Queen Latifah Faces Her Fears

As she launches a new talk show, the star talks candidly about reconciling with her father, caring for her ailing mother and confronting things that “scare the hell out of me"

by Gerri Hirshey
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Carmen Marc Valvo Black Label jeweled gown; Saks Fifth Avenue. Le Vian Chocolate Diamond studs set in 14k white gold; levian.com. Pages 91 and 97: Marina Rinaldi turtleneck; 212-734-4333. Le Vian Chocolate Diamond hoops set in 14k Strawberry Gold; levian.com. Bracelets are Latifah’s own.
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

Jada knew of a good therapist; Latifah went. She says the sessions were productive, but grief can still ambush her in tentative moments. Her faith has helped, and she has taken an ecumenical approach. The Dalai Lama’s best seller, The Art of Happiness, taught her a lot about the purpose of suffering. The biblical texts given her by a close high school friend, basketball star Tammy Hammond, have long sustained her. “I went to Catholic school,” says Latifah. “Some of my cousins are Muslims; most of my family is Baptist. From the time I was a little kid, I felt I could have a conversation with God and get answers back.” During the period after her brother’s death, she and the Almighty had some difficult discussions.

Picture a twenty-something Latifah alone and blue on yet another red-eye flight between L.A. and New Jersey, commuting for her Living Single job. She’s cocooned in an airline blanket, crying again, asking her brother, “How could you leave me? And Mommy?” Then begging, “Give me a sign.” Suddenly, out the window, there’s a bright shooting star. She says it happened again on another flight. Back home, on her balcony, she challenged him: “Look, Winki, if you really are out there, then shoot across the sky right now.”

Whooooosh! She makes an inter-galactic traffic noise and slaps her desk. “I could put my hand on a Bible and tell you that’s exactly what happened. It was the craziest thing.” She describes a fourth cosmic high-five: “I was in my room. It was a really foggy night, and I was going through it, talking to Winki: ‘My show is successful and my record is going gold, and I’d give all this stuff back just to have you...’ ”

Suddenly: “This bird! A freakin’ owl. Flies out of the fog and lands on my windowsill right in front of me.” She laughs at how long it took her to get the message. “I’m like, I must be dumb as a sack of rocks. God is saying, ‘Look, I don’t know how many other ways I can tell you, kid. You’re gonna be all right.’ ”

These days she devours books of the Heaven Is for Real genre. She does yoga—sometimes. Meditates—sometimes. Prays—often. And above all, picks up the phone.

Rule three: If you’re in trouble, holler.

“I can work too much, keep things to myself, maybe not share,” she says. “I’ve learned how to open my mouth and say, ‘Listen, I need a break. Listen, I need help. Listen, I can’t do this by myself.’ Or ‘Listen, I’m in trouble.’ ”

One dark night, she called her dad. There had been a period of estrangement between them after her parents divorced and Lancelot Owens started a new family. He and his daughter patched it up and worked together for years; as an ex–police officer, he handled Latifah’s security. She needed more: “I was like, ‘Look, I need you -really to just be my dad right now. I need to talk to you.’ ” Soon after, a small flower arrangement with a stuffed tiger arrived from him. The card read, “It’s gonna be all right, you little tiger.”

She now feels secure within her closest circle: “I have a strong support system. Great friends, great family.” She has also learned what she must do to defend this new stability.

Rule four: Guard your perimeter.

This means putting the celeb jackals on notice: Do not attempt, with your Internet innuendo, your “gotcha!” paparazzi shots, to penetrate the Queen’s no-fly zone. Do not even consider asking her with whom she sups, sleeps or nuzzles —except for the dog. If anything, she has become even more resolute about setting limits, citing her mother’s advice: “My mom always said, ‘Dana, you need to make your home a safe place for you just to be you. You need to keep your privacy. Be careful who you let in and out of your life, your spirit, your mind, your world.’ ”

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