Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
ByStassi Reid/Updated: Nov. 4, 2019 3:04 pm EDT
Since the '90s, Mary J. Blige has made a living out of pouring her heart and past experiences from her childhood and adulthood into her music. After being signed to Uptown Records as a teenager, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul topped the charts with impassioned tunes like "Real Love" and "You Remind Me."And Collaborations and duets with George Michael, Elton John, and U2 soon followed, catapulting her into the A-List forever.
The Grammy award-winning singer has also proven that she's a multi-faceted talent. Her musical contributions, as well as her acting performances in films like the 2017 Netflix movie Mudbound, earned her a much-deserved star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2018. But her constant string of success has only exacerbated deep-rooted issues, and brought along a whole new set of personal problems. Her real life is much more harrowing than any song she has ever written.Here's the heartbreaking story of Mary J. Blige's tragic life.
Mary J. Blige's family is 'angry, hateful, jealous'
Chris Delmas/Getty Images
Growing up in the gritty city of Yonkers with her mom Cora, sister, five cousins, and two aunts, Mary J. Blige was always surrounded by music, she revealed to the Telegraph. Hits by great soul artists, such as Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, were always on rotation. Although they lived in poverty in a drug-riddled neighborhood, love and a strong family unit sometimes has the ability to overcome even the most unsavory situations, but Blige's upbringing was anything but rosy.
While speaking to the The Guardian, she used some harsh language to describe her family members. "The environment that I was in — they'll be mad at me, but it's the truth — they were angry, hateful, jealous, ignorant, prideful people," she said. And she specifically called out her aunts as being "very mean people."
Her relationship with her mom was also severely strained, saying her mom wanted to be singer. "It might be that she's living vicariously through me, but I believe she's gotten real bitter about it," Blige said. "It's probably why we've never really got along."
In 2017, it appeared they had patched up their relationship when Blige gave a heartwarming speech in dedication to her mom during VH1's Dear Mama event. She said, "I'm happy that I chose you to be my mom because you gave me everything that Ilove about me."
Mary J. Blige's father 'disappeared' on her
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
In a 2002 interview with The Guardian, reporter Caroline Sullivan recalled an experience she had with the singer some years prior when she was still getting adjusted to fame. Things went all the way left when Sullivan asked the seemingly innocuous question: "Is there a Mr. Mary J. Blige?" Blige, assuming Sullivan was referring to her father, Thomas, got up and left the room.
It was then revealed that Thomas had walked out on their family at some point during her childhood, and Blige didn't get the opportunity to meet him for many years. When they finally came face to face, Thomas was pre-occupied with his failed career as a musician, according to a follow-up piece by The Guardian. The article read: "His focus was all to do with his being a washed-up bass player who never made it, and with her having somehow stolen a march on him."
Despite his animosity, Blige credited him for teaching her how to "hold notes, how to harmonize," and she even went as far as to thank him in the credits of her album sleeves on some of her earlier records. But by the time her 2001 album No More Drama was released, The Guardian noticed that Thomas' name had been omitted, signaling yet another shift in their seemingly non-existent relationship.
Mary J. Blige didn't graduate high school
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
While speaking with The Washington Post,Mary J. Blige said as a child, she "didn't care about getting an education," and she ultimately dropped out of school in the 11th grade, according to CBS. Reading at only an eighth-grade level meant she ran into many issues throughout her career."It hurts a lot when you cannot really comprehend what a person is saying in a meeting or you don't even understand what you're reading in your contract," she said.
In 2011, she decided to make her education a priority by obtaining her GED. "What I came to understand about education is that it is the key to life," she said. There were also rumors that she was headed off to Howard University, and that rumor allegedly came straight from Blige herself. After serenading fans in New York's Central Park on ABC's Good Morning America, Blige allegedly shared with the crowd (while off camera) that she had gotten accepted to the college and would begin her studies in 2014.
Everyone was completely shocked by the news, especially the university. The Washington Post's Reliable Voices reported on a statement from the school, and they shot down the rumor and denied Blige had been accepted to the historically black campus. However, they left the door open for her to someday become an HU Bison by saying: "We are happy to work with Ms. Blige on completing the formal process for admission."
Mary J. Blige poured her depression into her music
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
In an interview with Makers (via Essence), Mary J. Blige described how her life took a turn after the release of her debut album, What's the 411?
She was still living with her family in the projects in Yonkers, N.Y., and she soon realized she wouldn't be getting a pat on the back or fist bumps from her neighbors whenever her songs came on the radio. "People want to buy your records, they want to see you," she said. "But, people in the neighborhood wanted to kill you for it. So you plucked this girl from the hood and throw her in all of this stuff and so, she's going to survive the only way she knows how."
She went on to describe how she was "in hell" during the early stages of her career, but it made her realize that singing could save her. "I was like, 'Whoa! You have to sing for your life," she said.
She went on to record her sophomore album, My Life, which she described as her "call for help." She told the publication: "I didn't think anybody would pay attention to my call for help, but my fanbase did." The winning formula for her album proved to be the "depression and all this oppression" she was dealing with in her real life, and when she fueled that gut wrenching pain into her lyrics, she became a musical force to be reckoned with.
Drug and alcohol use was how Mary J. Blige coped
Marianna Massey/Getty Images
After facing so many devastating life events, Mary J. Blige turned to drugs. In a 2013 interview with Los Angeles Confidential (via USA Today), the "Not Gon' Cry" singer opened up about her past addictions — which she later revealed as cocaine use—by saying, "So many dark moments—which all added up and that's what sprung on the drug addiction, trying to numb it all with the drugs."
