and feeling sympathy for the pain her family must have been going through, I received a call from Joseph a little after noon.
“La Toya, get over to Michael’s house right now,” Joseph said.
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“What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.Slideshow: Michael Jackson’s life and career (on this page)
“A fan called and told me Michael’s sick.”
I was immediately filled with panic, and my hands shook as I began dressing. I was preparing to leave my house as quickly as I could and drive the three minutes to Michael’s nearby home, Carolwood. I called Jeffré back to alert him to Joseph’s call and to see if he had heard anything about Michael’s condition from the fans or anyone else we knew.
“La Toya, Michael’s just doing this to get out of his shows,” Jeffré said.
This immediately eased my mind because I knew that it could well be true. I had been told that Michael didn’t want to do the London shows, which were scheduled to begin in just a few days. Michael was known, within the family, to have faked illness and injury in the past to avoid commitments that displeased him, and I felt better as I assumed this was the case now. I was so certain there was nothing to be alarmed about that I slowed down the pace at which I was getting ready to venture out in search of information.Story: Michael Jackson’s mom: Molestation claims were ‘biggest lie’
Then Joseph called me again. “A fan just called me and said there’s an ambulance at Michael’s house.”
Joseph passed the phone to a friend, who told me that the fan was now telling Joseph that Michael was on his way to the hospital.
“Forget going to the house,” Joseph said to me. “Go to the hospital.
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They say he had a heart attack, and I hear that he’s on his way to the hospital.”
When I heard these words, I was so distraught that I almost dropped my phone. I couldn’t breathe or think or move.
“Hurry up and get over there,” Joseph said, panic audible in his voice.
I called Jeffré back to tell him the latest.
“Calm down until you get to the hospital and find out what’s really going on,” he said.
This was asking me to do the impossible, but I knew I had to hold it together for Michael.
“Have you heard anything about it?” I asked.
“No, but I’ll check the Internet to see if I can find anything.”
While Jeffré went online, I turned on my speakerphone function and finally got myself dressed to go over to the UCLA Medical Center, which was where they had taken Michael. When Jeffré spoke again, I could tell by the tone of his voice that something was terribly wrong.
“La Toya, just relax until you get over to the hospital. But I did find a statement online from the paramedics that said, ‘Mr. Jackson was not breathing when we’ — the paramedics — ‘got to his house.’ ”
My legs literally buckled beneath me, and my vision blurred as my entire body was instantly drenched in sweat. I was in such acute shock that I felt I might actually drop dead. I couldn’t speak.
All I could do now was to get to Michael as quickly as I could, and to pray.
God, please don’t let this be true. Please give me strength to get to Michael.Slideshow: Michael Jackson and famous friends (on this page)
I pulled myself together, but I couldn’t get ready fast enough. I was having the reaction I always had when I heard any bad news. My entire body was shutting down, and I felt so weak that I could barely move.
But I knew that such a response was not going to help Michael, so I fought through my panic and forced myself to be strong. The whole time, I kept praying and talking to myself out loud.
“Okay, La Toya, calm down. Michael is going to be fine. It’s just an act.”
But somehow, I knew this wasn’t true, and the more I said it, the more nervous I became. All I could hear was the fear in Michael’s voice as he told me, “They’re going to kill me for my publishing catalog and my estate.”
I was still trying to put my shoes on as I rushed downstairs and got into my car. Even though the hospital was only two minutes away, the drive seemed like an eternity.
As I drove, I kept trying to call Mother, but her phone rang and rang with no answer. I was so desperate to talk to her that I just kept calling her, again and again, as I panicked in the next moments. Finally, Mother’s assistant Trent answered her phone. He told me that he was in the car with her, driving her to the hospital.
I was crying and breathless to the point where I could barely speak.
“Trent, is everything okay?” I asked. “Please tell me it is.”
But he wouldn’t answer me, and his silence made me cry even harder and more uncontrollably.
“Trent, is everything okay?!” I asked again, this time more forcefully. “Is he better?”
I could hear Mother speaking in the background. “Trent, who’s on the phone?” she asked in a tone of voice I had never heard from her before.
“La Toya,” he replied.
The next thing I knew, my mother snatched the phone away from Trent and screamed as loudly as she could into the phone:
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I said, also screaming my loudest.
A torrent of sobs shook my entire body, which stopped working altogether. I was so weak that I could no longer grip the steering wheel of my car or apply enough pressure to the gas pedal to keep the car moving. Horns honked as my car slowed and drifted to the side of the road, nearly causing several accidents before it finally came to a stop. Although I was less than a mile from my house, I didn’t have a clue where I was, where I was going, or what I was doing. I rolled down my window and stuck my tearstained face out into the street.
Excerpted from "Starting Over" by La Toya Jackson with Jeffré Phillips. Copyright © 2011 by La Toya Jackson with Jeffré Phillips. Excerpted with permission by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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