Decades from now, music fans will remember where they were on June 25, 2009—the day the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, died suddenly. Millions of people considered Michael a music icon and legendary artist. But, for a few, he was simply a son, brother and father.
Michael came from a large family. He had three sisters and six brothers, one of whom died shortly after birth. Though many of the children grew up singing and dancing in the spotlight, the Jackson family is notoriously private.
Janet Jackson, the little sister who followed in her brothers' footsteps and became a best-selling recording artist, has been reluctant to discuss Michael's shocking death.
Now, nine months after we said goodbye to Michael, Janet opens up about the moment she found out he was gone, how her family tried to intervene and why it's still hard to listen to his music.
On June 25, 2009, Janet says she was at home in New York when she first heard Michael was sick.
"I got a call from an assistant. She had said that there was something on TV about my brother being ill. So I immediately called home, and I was able to reach my sister La Toya, my nephew, Austin, and I think my brother, Jermaine, at the time," she says. "They were on their way to the hospital. I can't remember exactly who I wound up calling back, to see how things were going. That's when they told me he had passed."
To this day, Janet says it's still hard to believe Michael is gone. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him," she says. "All of us in the family think about him every single day."
In October 2009, just two months after the Los Angeles County coroner's office ruled that Michael died from an overdose of a powerful anesthetic and another sedative, the documentary This Is It was released. The film, which is a compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage, shows Michael preparing for a series of sold-out shows in London.
Michael died before the first concert, but his genius lives on in the film. Millions of fans flocked to theaters to see Michael sing and dance for the last time, but Janet says she hasn't seen it...and she probably never will.
"I don't know if I can. Even when you were showing the clip, I had to turn away," she says. "It's hard for me to look at an image of his or listen to his music on the radio."
While Oprah says it was remarkable to see Michael's creative process at work in the film, she noticed how thin he looked. "He appeared to not to be the Michael that we had known or seen in years past," she says.
Janet says she and her family also noticed the red flags and thought Michael was struggling with addiction. "He was thin. We knew that he had a problem. We all did. I think a lot of people think that we were in denial, which we weren't at all," she says. "We tried interventions several times."
Despite their best efforts, Janet says Michael didn't change. "He was very much still in denial," she says.
During one failed intervention, Janet says she had to walk away. "I couldn't take it. I was just so overwhelmed with emotion, and I actually had to walk out of the room. It was just too much for me to handle."
"There's a part of you that has to be in order to do that, to let yourself go to that place, to get that down to need something to numb the pain," Janet says.
In February 2010, Los Angeles prosecutors charged Dr. Conrad Murray with involuntary manslaughter in Michael's death. They claim he administered a lethal dose of Propofol, the powerful operating room anesthetic that killed the music legend.
Janet says she blames Dr. Murray for her brother's death. "He [was] the one administering the drug, from what I know," she says.
The world watched as Michael's children mourned their father at his public funeral, but Janet says the kids are doing well. "It's difficult. Their father passed. But they're dealing with it," she says. "Thank God they have their family around them and their cousins," she says.
When Janet looks back on her brother and their time together, she says she remembers their childhood. "We used to spend every day all day together," she says. "I have a beautiful picture in my home of he and I when we were just babies. ... It takes me to that place that, even when he was still here, that I missed. We would talk about us being kids and how much fun we had."
Janet says she feels like she started losing her brother around the time of Thriller, but they still shared good times until the very end of his life. "The last time I saw him, which was two days before my birthday at my parents' surprise party, I was being silly like I always did when we were kids, and he kept looking at me and just cracking up."
The last words Janet spoke to Michael were on that day. Her final words to her brother: "I love you."
At the time of Michael's death, Janet had just started production on her latest movie, Why Did I Get Married Too?, with producer Tyler Perry. Tyler says the pain Janet was going through is palpable in her performance and wants people to know that the Jackson family did everything they could to help Michael.
"I wouldn't dare say anything more than she would want me to, but they really, really tried," he says. "The entire family. I want the whole world to know how much they tried. There were all those reports that they didn't do anything—that's not true."
When Janet heard that her brother had died due to drugs, she wasn't entirely surprised, she says. "I felt that day could possibly come," she says.
In Why Did I Get Married, Too?, four couples meet in the Bahamas for their annual getaway. But soon, there's trouble in paradise—secrets are uncovered and everything unravels. Tyler says the cast was already extremely close when they came together to make the film, so they rallied in support of Janet. "We were very protective of her, all of us, because we knew each other. It was like her coming home—leaving her family and coming to another family," he says.
In order to protect Janet from the media, Tyler had around-the-clock security. "There are shots where Janet doesn't have any makeup on and she's crying and snotting and everything else," he says. "I didn't want the pictures showing up on the cover of some tabloid saying this is what she's going through when it was her acting in the film."
Tyler also changed the ending of the film, even though Janet asked him not to. "She did not want me to because there was something that happened where she had to speak at a funeral, [but] I thought the things that she was going to say, it was too eerie and too much for me. She wanted to continue to do it, but I changed it because of that."
Janet says the support from Tyler and the cast did not go unnoticed. "The day my brother passed, [Tyler] called me and he was constantly checking up on me, and then he stopped production and came down to the service, and he was with me the entire time," she says. "He spoke to the cast and the crew and [told them] to make sure I felt at home and asked me how I wanted to be treated on set, and I said, 'Just treat me the way they always have—with open arms.'"