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If you went to lunch with a work acquaintance for the first time, and he asked you to bring him some money, would you give him $1,000? Almost certainly not, but that’s what La Toya Jackson did when she first went out with Jack Gordon, the man who was to become her agent, husband and abuser. Before he even began to represent her, she had given him over $100,000 in cash. He later went on to get her to sign papers which entitled him to the rest of her money.
Their relationship quickly veered into Ike and Tina Turner territory, with Gordon controlling her every move, confiscating all her cash and inflicting emotional abuse and plenty of beatings, including several that left Jackson severely injured. Finally, after 10 years, during which she married him, she balked when he tried to get her to do a porno film and have sex with four men. She left him and went into seclusion in Las Vegas, without even any household staff, whom she was afraid might have connections to him. And then she began to move down the long road toward “Starting Over,” which is also the name of her new autobiography, published by Gallery Books and Ja-Tail Publishing and written with her business partner, Jeffre Phillips.
This story first appeared in the September 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Asked what she would advise women who are in a similar position, Jackson says, “A lot of times women don’t realize what the signs are that it’s time to get up and get away. The longer you stay, the worse it will get. The signs include aggressiveness, verbal abuse, raising their voice. You have to demand respect. I was sheltered, and I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t used to the streets, wasn’t used to the con artists. I got a crash course in life.”
As for the money she handed Gordon when he was merely an acquaintance, she attributes that partly to being a Jehovah’s Witness — they are taught to help people who are in trouble.
Queried about whether abusive relationships are a problem endemic specifically to the music business, she says, “It’s basically greed. These people see these women and they know how much money is involved, and they’re going to get what they need out of these people.”
On the subject of other divas in the news, she said of Amy Winehouse, “It’s always so sad to lose a great talent. I felt that she had so much to give to the world, and I felt she was on her way to the right track.” As for Lady Gaga, “I really do think she’s exceptionally smart. She has captured the world, and she has patterned her life after Grace Jones and Madonna. She has pushed it down the world’s throat. She’s a very clever girl. I like it.”
Jackson, the fifth of the 10 Jackson siblings, is also absolutely convinced that her brother Michael, to whom she was very close and who died in 2009, was murdered. “‘La Toya, I’m going to be murdered for my music publishing catalogue and my estate,’ he told me again and again,” she writes. But by whom? “Follow the money trail,” she says. “There you will find your answer.…Somebody ends up going, ‘You’re worth more dead than alive,’ and ‘We’re going to be the big boys on the block.’” She fingers the AEG promotions company, which had been organizing Michael’s last appearances before his death, overbooked him, and has been paying her mother’s expenses. It has been reported that the estate has received $1.5 billion in royalties since his death, but his mother — who is raising his children, the beneficiaries of his will — claims to have seen none of it.
After years in the music business, when she says she felt her best on stage, Jackson has left that field and now has her own branding company, Ja-Tail. She is working on a product called ASAP, which is a green product for washing one’s car, and has a new perfume coming out called Simply La Toya, which she created with International Flavors & Fragrances, along with a handbag line. In addition, she is working with various musicians signed to her company. She appeared on the reality show, “Armed & Famous,” on which she functioned as a police officer. The show took no responsibility for whether she was killed on the job or killed someone else, but she seemed to find it empowering.
Jackson admits that, years ago, “I was so terribly against reality television,” but she doesn’t feel that way today. “I love reality TV,” she says. “It taught me a great deal, that people are rude and embarrassing, swear at the parents. I didn’t know guys did this, it’s amazing to me. The [famously dysfunctional] Jacksons are quite perfect compared to the families you see on television. They’re like angels.”