Inside Janet Jackson and James DeBarge’s Secret Marriage

Janet Jackson and James DeBarge were two of the ’80s’ breakout music stars. In 1984, the two tied the knot in a secret ceremony and kept their relationship out of the spotlight. Their time together was a whirlwind, to say the least.

Janet Jackson and James DeBarge
Janet Jackson and James DeBarge | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Janet Jackson and James DeBarge got married in secret

While Janet Jackson and James DeBarge were famous in the 1980s, they’d known each other for way longer. Jackson looked back on their relationship in her 2022 docuseries Janet Jackson.

“James DeBarge and I, we were friends at a very young age,” she recalled. “He was from a musical family like mine… We used to talk on the phone as kids, because his brother was very much so attracted to my sister [La] Toya. So that’s how I wound up getting to know James.”

DeBarge himself then appeared to recount his first time meeting his future wife. “When I first met Janet, it was at Soul Train,” he remembered. “It was our debut, she was there with her brother Jermaine and her sister La Toya. Of course, I thought she was cute.”

They were both shy and quickly fell in love with each other. They became enveloped in their own little world, and wanted to make their relationship official.

“James and I decided to get married,” she remembered. “My sister Toya said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, then you should do it.’ So I did — in secret.”

James DeBarge and Janet Jackson’s marriage was tumultuous

The two were married in Grand Rapids, Michigan by DeBarge’s uncle, who was a pastor. Janet was just 18 years old. And by the time she got back to the hotel after their wedding, she realized just what she’d gotten herself into: he said he would be right back, and left her alone in the hotel room for hours.

“I don’t know; maybe it’s this person in me that wants to help people,” she said. Later, when Jackson was a cast member on the popular TV show Fame, she would wait for hours for him to come pick her up.

“I eventually learned that he was into drugs,” she said. “There were a lot of nights that I would go searching the streets, looking for him… I remember times when I would find the pills and I would take them and try to flush them down the toilet and we would be rolling around the room fighting for them.”

“I cared so much for him, and I saw the good in him as well, and I just wanted that to take precedence as opposed to this ugliness,” she said. “I knew that he needed help, but I wasn’t the help that he needed.”

They got divorced after just 1 year

Jackson decided that she’d had enough and wanted to get their marriage annulled after less than a year together. He didn’t take the news well, but Jackson knew she had to move on for her own sake.

“I was just incredibly innocent,” she said through tears. “It’s just, to me, hurtful for someone to see that and just try to take advantage of it and knowing that you don’t know any better and lie to you.”

“It doesn’t matter how much work you do; it’s still painful.”

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