She’s an American sweetheart, living a seemingly storied life of wealth and fame. But behind the veil of celebrity, Natalie Cole struggled with drugs, family and herself. Here we give a glimpse of her engrossing story of survival, Angel on My Shoulder: An Autobiography (Warner Books; $25.95), which is in stores now.

While I was locked up in rehab, counting the days until I could get back to my coke pipe, the whole world was learning about my drug problems in lurid detail. The November issue of the National Enquirer carried a piece entitled: Singer Natalie Cole: Fighting a Massive Cocaine Habit.

They said I was called “The Base Queen” because of my obsession with freebasing. (I was also called the Cook, the Chemist, and the Coke Gourmet, but they didn’t know that.)

When I came out of rehab — supposedly clean and sober — there was so much rejoicing that I didn’t have the heart to admit that I had gone right back to it. Now that I was “cured,” everyone was anxious for me to rehabilitate my image. The press was just dying to hear the minutiae of my drug confessions and the joy of my redemption, so who was I to argue? The people-pleasing facet of my personality really took charge. I said what everyone wanted to hear. In a series of interviews with national magazines, big newspapers, and TV shows, I lied like a con artist. I confessed my sins, begged forgiveness, and preached the virtues of the clean life. Meanwhile, I kept right on smoking cocaine. I can remember thinking at the time that maybe I really would give it up. But I just wasn’t ready. I was still deeply addicted.

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I was born into a lifetime of extremes and I have led a life of extremes. I was born with both blessing and the burden of my family legacy, which have given me some of the greatest advantages and some of the greatest disadvantages a person might hope for.

The one quality God has given me, which has perhaps contributed the most to the extremes I have lived, is impulsiveness. This impulsiveness has allowed me to step out on a limb, time and time again. It led me to a love of roller coasters in my childhood, and it fueled my courage to pursue a singing career despite my mother’s disapproval and the huge shoes my father left to fill. Somehow, I went out there and I did it. It enhanced an adventurousness that made me willing to try just about every kind of music and musical style — jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, opera and even the beautiful music my father made famous. It has allowed me to grow and grow — in every way — despite the fact that I have led my life in public view, right from the day I was born. But growth is not always easy — it can be so very, very painful — and it involves making mistakes. In my case — I made many mistakes and many big mistakes.

Impulsiveness has also been my curse. It has made me foolish — sometimes very foolish. If the upside of impulsiveness is spontaneity, the downside is recklessness. My impulsiveness includes the strange and dangerous desire to taste every kind of experience on earth. Just like a baby who wants to put everything in its mouth or stick its finger in every hole — wanted to try everything — good, bad, and indifferent. Looking back it seems that I dove head first into every black hole I encountered, and before I knew it I was stuck and having to claw my way out. I saw my boyfriend shooting heroin, and of course I had to try it — right then and there. A fellow addict showed me how to print up bogus checks — I had to try that too. Nothing, it seems, was too high or too low for me to try on for size.

The curious thing is that no matter how low I have fallen, or how high I have flown — I always have felt that God was there for me and that I could talk to Him. Although I may have stretched things to the limit, I’ve always felt that God forgave me — over and over again — that His angels have been present in my life both in bad times and good. And I’ve always hoped that one day I would redeem His faith in me.

From Angel on My Shoulder: An Autobiography by Natalie Cole with Digby Diehl. Copyright © 2000 by Natalie Cole. Reprinted with permission of Warner Books, Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.