The King of Pop shocked the world in 1993 when he revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey the physical and mental abuse he and his siblings suffered from his father in childhood.
In February 1993, Oprah and Michael Jackson sat down for a candid discussion about his career and personal life. The interview was broadcast and watched by 90 million people, and according to Oprah the “most exciting and most-watched interview she’s ever done."
The interview took place at Michael’s iconic ranch in California, “Neverland” and Oprah shared her excitement to talk to the King of Pop, who had fiercely turned down an invitation for an interview for 14 years.
During the 90-minutes live event, Michael spoke candidly about his traumatic and abusive relationship with his father, especially during childhood. The declarations were done before any allegation of sexual abuse against the artist.
At the beginning of the interview, Michael spoke about not having a “normal” childhood. He revealed that he was pretty sad to see children playing at the park across from the studio whilst he and his brothers had to work.
The artist revealed that his appreciation for all things childish is connected to the fact that, as a child, he couldn’t do most things as the other kids normally do.
The “Neverland” ranch, a 2,700-acre property is an entertainment complex for children, that includes a zoon, amusement park, a train, and a theater.
Michael goes on to say that his upbringing with his father, Joe Jackson was very difficult for him. When he was a teenager his father teased him because of his pimples. Oprah continues and asks how his relationship with his father was. Michael replied:
“I love my father, but I don't know him... Sometimes I do get angry. I don't know him the way I'd like to know him."
Oprah also questioned Michael about his decision of secluding himself from interviews for such a long time. The King of Pop replied that he didn’t have anything important to say, especially because that was a very sad period of his life.
The sadness he’s referring to is about his past life, teenagehood, and the relationship with his father that made him “very, very sad.” When Oprah asked Michael why Joe beat him, Michael wasn't entirely sure:
"I don't know if I was his golden child or whatever it was. Some may call it a strict disciplinarian or whatever, but he was very strict. He was very hard.”
In an article posted on Oprah’s website a month later Michael’s death, in which she comments and recalls the most important parts of the interview, she said she was surprised at how honest Michael was about his father.
But she noted, however, that she could sense in his eyes how uncomfortable and painful still was, at that time, to Michael. This gets even more remarkable when he turns to the camera after the revelation and asks his father to not be mad at him.
Joe Jackson would often pick on Michael’s nose. He referred to his son with the nickname “Big nose.” The insult haunted him for a very long time, and lead the singer to a series of surgical interventions. It got to such an extreme point that he had to wear a prosthesis to cover up the results.
Discovering the artistic side of his children turned Joe Jackson into a violent and cold father. He would beat them with a belt buckle or the cord of an electric kettle with the kids got anything wrong with the Jackson 5 rehearsal.
Michael eventually tried to stay away from Joe but he couldn’t escape his father’s shadow. During his interview with Oprah, he revealed that there were times that when his father would come to visit him, he’d get sick.
Even after his 40s, he shared with many journalists that the very thought of his father would get him nauseous. Jermaine Jackson details in his memoir “You Are Not Alone: Michael Through a Brother’s Eyes,” his father’s cruelty was an attempt to keep his offspring in line and off streets.
Jermaine goes beyond and claims that their father’s extreme behavior was the catalyst to build a perfectionist and ambitious Michael.
The writer Alexis Petridis pointed out in his article at The Guardian that during Billie Jean’s performance at the Motown 25th-anniversary concert in 1983, where Michael performed the Moonwalk for the first time.
It’s crystal clear that no level of physical or mental abuse would’ve been necessary to Michael Jackson become Michael Jackson. The writersays
“It seems almost insulting to the level of talent on display to suggest that it required physical and psychological abuse to bring it out.”
Can we say that Michael’s eccentricities were a byproduct of unhealed traumas? Also, is it valid to question the fact that Michael went through a series of aesthetic interventions to change his appearance because his father elected him as his scapegoat?
Whether the answers to those questions or simply the questions themselves are speculations, we will never know. It’s easy, though, to judge why people in the spotlight did such and such but the truth is, everyone has their own history and personal reasons -- whether that be good or bad.
On an endless pursuit for the “perfect appearance,” Michael changed so much if compared to the young child leader of the Jackson 5 but still, he’d never seem to be satisfied. He told Oprah:
"I try not to look in the mirror. I'm never happy with what I see."
In 2010, Joe Jackson had an interview with Oprah, in which he admitted that he had hit his children but similar to Jermaine, Joe affirmed that “it had kept them on the straight and narrow.”
“He now bitterly regrets the physical methods he sometimes used to enforce discipline and turn them into the highly polished and professional stars they became."
At the end of the 1993 interview, Oprah asked Michael what he wanted to be remembered for, he said he wanted to be known for his love for his art and to “simply, be loved.”
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