La Toya Jackson
When one hears the Jacksons being mentioned, they probably think of Michael, Janet, or even Jermaine. La Toya Jackson – considered by many to be the black sheep of the family after explosively claiming that Michael had committed “crimes against children” – was the fifth child of the Jackson clan, born on 29th May 1956, in Gary, Indiana, USA.
Although the TV personality and singer’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by her controversial statements over the years, La Toya has still had a decent career with nine studio albums, two best-selling books, reality TV appearances and more.
Contrary to her public image in later years, La Toya was reportedly a shy and somewhat awkward child. When her mother Katherine became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1966, she and her nine siblings would accompany the Jackson matriarch as she preached door-to-door.
The Indiana native got her first taste of the spotlight at 17, when she performed a tapdancing routine alongside her brothers; in the same year, she graduated from high school with hopes of becoming an attorney. Despite attending college, she dropped out when her father, Joe, insisted that she join showbiz like the rest of the clan.
From 1976 to 1977, La Toya was present in every episode of the variety program “The Jacksons”, which also starred siblings Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Michael, Randy, Rebbie, and Janet. (Jermaine was notably absent, having left the family group and stayed at Motown when his brothers were signed to Epic Records).
While Michael was filming “The Wiz” in 1977, La Toya traveled with him to New York, where they shared an apartment and experienced life away from the family home. During this time, the young starlet dated Diana Ross’s brother Chico, David Gest and Bobby DeBarge.
Rebbie, La Toya and Janet formed a musical group under the watchful eye of their father: however, they soon separated due to creative differences, and never performed live or released any albums. Immediately afterwards, La Toya began working on her solo album.
La Toya released her self-titled debut album in 1980; although she didn’t want to include her surname on the project (as a way to distinguish herself from her famous brothers), Joe insisted that she use her last name. “La Toya Jackson” birthed two singles: “If You Feel the Funk”, which reached the Top 40 of the US R&B chart, and “Night Time Lover”, which was produced and co-written by Michael. The project remains her highest-placed album on the charts to the date, peaking at #116 on the US Billboard 200.
“My Special Love”, the singer’s sophomore project, was released in 1981 and also generated two singles: “I Don’t Want You To Go” and “Stay The Night”, which both failed to make much noise in the saturated music scene of the time. Nevertheless, La Toya persisted and struck gold three years later with her critically-acclaimed third album, “Heart Don’t Lie”, which propelled her popularity and allowed her to expand her brand with fashion collaborations and other business ventures.
One such venture was “David Laurenz for La Toya”, a three-year contract between the starlet and the leather apparel company in which the singer could only wear the brand’s clothing during her public appearances. La Toya also launched her own fragrance line, became the spokesmodel for Mahogany Image cosmetics, and starred in print and TV commercials for Nikon cameras.
Her 1985 single “Baby Sister” won an Outstanding Song Award at that year’s World Popular Song Festival, and was included in the album “Imagination”, which was released in 1986 shortly before La Toya’s record label went bankrupt. The nonexistent promotional budget in a competitive market meant that “Imagination” floundered in the charts.
1987 was the year La Toya’s father hired Jack Gordon to co-manage her, a decision which he and his wife Katherine would later regret, as it resulted in La Toya’s public image becoming increasingly sexualized. After incorporating suggestive dances into her performances and distancing herself from her family (which Katherine believed Jack had a hand in), La Toya went from a clean-cut singer to being dis-fellowshipped by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and moving out of the Jackson’s family compound to relocate to New York City.
After changing management, La Toya released an eponymous album in 1988. Months later, she posed topless for Playboy magazine, rebelling against her conservative upbringing and sending her parents a clear message: they were no longer welcome to interfere in her career. The singer would pose for Playboy again in November 1991, and appear in a 1994 video for the magazine.
Following a concert in Nevada in September 1989, La Toya and Jack Gordon tied the knot. She would later claim to have been forcibly married, and that her manager-husband convinced her that he was protecting her from her family. In a tell-all interview with Ebony magazine, the marriage was never consummated, and when she asked for an annulment six months later, Jack bashed her head against the corner of the hotel room table. From then on, La Toya ceased all contact with the Jacksons, and penned an autobiography in which she accused Joe of being physically abusive.
It was a dark decade for La Toya as Jack used domestic violence, lies, and threats to keep her in control. From monitoring the starlet’s phone calls and banning her from seeing or speaking to her family, to hiring bodyguards to watch his wife and confiscating her passport, Jack ensured that La Toya was powerless against him – even going so far as to transfer her bank accounts into his name.
