Check your clock — it’s Natalie time! In addition to releasing her bold and fascinating autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder (Warner Books), this month— and appearing on the cover of numerous magazines— singer/actor Natalie Cole will also release a Greatest Hits compilation on Electra Records. And on Dec. 4, she’ll be seen playing herself in an NBC movie based on her life story. Here, the candid Ms. Cole talks a little about her self-esteem, her marriages and the truth about substance abuse.
What inspired you to be so frank about your story?
The idea of writing an autobiography is daunting. If you’re gonna do it, you really shouldn’t hold back too much. If you want people to know you, let them really know you. And I think that at this point in my life, I have a bit to say about what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned. That’s why I needed to reference my life— so that when I speak, people will listen.
In the book, you talk about struggling to emerge from your father’s shadow and heal your self-esteem. How are you different now, at age 50, than you were 25 years ago?
I respect myself so much more. My self-esteem is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was at the age of 25. I have wisdom— I had NO wisdom then. [laughs]
You were married twice; why do you think your relationships ended?
Marvin [Yancy] and I did have a wonderful three years. [Natalie married producer-songwriter Yancy in 1976.] But we were young and success had come upon us rather quickly. There was a lot of pressure and it eventually took its toll… We still loved each other very much, but outside circumstances came in. We made some mistakes but had planned to get back together again, so the love was still there. [Yancy died unexpectedly of a stroke in 1985.] I think with André Fischer— which was ten years later— I probably was not in a good place. I still hadn’t gotten grounded, I still had a lot of self-esteem issues— and I was lonely. So I got together with him for all the wrong reasons. And his way of controlling was to put me down and be verbally abusive. There was [also] domestic violence— and that’s a sickness.
Yet you didn’t want to leave him.
I was afraid to leave. I didn’t want to admit to another failed marriage. If André hadn’t left me, I might still have tried to make it work. I was still so very needy. I would make myself “less than” so he could feel “more than.” And I know that’s the plight of many women. And I’m here to tell you, after what I’ve been through, don’t you ever even think about diminishing yourself so that a man can feel better or bigger. Find a man who’s already better or bigger. Cause all that other stuff is like tired, tired.
You’ve been drug free for almost 17 years. From your experience, what would you say to a woman who is struggling with addiction?
Take a look at yourself. Because even after you take away the substance, there are some issues there to be dealt with. You’re not doing [drugs] for fun; there’s something driving you to do it— I don’t care what you say. I received a lot of counseling. I went into therapy, something Black folks sometimes resist. Drug addiction is a disease. It’s not something you can wish away, and in many cases, you can not pray it away. You need a hands-on healing, hands-on support to deal with what’s going on in your heart— not just your body. And that’s the truth.