Last November, Britney Spears was officially freed from her controversial conservatorship, ending a 13-year stint under the watchful eye of her father, Jamie Spears.
But while there’s legal closure, questions still linger about his motivation, and a New York Magazine investigation attempts to answer those by digging into Jamie’s twisted family tree, its roots in Kentwood, Louisiana — and the ghosts that linger there.
According to the piece, the Spears patriarch had a tragic childhood, marred by the murky suicide of his mother Emma Jean when he was only 13. His domineering and volatile father, June Austin Spears, who would commit his second wife Jo Ann Blackwell against her will to a mental institution, would then go on to marry Ruth Ott, who was his stepsister, the magazine reported.
The piece suggests that Jamie, who has publicly struggled with alcoholism, had inherited a negative Spears trait: an unrelenting need to control and manipulate the women in their lives.
“Typical for this family and how they treat their women,” Jamie’s half sister Leigh Ann Wrather told The Post last October. “Jamie did to her what my daddy did to my mom and Emma Jean. They are mean and they will destroy you if they can’t control you.”
Her brother, John Mark Spears — also Britney’s uncle — added: “These Spears men are something awful. He ruined Emma Jean and he ruined my mama. He shipped them both off to [an institution called] Mandeville from time to time. So I’m not too surprised about what Jamie’s done to Britney. It’s all about control with the Spears men.”
Even Britney expressed similar sentiments during a hearing asking for her freedom, telling the judge of her father: “I cried on the phone for an hour … and he loved every minute of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter, one hundred thousand percent. He loved it.”
Jamie was the eldest of June Austin and Emma Jean’s children and was an undersized but supremely talented athlete: never one to miss a shot on his high school’s hoops team and all-state quarterback.
“He was one of those special athletes, okay? There’s some guys who have this hand-eye. That’s special,” Collis Temple, a high-school basketball teammate of Jamie’s who went on to play for the San Antonio Spurs, told the magazine. “He could shoot pool, he could play Ping-Pong, he could throw a football, he could shoot a basketball, he could throw a baseball.”
Jamie had that quality that people would years later ascribe to his superstar daughter.
“Some people have that, some people don’t. It’s called It,” said Temple.
Despites his son’s natural gifts, his father was unusually harsh with him and a distraction on the sidelines, according to Jamie’s high-school football coach, Elton Shaw.
“He would fight,” Shaw told New York Magazine of June Austin. “Every time we went somewhere, we were going to get in a fight, because somebody was going to jump on him, because he was the littlest in the crowd. Didn’t know that he was the baddest son of a bitch in Louisiana.”
In the summer of 1970, June Austin had Jo Ann, then his wife of three-and-a-half years, committed to Mandeville and split to North Carolina searching for work, his stepsister-slash-girlfriend in tow. Back in Louisiana, Jamie was involved in a tragic car accident that killed his friend and tore a piece of hair off his head.
Shaw recalls how he took Jamie back to his own home before reaching out to June Austin.
“We called his daddy … and oh, his daddy just went ballistic. Jamie started crying, so I called June Austin somewhere in North Carolina. I said, ‘If you don’t call this kid back here, apologize, and talk to him like a human being, I’m going to catch the next airplane to wherever and whip your little ass.’”
June Austin apologized to his grieving son. He didn’t show as much mercy for his wife Jo Ann, who told a judge that he was physically abusive. He took two of his kids to New York in search of work. When he returned to Kentwood years later, Jo Ann wanted her kids back. But, after she admitted she was manic depressive in court, custody was awarded to June Austin, who had effectively kidnapped their children.
According to the piece, Jo Ann’s daughter, Leigh Ann — Jamie’s half sister through their dad — later alleged that June Austin had sexually assaulted her multiple times. Jo Ann’s son and Jamie’s half brother, John Mark, accused the patriarch of being physically abusive and driving his and Leigh Ann’s mother into the depths of mental illness.
Meanwhile, Jamie’s glory days were fading. He briefly played football at a local college but broke his leg in the second game, ending his career. He married a girlfriend from Kentwood and left town, only to divorce her and move back. He started dating Lynne Bridges and the pair eventually eloped, starting a union that could be described as precarious. After Lynne’s dad passed away, crushed by his own dairy truck in 1978, Jamie disappeared for an entire week.
“In our lives together,” Lynne wrote in her 2008 book “Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World,” “if someone was sick or even dying, Jamie would find a way to act up and direct everyone’s attention to him.”
Lynne filed for divorce from her husband after their first child, Bryan James, was born because he was allegedly volatile, drinking excessively and had been handsy with another local woman. But June Austin intervened and convinced her to stick with his wayward son. The couple went on to have Britney Jean, named for Jamie’s deceased mother Emma Jean, and Jamie Lynne, according to the magazine.
While growing up Britney — who started to resemble her tragic namesake grandmother Emma Jean — sang in church and also excelled in gymnastics. The Spears had all the trappings of the middle class, including a nice Kentwood home with a yard, but they didn’t pay their taxes regularly, and sunk their money into lessons for Britney, who would eventually land on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club.
In July of 1998, they filed for bankruptcy. But three months later, their 16-year-old daughter released her debut smash hit, “Baby One More Time,” which sold eleven million records.
Lynne eventually divorced Jamie, who in 2004 went to rehab for alcohol abuse and became religious. Meanwhile, Britney’s star was on the rise.
What happens next in the family’s story is now pop culture lore. Britney married Kevin Federline, had two boys and unraveled in real time as captured in the pages of weekly tabloids. She shaved her head and people like Sam Lutfi, who called himself her manger, managed to physically move into her home and life. In 2007, at the end of a supervised visit with her sons, she locked herself in her bathroom. The police were called, she was strapped to a gurney and was denied further visitation rights.
The story had eerie echoes of her grandmother and step-grandmother’s biographies, marred by their mental-illness struggles. “She used to talk about how she couldn’t believe she was named after her grandmother who killed herself,” Jamie’s brother William had said at the time. “Now we are worried the same will happen to her.”
As she was hospitalized against her will, June Austin said, “She shouldn’t go in the nut house … Sometimes you come out worse than you go in.”
Jamie was able to officially wrest control of his daughter’s finances and affairs, isolating her from outside influences. After the #FreeBritney movement mushroomed, it cracked open the narrative that Britney was happy with her situation. Britney appealed to the courts to end the conservatorship and called for her family to be jailed.
Jamie is back in Kentwood living in a trailer — far from his daughter’s fancy Los Angeles digs. He refused to answer any of New York Magazine’s questions.
But it’s Britney who has the mic now, and she is hellbent on having the last word. She regularly posts sexy photos to Instagram accompanied by revelatory captions. Just today, she revealed that she has nerve damage but has found medication to ease her symptoms, writing: “Either way I’m getting a lot better, I can breathe.”
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