Michael Jackson's Mother and Children Share Memories
November 08, 2010
It was an unassuming home. Nestled on a quiet neighborhood street in Gary, Indiana, the small, single-story residence was made up of nothing more than two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen—and a family of 11. Who would have guessed that the close-knit group living in the tiny house would soon become one of America's most famous families?
The Jacksons—mother Katherine, father Joe and their children, Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy and Janet—lived in that four-room house until the early '70s, shortly after the five oldest sons formed a singing group called the Jackson 5. Under father Joe's strict management, the Jackson entertainment empire was born.
While with the Jackson 5, Michael, the group's rising star, began his solo career and released his LP Thriller in 1982—to date, the best-selling album of all time. He became known around the world as the King of Pop and, despite his tragic death in June 2009, is still recognized by the Guinness World Records as the most successful entertainer of all time.
After the Jackson family became a household name, they packed up and moved into a new, 2-acre estate in Encino, California, which has been their home since 1971. Today, 10 members of the Jackson family live in the home, known as Hayvenhurst, including Michael Jackson's mother and his three children, Prince Michael, Paris and Prince Michael II, who goes by the nickname Blanket.
Sitting in the home the Jackson family moved into 40 years ago, Katherine recalls some of her fondest memories of her children growing up within those walls. From Michael and Randy writing 1973's "Dancing Machine" to the children's frequent dance rehearsals, it's clear that Hayvenhurst holds happy memories for this family.
These memories are the subject of Katherine's new book, Never Can Say Goodbye, a tribute to Michael that includes personal stories and never before-seen photographs from his life. Oprah asks Katherine why she wanted to share these stories with the world.
"I wanted to do it for his fans and for the people that misunderstood him," Katherine says.
"Do you think he was misunderstood?" Oprah asks.
"Yes," Katherine says. "I do."
Though Never Can Say Goodbye features many images of Michael throughout the years, Katherine says one image of her son as a little boy is the portrait she has in her mind when she thinks of him.
"I think of my son all through the day, all the time, and I don't like to talk about him because I get all choked up," Katherine says.
She pauses and continues, "A baby in my arms, naming him with my mother. ... That comes to my mind every day. ... And sometimes during the day, I can hear his laughter in my mind."
Michael had many different looks throughout the years, and Katherine says he was insecure about his features—insecurities that stemmed back to his teen years. When Oprah interviewed Michael in 1993, she says he didn't want any pictures of himself as a teenager to be shown. "He thought of himself as ugly," Oprah recalls.
It's something Michael would say to Katherine all the time, she says, but she wasn't able to convince him otherwise. Then, one day, Michael decided to do something about it. "He made up his mind, and he just left [the house]," Katherine says. "And when I inquired about where he was, [he said] he had gone down to get his nose done."
That surgery sparked a series of surgeries that seemed to transform Michael right before his fans' eyes. His nose got smaller and smaller—"like a toothpick," Katherine says.
Katherine says she tried talking to her son about putting an end to the surgeries, but she believes he became addicted and could not stop himself. So, Katherine says she reached out to his plastic surgeon.
"I said [to Michael's plastic surgeon]: 'If he comes there and wants you to work on his nose, just tell him you did it and do the same thing. Don't change it, and just tell him, 'Okay, I've finished,' and that's it,'" Katherine says.
"But they didn't listen to you," Oprah says.
"No," Katherine says. "They should have."
In the midst of Michael's fame, scrutiny and surgeries, he married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994. Katherine, along with the rest of the world, was surprised by the nuptials.
"He called me after he had married her," Katherine says. "He said, 'I'm going to put her on the phone,' and he put her on the phone. I said, 'That's not [Lisa Marie].'"
"Had you met her before?" Oprah asks.
"No, I hadn't met her before," Katherine says.
Despite how quickly the relationship progressed, one thing Lisa Marie knew early on is how much Michael loved his mother, even telling Oprah that his love for Katherine was unconditional and there was nothing he wouldn't do for her.
"Did you feel that?" Oprah asks Katherine.
"Yes, I did," she says. "And everybody I talked to that knew him would tell me the same thing. I felt it too. I truly loved him."
On the day Michael died, Katherine received a phone call from her husband, Joe, telling her someone had been taken from Michael's house in an ambulance. That person was covered with a sheet. At first, Katherine says, she told herself it might not be her son, but in her heart, she knew it was.
Then, she got a call from the hospital, confirming that it was Michael who had been taken away in an ambulance.
Unsure whether he was alive or dead, Katherine arrived at the hospital and waited to learn about her son's condition. "We stayed in there a long time before [the doctor] came in to tell us," she says. "I guess he didn't want to either. But the doctor had to tell us—Dr. Murray."
Dr. Conrad Murray was Michael's personal physician. He's been accused of administering lethal levels of propofol, a powerful anesthetic, and was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in Michael's death.
"Dr. Murray told you?" Oprah asks.
"Yes," Katherine says. "He came out, and he was talking. It took him so long. And I'd say: 'Well, what's happened? ... Did he make it?' And he said: 'No. He's gone.' That's all I remember."
