J.J. Jackson, remembered as one of the first faces of MTV, died Wednesday night in Los Angeles of an apparent heart attack, according to friends and former business associates. He was 62.
Jackson helped define the term "VJ" as one of the first on-air personalities on MTV when the channel launched in 1981. During his five-year tenure with the network, Jackson interviewed some of the top names of the day and was part of some key music milestones. Jackson covered the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert in London and helped to "unmask" Kiss during a 1982 interview. He also hosted the debut episode of MTV's long-running "120 Minutes" in 1986, and brought music titans like Robert Plant and Pete Townshend to the then-fledgling channel.
MTV released a statement Thursday (March 18), mourning the loss of one of its beloved alumni and reflecting on his immense contribution to the station.
"J.J. Jackson's deep passion for music, his ease and good humor on air, and his welcoming style really set the tone for the early days of MTV. He was a big part of the channel's success and we are sure he is in the music section of heaven, with lots of his friends and heroes. We are fortunate to have had him as a part of the MTV family. He will be greatly missed."
Mark Goodman, another of the original VJs who helped blaze trails with Jackson in the '80s, said he was floored when he heard the news. "I was at home, I actually got a call from Martha Quinn," Goodman said Thursday from his home in Los Angeles. "I almost couldn't understand what she was saying, she was so upset."
Goodman said that even though the on-air tenure of MTV's original fab five ended almost two decades ago, they remained a tight-knit group.
"I think the kind of bond I had with J.J., the original five of us, it's kind of like soldiers who share a foxhole," Goodman said. "It's a bond that has only gotten deeper through the years. It's worse than a family member dying. It's hard to comprehend. None of us would have expected it. It's too soon. It wasn't supposed to happen now. He's too young. It's kind of scary.
"I knew he a had a bad heart," Goodman added. "He had heart surgery a couple of years ago, but he was in great shape, he'd lost weight. He was in a great state of mind, feeling really positive about what was going on. I just saw him last week."
Goodman said the two were about to be co-workers again, at Sirius satellite radio. Goodman already has a position there and was looking forward to his friend J.J. starting soon. He said according to the information he received, Jackson was traveling home Wednesday night after having dinner with a friend when he suffered the heart attack.
"He was driving. Typical of J.J., he didn't even hurt anybody," Goodman said. "He was somehow able to ease his foot off the gas. He eased his car over to the side of the road. By the time the paramedics got there, they could not revive him there or the hospital either."
Goodman still has great memories of the man he says used to be the butt of some practical jokes on air, but who always laughed and loved to have a good time.
"J.J. was really a gentle man," he remembered. "He was smart. As I think of him, I think of him laughing. The guy had this huge laugh. He was a rabid music fan. Rod Stewart was a friend of his, guys in Led Zeppelin were friends of his. He championed these bands early on when they were kind of just getting going. He did Bruce Springsteen's first television interview. J.J. was a great guy. For the five of us, he was the wise DJ. He was the guy who had been through it all and was able to always put a mature perspective to things. He wound up handling the spotlight that was thrust on us better than any of us."
Besides his endeavors in television, Jackson also logged a thick résumé in radio. Prior to his MTV days, Jackson was a rock-radio staple, first at WBCN-FM in Boston, and later at a few stations in Los Angeles. His voice even made it to the big screen, as a DJ in the 1976 movie "Car Wash." After his VJ days, Jackson returned to radio in the Los Angeles area.
On Thursday (March 18), Paul Goldstein, program director of L.A.'s KTWV-FM, said "J.J.'s tenure with the station ended just six months ago. He was a wonderful man and will be very missed."