Taraji P. Henson has plenty of personal experience to draw on when she steps into Cookie's shoes on Empire. In a new memoir, the actor has revealed how she escaped an abusive relationship and navigated Hollywood as a single mother.
Henson's first love was her high school sweetheart William "Mark" Johnson. The couple were together throughout school and college, and had a son together, Marcell, in 1994.
But one night, Henson decided enough was enough and made the decision to leave Johnson, who had turned violent.
"The next thing I knew, Mark’s balled-up fist was coming straight for my face," Henson writes in the memoir,
"I pulled my hand from my mouth and looked at the blood on my trembling finger. I said, 'You know what? I don't have to do this—and I don't have to hate you for it'."
After leaving Johnson she continued to allow him to be involved in Marcell's life, up until Johnson was murdered in 2003.
In the book, Henson talks about how her childhood experiences made her see the situation clearly.
"If [my father] had hidden what he’d done and tried to pretend he was perfect, maybe we wouldn’t have had the conversations we’d had, I wouldn’t have had the strength to walk away.
"With that separation, my forever man, my first love, was no more."
In an interview with People, Henson says she's very aware of the stigma around single mothers, and felt it strongly.
"I know I’m not the only one, but people marvel about the fact that I am a single mother and I did make it."
She also talks about her early successes after she moved to Hollywood and made her career her focus.
"It's funny. When I started making money and moving into expensive neighborhoods, people thought Marcell and I were coming to clean the house.
"I could see them looking at me even after I was living there, wondering how I could afford it."
But despite all the problems Henderson has had to face, she says she's proud of who she is, and her experiences have only made her stronger.
"God put me through these trials and tribulations and put me center stage for a reason. We can all identify with each other's struggles. Those emotional scars are what make you who you are."
Words to live by.