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Jackson’s death returns his father to spotlight

Michael Jackson once said he would get physically sick just looking at his father, saying he was both physically and emotionally abused by him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

At the BET Awards over the weekend, Michael Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, was back in front of the cameras. Wearing a black fedora and oversized sunglasses, he spoke proudly of his son, paid tribute to "a superstar" and promoted his own new record label.

Joe Jackson has returned to the spotlight. It is a place he is familiar with, having long presided as the iron-willed, behind-the-scenes patriarch who ruthlessly — some say cruelly — pushed his talented children into the music business, driving Michael in particular to enormous fame at a young age.

The 80-year-old former steelworker is again fully immersed in the family's dealings since his son's death. The return of Joe Jackson — a controversial, sometimes vilified figure who Michael said abused him as a child — is sure to renew questions about his influence on his troubled son.

Since Michael Jackson died Thursday of what his family has said was cardiac arrest, his father has been vocal about his son and the posthumous arrangements being made. Medical examiners in Los Angeles are perhaps weeks away from officially determining the cause of death, though a second autopsy was held Monday at the family's request.

The elder Jackson and other relatives have been mostly holed up at the family's compound in Encino. He made an unexpected appearance Sunday night at the BET Awards, which became a tribute to the King of Pop.

Joe Jackson said in an emphatic statement at the show that he and his wife, Katherine, have the "personal and legal authority to act, and solely ... have authority for our son and his children."

Michael Jackson's 79-year-old mother asked a judge on Monday to name her administrator of the singer's estate so she can ensure his three children — two boys and a girl — are its beneficiaries. Her husband supported her in the request.

Host Jamie Foxx, performers, pay tribute to the late superstar

Also Monday, Katherine Jackson was granted temporary guardianship of the children and is asking to be named their permanent guardian.

Londell McMillan, the Jacksons' attorney, said the family has not heard from Deborah Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two eldest children, about custody. The youngest son was born to a surrogate mother. In court papers, Jackson's parents said they believe the singer died without a valid will.

"This is where they belong," Joe Jackson said a news conference Monday. "We're going to take care of them and we're going to give them an education they're supposed to have."

‘I whipped him with a switch and a belt’Joseph and Katherine Jackson married in 1949 and settled in Gary, Ind. They have nine children together, Michael being one of the youngest.

Jackson was a boxer, a guitarist for a local band and a crane operator at U.S. Steel. When he recognized the musical talents of his children, he organized and trained the Jackson 5, also serving as their manager.

"When I was little, it was all work, work, work," Michael Jackson said in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Joe Jackson was a strict father who pushed his children relentlessly in rehearsals and performances. He had them call him not Dad or Father, but "Joseph."

In Michael's 1988 book "Moonwalk," he wrote of his father: "He's a mystery man to me." In the interview with Winfrey, he said that his father beat him and that "just a look would scare you."

Michael said that he would get physically sick — as a child and as an adult — just at the sight of his father. He also spoke of emotional abuse.

"I was so shy I would wash my face in the dark," Michael said, referring to an acne outbreak. "I wouldn't look in the mirror and my father teased me. I just hated it. I would cry every day. He would tell me I'm ugly."

Appearing still fearful of his father, Michael repeatedly turned to the camera during the interview and said, "Sorry, Joseph."

Michael always believed that he had missed out on childhood and sought to experience it again as an adult. He surrounded himself with children and built an amusement park at his Neverland Ranch, his nearly 3,000-acre California property named after the Peter Pan fantasy island.

Joe Jackson disputed his son's claims of abuse, telling the BBC in 2003: "I whipped him with a switch and a belt. ... I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick."

In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, Jackson said: "Katherine whipped Michael more than I did." He also acknowledged driving his children hard: "When they said they didn't want to go, I pulled them by the hand and said, `We're going. We're going to do this.'"

Michael's brother Jermaine defended their father in a 2005 interview with Larry King: "We grew up like any other black family. You did something, you got your butt tore up ... you got a spanking." Added Jermaine: "He kept us off of the streets."

Joe Jackson's parenting is likely to be brought up in court as part of the request for custody of his grandchildren.

It was Joe Jackson who brought the Jackson 5 to a deal with Motown Records and helped build the solo careers of Michael and Janet. By the 1980s and the mega-success of "Thriller," Michael was operating professionally on his own. All of Joe Jackson's children eventually cut professional ties to their father.

Joe Jackson remained president of Jackson Family Entertainment Inc. and opened the Joe Jackson Talent Agency. In 1999, he filed for bankruptcy.

In 2005, he launched Joe Jackson's Hip-Hop Boot Camp, a rap contest meant to find "the best hip-hop artist in the world."

"Everybody is liking hip-hop now," Jackson said then. "I'm gonna have to clean it up a little bit — all that vulgar language out there."

On Sunday at the BET Awards, Jackson spoke vaguely of a new record company he is launching with Marshall Thompson, lead singer of the Chi-Lites, as a partner. He again discussed the label at a news conference Monday in front of the family's Encino home, along with Rev. Al Sharpton.

That he would use such an opportunity for self-promotion struck many Jackson fans as inappropriate.

But Sharpton defended him: "Some misinterpreted why Mr. Jackson went and what he said. He said it and went because he wanted to send a signal to the world that the Jackson family is going to continue doing what Michael did: give music and love to the world across all boundaries and across all nationalities."