As one of the best-selling female singers of the ‘90s, Toni Braxton was called the “Queen of R&B.” But RadarOnline.com can exclusively report that the six-time Grammy winner spills all on the private pain beneath her success— including battles with depression, bankruptcy, and a life-threatening illness— in her new memoir, Unbreak My Heart.
Two years after she released her best selling album, Secrets, Braxton, now 46, says she entered the darkest period of her life— beginning the moment she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on January 23, 1998—and subsequently spiraled into a deep depression.
“I cried a lot. And daily. I just couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to get into this situation,” she writes, adding that inspectors soon rifled through her personal belongings— including her beloved Grammys— in her Century City, Calif. condo. “I felt like they were purposely trying to humiliate me.”
The singer, who blames her $5 million debt on bad business contracts and extravagant tour costs, tried to set the record straight on her icon Oprah Winfrey’s talk show— but believes the appearance failed to help.
While Oprah grilled the diva about her collection of Gucci flatware, grand pianos and thousand-dollar designer gowns, Braxton says the OWN honcho, 60, neglected to air segments about her thrifty shopping.
“After the interview, I was deflated,” she recalls. “I was…hurt by how I was painted in the media.”
Years later, she considered writing a letter to clear the air with Winfrey— but decided there was no prior relationship to repair.
“I set my hurt aside and did my best to make peace with it,” she writes.
Braxton says she sunk into a depression while starring as Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway later that year.
“I could disappear into the performance, but as soon as the curtains closed and I dragged myself home, all I had the energy to do was climb into bed,” she says. “I think I might’ve been somewhat suicidal— for instance, I stopped being so careful when I crossed the street. I walked around New York like a zombie.”
After settling her financial woes, the “You’re Makin’ Me High” singer, then dating later husband, musician Keri Lewis, faced another blow when she discovered she was pregnant— but needed to get an abortion due her Accutane prescription. (Becoming pregnant while on the acne-fighting drug can result in severe complications.)
“I was suddenly faced with a choice I’d never thought I’d have to make,” Braxton writes. “Amid my major misgivings about abortion, I eventually made the gut-wrenching decision….In my heart, I believed I had taken a life— an action that I thought God might one day punish me for.”
Braxton believed that punishment came to fruition when her youngest son with Lewis, Diezel, then 3, was diagnosed with autism in 2006.
“My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt,” writes the star, also a mother to Denim, now 12. “I knew I’d taken a life— so I believed God’s payback was to give my son autism.” (Fortunately, thanks to an early diagnosis and intervention, her son is now thriving.)
Two years later, Braxton was rushed to the hospital after suffering from chest pressure and extremely high blood pressure. Doctors soon diagnosed her with microvascular angina caused by the painful autoimmune disease lupus.
“Your [disease] is attacking your heart,” the star says doctors told her.
But she powered through: Though doctors advised her against it, Braxton decided to sign on to the seventh season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in order to make ends meet. (In 2010, Braxton filed for bankruptcy again.)
“I put on my dancing shoes and plastered on a smile,” she writes. “I wanted to make everyone believe that I was feeling just fine.”
Braxton refused to reveal her true diagnosis for fear her record company would question her ability to perform. In 2010, she came clean about her condition because she says she was sick of hiding secrets.
Though there is no cure for the disease, “I’m not a victim of lupus— I’m an overcomer,” she declares. “Why should I allow what others might say to keep me from declaring that victory? I shouldn’t.”
Braxton’s heart-wrenching memoir hits bookstands May 20.