Michael's three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, were also at the hospital that night. While Dr. Murray was telling Katherine of Michael's death, someone else told them. "They were crying," Katherine says. "I thought [Paris] was going to pass out. She was just saying: 'Daddy, I can't make it without you. I want to be with you. I want to go with you.' I felt so bad for them."
That same night, the children went home with Katherine and have been living with her ever since.
Soon after Michael's death, an autopsy revealed that a lethal dose of propofol caused him to go into cardiac arrest and die.
Katherine says she was shocked. She knew Michael had trouble sleeping, but she didn't know he may have taken prescription drugs to help him sleep or get through the day. In fact, she says it took her awhile to realize Michael became addicted to painkillers after he suffered severe burns while shooting a Pepsi commercial in 1984.
"Remember when he got burned in the head?" Katherine asks Oprah. "He had been taking those drugs, and it was a long time before I knew he was addicted to them."
When she tried to talk to Michael about his painkiller addiction, Katherine says he denied it. "I was very serious about it," she says. "I was telling him I didn't want to hear one day that he had overdosed, because it would break my heart. But he kept saying he wasn't on anything."
"You didn't believe him," Oprah says.
"No," Katherine says. "I didn't."
Katherine always stood by her son's side even when some supporters turned their backs. In 2005, Michael was on trial for allegedly molesting a minor, intoxicating a minor, abduction, and conspiracy to hold the boy and his father captive at his home, Neverland Ranch. Throughout the entire ordeal, Katherine showed up in court every day to support her son. She never once believed he could be guilty of molesting or hurting a child.
"He loved children," she says. "Michael would always say: 'Mother, why are they accusing me of something I love the most? I'd rather slit my own wrists than to hurt a child.'"
The trial seemed to take its toll on Michael, his mother says, changing who he was as a person.
"He used to trust people," Katherine says. "And after that trial, he didn't trust anybody. ... He would always tell me: 'Mother, I don't trust anybody. The only person I trust is you.'"
Before taking in Michael's children, Katherine says she had a good—but not close—relationship with Prince, Paris and Blanket. "I can't say that I knew them real, real well," she says, "But I knew them well enough. I would always go visit them, and Michael would always talk about them to me."
Katherine also says she did not like it when the children wore veils while out in public with Michael. "I didn't approve of that, but I didn't say anything to him about it," she says. "Then, their biological mother told me it was her idea [to cover them up], not Michael's."
Going from this veiled life to living at their grandmother's with several cousins seems to have been a relatively easy transition for Prince, Paris and Blanket. "They just bonded the minute they got here," Katherine says. "They had a lot of fun."
The man by Katherine's side for the last 60 years—from their two-bedroom home in Gary to their California estate—is her husband, Joe. The two have been married since 1949. Despite rumors of a troubled marriage, both say they are still together and have never filed for divorce.
"She's a wonderful person," Joe says of Katherine. "I think she's too easy with people. She's just like Michael. She's too easy."
Like his wife, Joe says he thinks about Michael every night.
"I just can't picture him gone," Joe says. "Every time I go into some place—a restaurant or a casino or something—his music is playing. ... It brings back memories because I remember the songs. I was at every recording session he ever did."
During his interview with Oprah in 1993, Michael talked about his complicated relationship with his father. He even confessed that he was scared of Joe, saying, "There have been times when he's come to see me, and I would get sick."
"Do you think [Michael] was afraid of you?" Oprah asks Joe.
"I don't think he was afraid of me," Joe says. "Maybe [he was afraid] of doing something wrong, and I'd chastise him. Not beat him. I never beat him."
"He told me that you beat him," Oprah says.
"[Joe] used a strap," Katherine says.
Joe says the way he disciplined his children has kept them out of trouble and out of jail. "Nine kids, never been in jail," he says.
"Do you regret those strappings on your children?" Oprah asks.
"No, because it kept them all out of jail," Joe says. "I raised them right, and they were good kids all the way."
In the Jackson family, a new generation of talent is emerging with Katherine and Joe's grandchildren. Prince Michael, Michael's oldest, says he wants to produce movies and direct when he gets older. Paris says she would like to be an actress and reveals that she used to do improv with her father.
Now that they live with their grandma, Michael's children are adjusting to a new "normal." Until this year, Prince and Paris were home-schooled, and despite some first-day jitters, they say the transition into the classroom has gone well. Blanket, the youngest and shiest of Michael's children, is still home-schooled.
"You all lived, from what I can gather, a very sheltered, literally veiled life," Oprah says to the children. "Did you know at the time why you were putting on the mask?
Prince answers: "Because then if we went out without our dad, nobody would really recognize us."
Paris' favorite memories of her father are when the two of them spent quality time together. "One time, we went on the roof [of our house] when we were in Las Vegas, and we just saw the Luxor lights," Paris says. "And sometimes, he would take me to an art museum because we both loved art."
Without hesitation, Prince shares his fondest memory of his father. "We were in Bahrain. We used to wake up early and walk the beach—with Coca-Cola and Skittles or Snickers," he says.
Whether he was cooking breakfast for his kids—"He was a great cook!" Paris says—or protecting them from media scrutiny, Michael left his children with a wealth of happy memories and cherished moments.
"He was just a normal dad," Paris says. "Except for he was, I would say, the best dad ever."