Katherine Jackson is best known as the matriarch of the famous Jackson family. She and her husband, Joseph Jackson, produced ten children together. She fostered her children’s musical abilities, and when her sons Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael, and Tito formed the Jackson 5, she served as costume designer.
Katherine supported her most renowned son, Michael, through his triumphs and difficulties. She became the legal guardian of Michael’s three children, Paris Michael Katherine, Michael Joseph “Prince” Jr., and Prince Michael “Blanket” II, after his death in June 2009.
Katherine Esther Jackson was born on May 4, 1930, in Barbour County, Alabama, as Kattie B. Screws. Katherine, the daughter of Martha Mattie Upshaw and Prince Albert Screws, was born with polio. While she eventually healed, the condition left her with a limp for the rest of her life.
She relocated to East Chicago, Indiana, with her family when she was four years old, and her name was changed to Katherine Esther Scruse (her father wanted to rename her in line with adopting his surname to “Scruse”).
Scruse first met Joseph while she was a teenager. When the two first met, Joseph was a boxer and aspiring singer who was married. The couple married in November 1949, after Joseph divorced his first wife. They relocated to Gary, Indiana, and had ten children over the next 16 years.
Katherine was a stay-at-home mom while her husband worked as a crane operator at US Steel. Katherine, a devoted Jehovah’s Witness, raised her children in her faith and with harsh discipline. She was a pianist and singer who supported the musical talents of her family. Her son, Michael, would later attribute his singing abilities to his mother.
Shaping the Jackson 5
Joseph devoted himself to developing his children’s unique musical abilities soon after seeing their various musical aptitude. The Jackson 5 was created in 1964 by sons Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael, and Tito.
As their celebrity increased, the group appeared in talent contests and as opening acts across the country, including at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, where they won an amateur-night competition in 1967. Katherine served as the group’s designer at this time, frequently creating suits and costumes for her sons to wear during their performances.
Katherine Jackson took a back seat in the Jackson 5’s affairs once they signed with Motown Records in 1968, but she remained a loving mother. As her son, Michael, rose to stardom as a solo singer, she supported him through his highs and lows, from his triumph with the album Thriller to his 2005 battle with child molestation charges.
She remained a supportive wife despite her husband’s public transgressions with women. Despite multiple rough patches in their relationship, they are still together and live in a mansion in Encino, California.
Death of Michael Jackson
Katherine came to public attention in June 2009, following Michael’s death in his Los Angeles home from cardiac arrest caused by severe propofol intoxication. A copy of Michael’s will identified his mother as the guardian of his three children. She was also named as one of the music singer’s estimated $500 million fortune.
An official coroner’s report on Michael’s death was released in February 2010, stating that the singer died from severe propofol intoxication. The overdose, along with a lethal prescription medicine cocktail that comprised the pain reliever Demerol, as well as lorazepam, midazolam, benzodiazepine, diazepine, and ephedrine, apparently worked together to shut down the star’s fragile heart. Michael had utilized the medications to help him sleep at night, with the assistance of his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.
Dr. Murray’s actions while caring for Michael were probed further after a police inquiry discovered that he was not allowed to dispense most restricted medicines in California. Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the singer’s death was considered a homicide. Murray was convicted on November 7, 2011. He was later sentenced to four years in prison.
Jackson Family Drama
Katherine was thrust back into the public eye in July 2012 after a peculiar episode in which a family member reported her missing. While it was quickly discovered that Katherine had traveled to Arizona to spend time with family, a judge suspended Katherine as Michael’s children’s guardian just a few days later. TJ Jackson, Tito’s son, was appointed interim guardian of Paris, Prince, and Blanket on July 25, 2012, indicating that he was suspending Katherine’s guardianship since she had been gone and out of communication with the children for ten days.
Before Katherine’s location could be established, suspicion about her whereabouts intensified, with Paris, Prince, and Blanket concerned that other family members were preventing them from speaking with their grandmother. Katherine’s “disappearance” came shortly after a disagreement between her and several members of the Jackson clan, including singer Janet Jackson, who questioned the validity of Michael’s will, pointing fingers at the Jackson matriarch and calling for the executors of his estate to resign.
A judge returned Katherine as the primary guardian of Paris, Prince, and Blanket on August 2, 2012, while also accepting a plan allowing TJ co-guardianship of the children.
In late 2012, the Jackson family was embroiled in yet another legal struggle. The Jacksons chose to sue AEG Live, the business that promoted Michael’s planned comeback series, “This Is It,” in 2009, believing that the corporation had failed to sufficiently protect the singer while he was in Murray’s care and was thus accountable for his death. Katherine and her grandkids officially filed a wrongful death case against A.E.G.
Katherine was represented in court by attorney Brian Panish, and the trial began on April 29, 2013. “They wanted to be No. 1 at all costs,” Panish said in his opening statements on the first day of the trial. “We’re not looking for sympathy; we’re looking for the truth and the justice.” Lawyers sought up to $1.5 billion in damages in the case — an estimate of what Michael Jackson may have earned in the months after his death if he had been alive — but in October 2013, a jury ruled that A.E.G. was not responsible for Michael’s death. “While Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy, it was not the fault of A.E.G. Live,” stated A.E.G.’s lawyer, Marvin S. Putnam.