A secret child is usually the stuff of soap operas and romance novels — which makes it a perfect fit for the Jackson family.
Janet Jackson’s former brother-in-law set off a deluge of water cooler chatter when he claimed the singer has an 18-year-old daughter, Renee, with her first husband, James DeBarge.
Young DeBarge, a 28-year-old aspiring singer, said Renee has been living with Rebbie Jackson, Janet’s oldest sister, and that “James and the Jackson family kept everything real close, real tight.”
Janet Jackson’s spokespeople didn’t return calls for comment Monday or Tuesday. The whereabouts of Rebbie Jackson and James DeBarge were unknown.
Janet and James were married for three months in 1984. Simple math means an 18-year-old daughter would have been born about 1987, shortly after Jackson released her breakthrough album, “Control.”
Young DeBarge’s claim was no surprise to Jackson fans, who have long spoken of a “secret child” from her tumultuous marriage to DeBarge, a singer in the family R&B group DeBarge.
Not surprisingly, it’s difficult for celebrities to keep secrets. The last such bombshell might be the 2003 disclosure that longtime U.S. senator and former segregationist Strom Thurmond had a black daughter.
In 2000, it was revealed that Jesse Jackson had a year-old daughter with a young staffer. And earlier this year, a former flight attendant said Prince Albert of Monaco was the father of her 2-year-old son.
A closer parallel to the Janet Jackson-James DeBarge accusation might be Loretta Young and Clark Gable, whose daughter was born after their brief fling in 1935. Young, who wasn’t married at the time, kept her pregnancy a secret. The baby was placed in an orphanage and later adopted by the actress, though no adoption papers were filed.
While many cases suggest it’s the father’s reputation that’s being protected, the gender lines seem to be switched in the Janet Jackson story, where shielding Jackson’s (not the father’s) reputation is the apparent motive for concealment.
In the acclaimed 2003 documentary “My Architect,” Nathaniel Kahn told of the secret life of his father, world-renowned architect Louis Kahn. In it, the filmmaker examines why his father kept him and his mother (as well as another child and mother) a secret for his entire life.
Whether Renee would make that public step remains to be seen. At 18, it’s (legally) her destiny — and Young DeBarge did say, “She’s a wonderful singer.”