Illicit drugs weren't her only vice. The singer kicked her cocaine habit and "traded" it for alcohol to help "cover up guilt. Shame. Abandonment." Her wake up call occurred in 2012 following the death of fellow singer, Whitney Houston. "Whitney Houston's death really affected me," she said. "Her death is another reason I stopped [drinking]."
To fight her addiction, she didn't enroll in a rehab center. Instead, she turned to a higher power. "I believe that anything man himself can do for me, God can do for me in a greater way," she explained. "I decided to pray and to seek God on my own. I just stayed in The Word. And it worked."
Since then, Blige has taken an unorthodox approach to battling alcoholism. In a 2012 appearance on The Wendy Williams Show (via BET), she admitted she hasn't given up the booze for good. "I don't need alcohol to get me out of a depression or get me out of a bad moment, but I have occasional drinks with my friends," she explained.
Mary J. Blige was in a rocky relationship with an R&B singer
Lars Niki, Rich Fury/Getty Images
In the '90s, hip-hop soul — a mixture of R&B infused with hip-hop beats — was reigning supreme. Mary J. Blige fell in love with a fellow singer who was also immersed in this same genre of music: Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey of the R&B quartet Jodeci. Their romance appeared to be the sweet melodic merging of two artists who were equally meshed, career-wise at least, and it lasted for 12 years, according to Essence. However, Blige admitted things had turned disrespectful and abusive in a taped interview.
During one incident, she and Jodeci were in London to perform, and they had separate on-camera interviews with the same television show. Blige, unaware of what K-Ci had discussed during his segment, shared the news of their engagement with the show's hosts and audience. The show then ran a pre-recorded clip from K-Ci's segment with him announcing to the crowd: "K-Ci is not getting married!" When the camera cut back to Blige, with her face full of hurt and anger, she hastily responded to the footage by saying: "No, we're not getting married now."
After that event, Blige still attempted to keep their relationship intact. "When I was supposed to let go I started feeling like, nah, I can't let these women take what I know I worked so hard for, what I cried over every night and what I actually fought and [was] abused by," she said.
Mary J. Blige's husband allegedly cheated with someone close to her
Michael Buckner, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
In 2003, Mary J. Blige married Martin "Kendu" Isaacs. She later hired him as her manager, and things appeared to be going smoothly...until they weren't anymore. In 2016, shefiled for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.Their divorce was anything but amicable, and soon enough, the former couple was squabbling over everything, from spousal support payments to rumors that Isaacs had cheated during their marriage.
During her VH1 documentary, Strength of a Woman (via Extra), Blige opened up to fellow singer Ne-Yo, who was producing tracks on her new album, about the cheating rumors. She cited her own protégée, a singer named LaNeah "Starshell" Menzies, as the woman who came between them, although Starshell's name was bleeped out of audio. "All these years have come to this, like, you didn't even pick me, you picked somebody else," she said. "That s**t is humiliating. It hurt real bad. But... they got beds, we gotta lay in it."
In another clip from the show (via Page Six), Blige said to Ne-Yo in reference to Starshell, "And just so we're clear... Do not let her anywhere near what you're doing for me, because she's the reason for all of this s**t."Starshell was also listed in Blige's divorce petition, according to TMZ. During their marriage, the singer claimed her estranged husband had taken more than $420,000 for "travel charges," but the money was allegedly spent on his mistress instead.
Mary J. Blige's 'physical body was contemplating suicide'
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The turmoil she experienced throughout her life almost pushed her over the edge, and the singer revealed to CNN that at one point, she even struggled with suicidal thoughts.
Speaking candidly, Mary J. Blige stated, "I guess it was something in me did want to die — you know, I guess my spirit didn't want to die, but my physical body definitely was at some point was like I gotta get out of here." Thankfully, her inner self helped her through those dark moments. "My physical body was contemplating suicide and all this other crazy stuff," she continued, "and my spirit is what saved me, I believe."
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Mary J. Blige witnessed women suffering through 'terrible situations'
Christopher Polk/Getty Images
In 2009, Mary J. Blige co-founded a center in Yonkers called the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN). The center was created as a safe haven where women and young girls could receive life skills, self-help, and gain the tools they needed to become more empowered. The foundation is something Blige holds dear to her heart, but during the center's ribbon cutting ceremony, the layer of sadness beneath her excitement soon reared its head.
While speaking to CNN, Blige said she was compelled to help women, especially after what she had experienced while growing up. "As a child I [saw] women really, really suffer terrible, terrible situations, and I vowed as a child to want to do something — anything — that can help them have better self-esteem so that they don't have to be subjected to men that wanted to kill them."
She continued by saying the opening ceremony gave her mixed feelings. "It was happy and sad because you know the very place where I've seen so many women suffer is the sad part, and the very place that I suffered is the sad part," she explained. "But the happy part is I'm back to help. I'm back doing what I dreamed to do. My dream is coming true."
Mary J. Blige: 'As public as I am, I'm real private'
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
"It took a lot of prayer," Mary J. Blige toldSelfin an Oct. 2019 interview about how she dealt with her tragedies in her life. But while she wears her heart on her sleeve in her music and the openness in which she talks about her past, there are some thing the public will never know — and for valid reason. "Everybody thinks they know everything, but nobody really knows," she explained. "You only know what I tell you. And I don't tell everything."
"As public as I am, I'm real private.... I'll give you the juice and the truth, but not the stuff that's going to kill me.... I grew up in a neighborhood where we couldn't tell everything," she continued. "It would kill us. So you 'know,' but you don't [know]. You know?"
However, Blige knows that talking about her own trauma has helped her connect to her fans and hopes it can help others heal."The relationship that I've built with my fans — just because I'm Mary J. Blige and I'm a big superstar, I'm going to start denying them our therapy? Nah," she said. "This stuff happens so that we can talk."