One crack in perfection - June Isaacs loved Gregory through drug addiction
June Isaacs, widow of the ‘Cool Ruler’ whose lovers rock classics include Top Ten and Night Nurse in a catalogue that also includes the defiant One Man Against The World and possibly the confessional Hard Drugs, smiled a lot as she told The Sunday Gleaner about her love for and life with singer Gregory Isaacs.
Still, there was a special glow when she spoke about Valentine’s Day, pluralising The Sunday Gleaner’s query about receiving a bouquet as she lit up with the memories of multiple bunches of roses.
Her name is in the song, Red Rose for Gregory– which he did not write – as the singer mulls over who sent him a colourful symbol of love, remarking that he had been with June just that afternoon.
The song’s name is also the title of the second staging of an annual concert celebrating Gregory’s life and music on Valentine’s Day at the Karl Hendrickson Auditorium, Jamaica College, St Andrew, featuring Kelly Price, Freddie McGregor, PaKaGe, Short Boss, Robert Minott, and Kaydeno. It also happens to be a public holiday, Ash Wednesday, although June said the concert would be held on Valentine’s Day from here on.
However, before they are pruned for presentation to the beloved, roses have thorns, and there was a painful prickle in June’s love for Gregory – his addiction to cocaine, which repeatedly landed the Cool Ruler in trouble with the law. June saw the marijuana smoking and “chalice thing we respected by the pushers and users”.
“It’s really painful. My life was, if you asked me, perfect. Perfect husband, dad. Then things just changed. His whole personality changed. He was not the Gregory we were used to. Mr Cool gone out of him. His time was taken up with different people and disappearing, sometimes for days,” June said. She saw the changes before she witnessed the drug use as he was in and out of the house, being absent at length and simply not coming home. “And he would be gone for days, only to find out this is happening,” June said.
She saw her husband use cocaine.
“It started as an accident. He hid it from us all. I accidentally found out.”
However, it got to the point where “he started to do it in the room with me. Just lock up and smoke. We were not educated a lot about cocaine at the time. I was helpless, not knowing what to do.”
Gregory did not do drugs by injection, but smoking crack got him the high faster than snorting powder. And although he was open with his smoking, June said that it was not something they shared as coming from a Christian background, she has never smoked. There were the mood shifts.
“I was seeing a whole different person. He would be happy one minute, then he changed. The paranoia was terrible. He would be cool with you one minute, then you were an enemy. All of a sudden, you were wondering, who is this person?”
Gregory resisted efforts to get him off crack.
June said: “We tried to get him rehabilitated, but pride and all that. He would not go to a rehab place, or he would do the treatment for a few days and stop.”
MAINTAIN THE HABIT
Throughout it all, Gregory was still writing and recording, as well as doing shows.
However, June said, “Promoters got fed up. He would miss flights – they would have to reschedule three, four times. He was doing albums a lot – not high quality – to maintain the habit.”
And he would maintain his home, June making it clear that Gregory lived up to his family responsibilities.
“He looked after the kids, the house, his mother,” June said.
June is not angry at those who facilitated Gregory’s cocaine habit.
“Some did not know better. It was an elite drug at the time. It was an uptown pastime. I have no anger. There is no one I would point a finger at and blame them for everything,” she said.
It was Gregory that the law pointed a finger at, June remembering “at one period, he would have three cases in court”.
She was there through it all. June credits the loyalty in large measure to Gregory, who was nine years older than her, having a strong hand in moulding her.
“I could not even cook. He taught me that. He taught me everything – good and bad,” June said.
“When I was in college, he was so proud of his little teacher girl. He helped me. He drew well. He was such a good person. I did not have to go to the library. When he travelled, he would get me psychology books. He would draw the skeleton and hang it up in the room. If I said I am doing the eye, he would draw it and put it up on the ceiling. He was such a guy, you would not believe.
“He was a father figure as well.”
However, there came a breaking point, and June eventually gave up on Gregory coming off cocaine.
“It became unbearable. I think it was about 2006, 2007,” she said. “I said no.”
They still lived in the same house, but “him on one side, me on the other. It was rough. It was like we couldn’t do without each other. We kept going back, no matter how we separated. We had a real bond.”
The final time June spoke to Gregory was when he was going to England in 2010.
“The last thing he said to me was he was going to England to do surgery and he would be okay, he would contact me. Yes, I believed him. I spoke to him the day he left, and that was it. I started getting news that he had a week to live, and all that,” June said.
“At that stage, I had prepared myself for anything.”
That included finances for the family and “to just manage, to continue life as his successor as it relates to his life and the music”.
That includes the Gregory Isaacs Foundation, June saying that she has good members.
As for sharing her life with Gregory, June said, “I have no regrets as to being with him. I am thankful to him, grateful to him. I have travelled the world. I just pray God it would have been different. The one hitch I have is the drug problem. He has been a total husband, total dad, total friend. I will do anything I can to keep his legacy in a positive way, elevate him in all things, and that is why we have assisted Patricia House (for drug rehabilitation). I want to help anyone who finds himself in that position. People bash them, and they are often neglected.”