In a family blessed with extraordinary musical gifts yet also cursed with an inordinate amount of controversy, La Toya Jackson often managed to capture a piece of the spotlight. After years of singing backup for her brothers' musical group, The Jackson 5, she enjoyed a successful singing career in the 1980s, with a few hit singles to her credit. After a marriage and divorce, followed by a reunion with her family, from whom she had been estranged for several years, Jackson spent less time in the public eye but continued recording songs. In 2009, along with the entire tight-knit clan, she mourned the untimely death of her brother, the "King of Pop." Heartbroken, Jackson emerged as a devoted and outspoken sister to one of music's greatest artists, illustrating a more human side that had too often gotten lost amidst the glamorous trappings of her career and family.
La Toya Yvonne Jackson was born on May 29, 1956 in Gary, IN to Joseph and Katherine Jackson. She was the fifth child in the renowned family that included brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Jermaine, and the late Michael Jackson, as well as sisters Janet and Maureen (Rebbie). At 16, she started singing background vocals for her brothers' singing group, The Jackson 5, one of the biggest pop groups of the early 1970s that released chart-toppers such as "I Want You Back" (1969), "ABC" (1970) and "I'll Be There" (1970). The group's youngest and clearly, most talented member, Michael, was the lead performer and eventually went solo, becoming one of the world's most successful and popular recording artists. While her brothers basked in the spotlight, Jackson pursued a solo musical career. In 1980, she released her debut album La Toya Jackson featuring the moderately successful "If You Feel the Funk," and the Top 40 hit "Night Time Lover." Jackson's third album featured the titular track "Heart Don't Lie" (1983), which reached No. 56 on the Billboard R&B charts. The song was Jackson's biggest hit - due mainly in part to Michael's involvement with its production. She capitalized on her rising fame by lending her name to the clothing line "David Laurenz for La Toya," which also made leather headbands that had become part of her signature look during the 1980s.
Much to the family's dismay, the introverted Jackson left her father Joseph's management group in 1987 and hired manager Jack Gordon, a convicted felon who was 20 years her senior and whom she married in 1989. Many believed that Gordon completely controlled Jackson's life, taking over her passport and bank accounts, and forcing her to adopt a more provocative public persona. Under Gordon's management, Jackson made some extremely questionable career moves, including becoming a spokesperson for the now-defunct Psychic Friends Network, and appearing in soft-core pornographic videos. Gordon also reportedly instigated Jackson's outrageous antics, such as getting photographed shopping with live snakes draped around her neck. She continued recording songs, but her musical career paled in comparison to her sister Janet's and brother Michael's successes. In 1989, Jackson posed topless for Playboy magazine, reportedly a declaration of her independence from her family, who publicly condemned her actions to various media outlets. The Playboy issue sold eight million copies, and made Jackson an overnight sexpot, complete with surgically enhanced features, thanks to an alleged nose job, cheek and chin implants, and breast augmentation.
In 1996, Jackson filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against her husband, claiming he repeatedly beat her and forced her to pose nude for her second Playboy magazine pictorial in 1991. The lawsuit also alleged that there were numerous incidents prior to and following their marriage where Gordon struck Jackson, resulting in severe injuries, including Gordon bashing her head against a table in Rome when Jackson asked for an annulment. Following the incident, Gordon issued a statement to the press that a gang armed with metal pipes broke into Jackson's room and beat her up. He was arrested in 1993 for the incident, but was released when Jackson refused to press charges.
It was also widely believed that Gordon brainwashed Jackson into turning against her family, including inserting his own made-up stories into her autobiography, La Toya: Growing up in the Jackson Family (1991), which accused her father of child abuse and sexual molestation. Not surprisingly, the Jackson family denied all of her allegations. In 1994, a media frenzy ensued after she condemned her brother Michael, accusing him of molesting children - a shocking reversal of her previous defense of her brother's innocence. Jackson's accusations against her younger brother were especially shocking in light of their extremely tight bond; he had not only produced songs for her but also sang backup vocals; well into his late-twenties, he had lived down the hall from her at the Encino family compound and proclaimed her the sister he was closest to; that was the most like him. She, in turn, had been present for his proudest moments, including his 1984 sweeping of the Grammy and American Music Awards and was invited by her brother to the legendary recording of his and Lionel Richie's charity single, "We are the World" in 1985. Years later, Jackson recanted her statement, telling Barbara Walters of ABC's "20/20" (1978- ) that Gordon forced her to accuse her brother of pedophilia, as well as threatened to kill Michael and Janet if she did not speak out.
After many years of suffering from physical and emotional abuse under the hands of her husband, Jackson filed for divorce in 1996 and sued Gordon in civil court under the Violence Against Women Act. She also ended her estrangement with her entire family, who welcomed her back with open arms. Following the divorce, Jackson stayed mostly out of the spotlight. She recorded the single "Just Wanna Dance" (2004), which reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot Dance Chart. In 2005, she released "Free the World," a song she had written in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Still trying to forge her own identity within her famous family, she joined the 2009 cast of the British reality series "Celebrity Big Brother" (Channel 4, 2000-2010), the second member of the Jackson family to compete on the series after her brother Jermaine in 2007.
In 2009, Jackson planned on releasing her album Startin' Over but was forced to put everything on hold when Michael died unexpectedly on June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest brought on by acute Propofol intoxication. She was one of the first siblings present at the hospital where her brother was taken. Days after his death, the grief-stricken Jackson made public her suspicions that foul play was involved, telling Walters during an interview on "20/20" that she believed her brother was murdered by a "shadowy group" who wanted their hands on his musical publishing assets worth over a billion dollars. A few weeks later, the Los Angeles County coroner's office declared Michael's death a homicide and the case against his doctor who had administered the Propofol, Dr. Conrad Murray, began its long legal process. In 2010, Jackson made headlines once again as one of the contestants on NBC's reality series "Celebrity Apprentice," (NBC, 2004- ), where she faced off against other stars such as singer Dionne Warwick and former teen idol David Cassidy to win money for their respective charities.