The Jacksons believed that La Toya had been brainwashed by Jack; meanwhile, he later claimed that Katherine had tried to kill her. In 1990, La Toya signed with BCM Records and worked on her next album, which was scrapped when the label went bankrupt. Thereafter, she signed with Dino Records and released “No Relations”, which included the single “Sexbox” and other house-influenced songs.
La Toya Jackson performing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.
A year later, La Toya signed a contract with the Moulin Rouge in Paris to star in “Formidable”, her own cabaret show which ran twice a night for six nights a week. Despite being the highest-paid performer in the cabaret’s history, and selling out almost every evening, La Toya left the year-long contract after six months, and owed the nightclub $550,000 in damages.
In October 1992, La Toya had a chance encounter with Janet – who was recording her fifth studio album – and asked for help escaping her husband. A furious Janet struck La Toya, believing that she was recording their conversation. Months later, Jack beat the songstress until she passed out, but claimed to have acted in self-defense. As a distraction, he arranged a press conference in December of the same year in which La Toya claimed to believe that there was truth behind the sex abuse allegations her brother Michael was fighting against.
UK and US tabloids started a bidding war when Gordon claimed that La Toya had proof of Michael’s sexual deviancy which she would disclose for $500,000. The singer also spoke of being sexually abused by her father during her childhood.
Jack’s publicity stunts, which directly contributed to the decline of La Toya’s career, led to her filing for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. Her public image was also in disarray, as she became a hate figure due to the outrageous allegations she had made against her family. Despite releasing two albums – “Stop in the Name of Love” and “From Nashville to You” – in quick succession, La Toya’s career was on the outs and the masses were moving on to other celebrities, which is perhaps why Jack was planning to feature her in a pornographic film.
After learning about Jack’s plans, La Toya phoned her brother Randy for help leaving New York. Days later, the singer filed for divorce and sued Gordon in civil court under the Violence Against Women Act; she also changed her surname from Jackson-Gordon to Jackson and returned to her family.
For months after separating from Jack, La Toya refused to leave home as she was terrified of being seen by her ex-manager. She was also afraid of performing again, and unsure of what to do with her life; however, she did occasional concerts in South America and Europe to pay off the debts Jack had accumulated in her name during their ill-fated marriage.
2000s – Present Day
La Toya made her public comeback in March 2003 on the “Larry King Live” show, announcing her new album, “Startin’ Over”. For unknown reasons, the album was postponed several times and leaked online in 2006, years after the initial announcement, to which La Toya’s management shared that the project was being re-recorded with an updated tracklist.
When Jack died in 2005, La Toya felt freer to speak about her hellish marriage and her ex-husband’s abuse. She also went on ABC News to defend Michael against his new child abuse charges, and recant her previous allegations.
Over the next few years, La Toya tentatively returned to the limelight, first with the 2007 reality show “Armed & Famous” – in which she and other celebrities underwent basic police department training – and then with her participation in “Celebrity Big Brother 6”, which coincided with the long-awaited completion of “Startin’ Over”. However, Michael’s death in June 2009 led to his older sister postponing the project yet again.
Thanks to La Toya requesting a second autopsy after noticing Michael’s doctors behaving strangely, the loss of $2 million in cash and jewels, and suspicious medical paraphernalia at the scene, the Los Angeles County Coroner eventually ruled that the “Thriller” hitmaker had died of homicide.
Over the next few years, the Indiana native launched a hand cream, participated in “Celebrity Apprentice”, and guest-judged “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”. Her second memoir was released in June 2011 with an EP of the same name. In 2013, the musician launched “Life With La Toya”, her own reality series, and returned to “The All-Star Celebrity Apprentice”.
In December 2013, rumors of La Toya marrying her business partner Jeffre Phillips began circulating online when he proposed to her in an episode of her reality series. It was later reported that the pair had become engaged, broken-off the engagement, and were currently just friends. Together, the dynamic duo executive produced “Dancing in Jaffa”, a documentary about Palestinian and Jewish Israelis.
La Toya’s last TV appearance was in May 2021, when she competed in the Spanish version of “The Masked Singer”. Since then, the celebrity has been keeping a low profile.
According to reputable sources, as of late 2023, La Toya is worth $4 million – not a bad sum by any means, but perhaps disappointing for someone who has worked so hard over the last few decades.