Rosie Perez Talks About Her New Book, Painful Childhood And Meeting Michael Jackson

Source: The Examiner – By Ken Simmons


25 years after making her powerful acting debut in Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated “Do The Right Thing,” Rosie Perez is continuing her mission of inspiring others with her revelations of overcoming abject poverty and abuse in her memoir HANDBOOK FOR AN UNPREDICTABLE LIFE: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother, and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair).

“I did not want to write this book,” Perez admits. “I was forced to do it, and after I agreed, I realized it was the best thing I’ve ever done. There were some sad memories remembering what I had to overcome, and I shed a few tears, but that was good because those tears washed away some residual pain. It was very difficult to write. I was a ward of the state and the welfare system. I had to stay focused on not being bitter. I knew education would be my way out and I was confident I would be successful.”

Growing up as a foster child in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Perez’s childhood was so traumatic it caused her to suffer from a speech impediment. Her slurred speech has become her signature, yet it has not impeded a diversified career which includes three Emmy nominations as the choreographer for “In Living Color” and an Academy Award nomination for “Fearless.” She has appeared in 23 films, starred on television and Broadway, and devoted herself to numerous charitable causes including providing arts education for underprivileged youth in New York City. She aspired to become a marine biologist, but those plans changed drastically when Lee discovered her dancing in a Los Angeles nightclub in 1988 and launched her career portraying Tina, the girlfriend of Mookie (played by Lee) in “Do The Right Thing.” The film was set in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn not far from where Perez grew up. After her schizophrenic mother kicked her father out of their house at gunpoint, Perez was sent at the age of two years old to live with her aunt. Then one year later, her mother sent her to live in a Catholic home where the nuns consistently abused her.

“I could have done without the home and even Sister Renata beating the crap out of me,” Perez comments. “But it was definitely a better choice than being raised at home by my mother. That’s so sad, but true.”

Writing her autobiography has been therapeutic, however that was not her purpose. “This book is not self serving,” Perez states. “It is for the kids so they can learn from my trials and tribulations. It is so they can know they are not alone. They can learn from my story. From abuse and poverty, from Brooklyn to Hollywood. I want kids to be able to release the pain and learn how to mature and be successful in the world.”

Despite having the odds against her, she knew she was destined for success. “I refused to allow myself to be limited,” she says. “I refused to be denied. My aunt, who was like my mother, she had three jobs working in factories in Bushwick. That work ethic was ingrained in my spirit.”

Perez escaped her tumultuous upbringing by moving to Los Angeles where she enrolled in a community college. But she could not escape the fact that she was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic events in her life.

“I wanted to believe I was above what had happened to me, but when a doctor told me I have PTSD, I realized I did not have control over my emotional responses. I also realized I had to try to recover and overcome my condition.”

Perez has overcome PTSD, and she says music has always been part of her therapy. She remembers several songs allowed her to survive, especially her all-time favorite, the 1977 song “Zoom” by The Commodores. “I used to sing those lyrics everyday…’I may be just a foolish dreamer, But I don’t care, ‘Cause I know my happiness is waiting, Out there somewhere, I’m searching for that silver lining, Horizons that I’ve never seen, Oh, I’d like to take just a moment, And dream my dreams, oh dream my dream’

“That song got me through a lot of pain. I sang it to myself daily. It allowed me to escape the pain and see possibilities.”

Another song very special to Perez is The Jackson Five 1971 classic “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

“That song was so important to me because growing up, I had a crush on Michael Jackson,” she recalls. “I dreamed we would be married. I met him in 1993 when I was working as a choreographer at the Soul Train Music Awards. He twisted his ankle rehearsing so he was in a wheelchair and they rolled him in backstage. When I saw him, I had an anxiety attack. This was my idol, Michael Jackson. I was afraid to look at him and I looked away. He said, ‘l love your work.’ I froze and I walked away. I remember hearing him chuckling as I walked away.”

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