Tito Jackson on hearing about brother Michael Jackson death Exclusive by Martin Fricker in Los Angeles 15/07/2009
Tito Jackson sat crying alone in his car after sister Janet broke the devastating news that his brother had died.
He had been racing to the Los Angeles hospital where Michael was taken after suffering a suspected heart attack.
Tito, 55, phoned his pop star sister en route to get the latest update on his younger brother’s condition.
She ordered him to pull over on a bustling LA freeway – and then gave him the awful news that Jackson had passed away.
Fighting back tears, Tito said: “The day started badly because I woke up and heard that Farrah Fawcett had died. Later, I went to my local Starbucks for a coffee.
“When I got home, I got a phone call from my son Taryll. He said, ‘Pops, is that true what they are saying about Uncle Michael?’
“I said, ‘What are they saying?’ He said, ‘They’re saying they are rushing him to hospital in cardiac arrest’. I tried to reach my mom but wasn’t able to get through right way, so I turned on the TV.
“All I saw was the ambulance pulling up to the hospital from the helicopter shot. Finally, I called my cousin Trent, because he is my mom’s right-hand man.
“I said, ‘Trent, where’s Mom?’ He said, ‘She’s here, we haven’t got to the hospital yet but your mother says you should come down’.
“I heard that and thought, ‘Oh no, something must really be wrong if she’s saying we should go down’. I was in the car when I called my sister Janet to ask if if she had heard anything.
“She asked me where I was and I told her I was on my way to the hospital.’
“She said, ‘Are you driving?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m driving.’ She said, ‘Pull over’. That’s when I knew something was really wrong.
“I said,‘Janet, what’s wrong?’ She said, ‘You’ve got to pull over, Tito’.
“I said, ‘No, Janet, what’s wrong!’ She finally made me pull over and said Michael had passed away. I couldn’t believe it. It just killed me. I just sat in the car and cried.”
While the rest of the family went to the hospital to see Jackson’s body, distraught Tito went to his mother’s house in Encino.
“I decided I couldn’t face it at the hospital. It was a like a zoo over there and anyway, I didn’t want to see Michael’s body.
“The others got to see him in that state but I’m glad I didn’t. I couldn’t see him like that. I always knew him as an energetic, live person and that’s the way I want to remember him.
“Instead I went to my mom’s house and sat there by myself, trying to come to terms with everything. Mom was the first one back.
“When she walked in, I rushed over and hugged her and she was crying. She was really sad. Prince, Paris and Blanket were with her. They were fine – children take things differently. They had not realised the magnitude of it at the time.
“I spoke to them but didn’t talk about anything that had happened. I just gave them a hug and told them I loved them.
“They had all their little cousins there, so, being kids, they played with their dog. We kept them away from the TV because we didn’t want them watching the news.”
Tito was invited to the open-casket viewing of Michael's body at Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood, but decided he couldn’t face it.
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“If I’d seen him there, that would have been my last memory of him. That would have stuck with me in my mind.
“I was given the chance to go there, and that left me imagining what it would look like, what Michael’s body would look like.
“Even now I have nightmares about it.”
The family felt it was good to let family and friends see Michael for one last time.
Tito said: “Jermaine didn’t go either. He said his goodbyes at the hospital and didn’t want to see his brother in that state again.”
The following day, the entire clan attended a private service at Forest Lawn, where Tito saw Jackson’s gold-plated coffin for the first time.
He said: “When I walked into the chapel I immediately started crying because I knew he was in there. It really hit home.”
After the service, the family travelled to the Staples Center in downtown LA for Jackson’s memorial. Tito said: “When I walked in, I felt that Michael was in the building, not just in body but also in spirit.
“I felt his smile because so many people were there that loved him.
“They came to mourn and to celebrate his legacy. If Michael could have commented he would have given the whole thing an AAA+.”
Asked about rumours that Jackson’s body was not in the coffin, Tito replied: “That’s not true, totally not true.”
He recalled the heart-rending moment Paris spoke about her dad on stage at the end of the emotional service. “Her speech was not planned,” he said. “She just wanted to tell the whole world that her father was a good daddy.
“That was so healthy for her, to tell everyone, ‘No matter what anyone says, my daddy was a good daddy’. She got it off her chest. She needed to do that.”
Tito last saw Michael at an anniversary dinner for his parents Katherine and Joe – just three weeks before his death.
The get-together was held at the Indian restaurant Chakra in Beverly Hills, one of Michael’s favourite places to eat.
Tito said: “The whole family showed up including Michael and his kids.
“He was in great spirits. He looked good. He seemed to be himself and I was not really worried about him.
“I had heard he was doing the shows and going to rehearsal and getting his whole thing back where he belonged.
“I was so proud of him. I had even made arrangements to go to England to see his performance, check him out.
“He always called me TT, never Tito.
“At the end of the night he hugged me, said, ‘Bye, TT’ and whispered, ‘I love you’ in my ear.
“I said, ‘I love you’ and gave him a hug.
“That was the last time I ever saw or spoke to him.”