Art & Show

Villain or visionary? The mixed reactions to Joe Jackson’s death show a complicated legacy

Joe Jackson’s death has left many people reeling, unsure how to feel.

Piers Morgan, for example, tweeted that he was a “tough, uncompromising, charming & complex man who drove his children from the mean, poor streets of Gary, Indiana to global stardom. But at what cost? He made no apologies when I interviewed him in 2013: ‘I did what I had to do to give them a better life.’ ”

Jackson’s legacy is complicated. He famously helped make towering pop stars out of his children, particularly Michael and Janet Jackson, by overseeing their rehearsals, booking shows for the Jackson 5 and even managing Janet for a brief time. But his methods were suspect, to put it mildly. When forming the Jackson 5, he forced his children into long, arduous and physically painful practice sessions. He has been accused of physically and sexually abusing them and of carrying on at least one decades-long affair behind their mother’s back.

Many of his children spoke out against him over the years. Michael Jackson once told Oprah that the sight of his father made him want to throw up.

“If you messed up you got hit, sometimes with a switch, sometimes with a belt,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Dad would make me so mad at him that I’d try to get back at him and get beaten all the more.”

And La Toya Jackson said in her 1991 memoir that he beat the children and molested her, writing: “When your father gets out of bed with your mother and gets into bed with his daughter and you hear the mother saying, ‘No, Joe, not tonight. Let her rest. Leave her alone, she’s tired,’ that makes you crazy.”

Jackson himself even addressed his methods several times, such as when he told Oprah that he beat his children with a strap and doesn’t regret it because “it kept them out of jail and kept them right.”

Some, such as Morgan, questioned his legacy. Others praised him, among them the writer Sophia Nelson, who tweeted, “Say what you will about him — he spurred his sons and daughters to musical greatness. He was old-school. A tough dreamer. He saw their talent and he made it come to life.”

Others, though, were less apologetic.

The Onion didn’t hold back. Mere minutes after TMZ broke the news of Jackson’s death, the satirical news website published a photo of the dead patriarch with the headline, “Heavenly Sources Confirm Joe Jackson Already Screaming At Michael.”

“You only have to know a little bit about Michael Jackson’s childhood to feel okay about breezing right past all these RIPs for Joe Jackson,” tweeted Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever.

Meanwhile, some scolded those who mentioned Jackson’s unsavory past and claimed his legacy was being unfairly tarnished.

His grandson Taj Jackson, a member of the R&B group 3T, tweeted that he was “disgusted by some of the comments I’m reading about my grandpa Joe by those who didn’t even know him. Please don’t just regurgitate what you were spoon fed by the press. Joe was loved by our ENTIRE family and our hearts are in pain. Let us grieve without the nastiness.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted that Jackson “was never given the credit he deserved. He influenced the world of music with the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and others. May history correct his legacy.”

Finally, a few simply played tribute to the man.

“R.I.P. joe Jackson the legend we will never forget,” tweeted rapper Juicy J.

The ESPN website the Undefeated tweeted, “Joe Jackson, the patriarch of the Jacksons, has passed. Thank you for what you gave us, Joe.”

“THE MAN . . . THE FAMILY . . . THE LEGEND! RIP JOE JACKSON and thank you for giving us the many gifts of talent from your family, not just to our community on a whole . . . but to the ENTIRE WORLD!!!” said talk show host Wendy Williams.

R. Kelly, the controversial singer who has been accused of creating a sex cult, having sex with minors, knowingly passing along STDS and engaging in other types of sexual misconduct, weighed in: “Joe Jackson took his 6 sons and 3 daughters from Gary, IN to the world. He made icons that are still impacting the world, today. Sad to hear about his passing.” R. Kelly also said, “Rest in power.”

This debate existed long before Jackson’s death. Earlier this year, Donald Glover’s show “Atlanta” took on his paradoxical legacy — a story of abuse and also the birth of greatness. In a horror-tinged episode, the character Darius is trapped in a mansion with Teddy Perkins, a former pop star living his final days in general solitude. Perkins, portrayed by Glover in pale white makeup and an extremely high-pitched voice, was clearly a spoof on post-surgery Michael Jackson.

In the episode’s most haunting scene, Perkins brings Darius to his favorite exhibit: a tribute to fathers. In an empty room, a besuited mannequin sits on an actual pedestal. “My father used to say, ‘Great things come from great pain,’ ” Perkins says, adding, “When me and Benny were children, he instituted a very rigorous training method. Piano three hours a day, twice a day. With exams on Sundays, that, if failed, meant physical punishment.”

He then rattles off a list of fathers to whom the room is dedicated, including Joe Jackson.

Joe Jackson himself tweeted about his impending death on Sunday. Accompanying a photo of himself were the words, “I have seen more sunsets than I have left to see. The sun rises when the time comes and whether you like it or not the sun sets when the time comes.”