Jenifer Lewis thought she was opening the door to a delivery man.
“Suddenly a guy came into my apartment with a knife,” the black-ish actress tells PEOPLE of being in her early 20s in New York City. “He tried to rape, but I talked myself out of that. It was the greatest performance of my life.”
Lewis, 60, says she convinced her would-be assailant that she had a venereal disease that would make him sick if he attempted to have sex with her. She details the harrowing incident — along with her battle with sex addiction and bipolar disorder — in her memoir The Black Mother of Hollywood, excerpted exclusively in the current issue of PEOPLE:
“I shouldn’t be doing this!” [the attacker said.] “Especially to a sister. They locked me up for some s— I didn’t do! I just got out.”
Suddenly I saw how skinny, fragile, and vulnerable this kid was. I sat down next to him and put my arm around his shoulder.
“I’m sorry that happened to you. I will help you. Let me give you my number and you can call me.”
“I’m sorry. I know you are gonna tell, but I just want you to know I am sorry.”
He was not evil. He was just f—– up. He left and I stood in shock. Then I fell to my knees and fainted.
This article originally appeared on People.