In the eyes of many, Queen Latifah is the epitome of beauty, regality and strength, but her appeal and power weren’t something that came with ease. Instead, they were hard-won through the trials and tribulations of her life. In the cover story for the latest issue of Good Housekeeping, Latifah opens up about the depression she faced after her brother’s death and her downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse.
The hip-hop titan and talk-show host spoke honestly about her love for her family, especially her late brother, Lance Owens Jr., a police officer whom she called her best friend. Latifah recalls that just as her career was blowing up in 1992, she suffered the greatest loss of her life when Lance was killed in a tragic auto accident.
To make matters worse, Lance, who was a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, died while riding a motorcycle that Latifah had bought him just two months prior. Latifah was devastated but tried to deal with her pain by hanging on to her brother’s motor cycle key (she had it dipped in gold and wore it as a necklace for years) and riding her bike to keep his memory alive.
“Riding was one of the things Lance and I did together a lot,” she explains. “I had to get back on. It was like a [healing] potion.”
Despite the holding on to the warm memory of Lance, Latifah, who was raised a devout Baptist, explains that she was dying inside and questioning her faith in God.
“My life was rocked to the core. And I felt guilty,” she said.
Sadly, Latifah’s dog days were far from done and in 1995 misery struck once again when she was the victim of a carjacking in which her passenger, her dear friend, was shot and nearly died in her arms. For Latifah, the stress was too much to bear and she turned to drugs and alcohol for solace.
“Drinking a bunch of alcohol, numbing myself. Every day I would be faded, like a painting that’s just not vibrant, whose edges are dull,” she says somberly. “I wasn’t living my full life.”
But by 1996 Latifah’s drug use caught up to her when she was arrested while driving with a small amount of marijuana and a loaded gun, which she began carrying after the carjacking. Latifah knew it was time to change her life and her friend and Set It Off cast mate, Jada Pinkett Smith, recommended she seek therapy. There, she released the demons of losing her brother and confronted the hidden truth that she’d been molested by a babysitter as a child.
“We ignore our feelings a lot, I realize,” she said “Many of us have to … until they really bite us in the butt. What set me free was looking at it from a different perspective,” she said. “I was 5, manipulated and afraid.”
Today, she encourages anyone who has been through or suspects abuse to speak up: “You have to say something. The power of those who perpetrate the abuse is your fear and your shame … and that’s unacceptable.”
Ultimately, Latifah says she was able to let go of her anger and vices: “I realized that wasn’t helping me or my brother. I learned that God was going to provide comfort; I know he is always listening and guiding.”