Singing The Blues

The strain of maintaining a career at the top seems to have taken its toll on Mariah Carey. Gill Pringle looks at the pressures that have caused her recent breakdown.

Ms London (UK) September 17, 2001. Text by Gill Pringle.

Recuperating from a collapse due to extreme stress and exhaustion, few people close to pop diva Mariah Carey can disagree that her breakdown has been a long time coming. As Mariah's publicists fend off lurid reports that her hospitalisation was the result of a bizarre suicide bid, one must wonder how those closest to her allowed the singer to take on so much work that it eventually pushed her over the edge?

Working on two films back-to-back, while also writing, recording and producing the soundtrack to her semi-autobiographical movie, Glitter, she barely paused for breath before undertaking a non-stop international publicity campaign for the film she held so close to her heart. While other superstars — think Madonna — wisely fight stress through yoga and daily exercise, poor little rich girl Mariah clearly believed she could push herself to breaking points without any such safety nets. If self motivation had got her this far, then surely it would propel her through the dizzying heights of stardom.

Much criticism has been levelled at Mariah's controlling ex-husband, Tommy Mottola, the all-powerful record industry boss accused of being her Svengali, who orchestrated her rapid rise to the top. At least he was able to protect his wife from some of the pitfalls of success. In the wake of their bitter divorce four years ago, perhaps she was spurred to undertake more than was humanly possibly in some form of misguided desire to prove her independence. Few people get to live out their wildest dreams before an adoring public, and even fewer have their egos indulged by starring in a glossy film resembling their very own rags to riches story. Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand both got to do it in A Star Is Bron. But then came Mariah with her own spin on the well-worn theme, with this version set in the 1980's and called Glitter.

It may have a new title, but the premise is far from unique — Glitter tells the story of a mixed race poor girl, abandoned by her parents, who comes to the big city in hope of making hit records, which she does after she falls for a Svengali. The two fall in love but the Svengali reveals himself to have a very dark side. Sound familiar? Poor mixed race girl Mariah Carey, abandoned by her father, becomes an overnight sensation after falling for music-biz Svengali Tommy Mottola, notorious for being a control freak. So what if the fairy tale ended along with their divorce? She's sill a star after all; her silver carriage didn't turn back into a pumpkin:

"Well, there are certain parallels with my own life story," admitted Mariah shortly before her collapse: "I'm a poor girl from Long Island who grew up with nothing. My mother and I moved 13 times because we had trouble paying the rent. And I don't want to forget that. I treat everyone around me with respect. I do not throw fits when things don't go my way. I'm good to people and I leave big tips. Money and success doesn't change who I am deep down. I'm the same girl that grew up a product of a mixed family. First of all, you can't call me white. Maybe I look white, but I'm not. I'm a mixture, such people exist! My father is one quarter Venezuelan, one quarter African and the rest American. My mother comes from a lily-white Catholic-American family. I'm a child of forbidden love. My mother was banned by her family, my father beaten up."

"We didn't belong in a white neighbourhood and we didn't belong in a black neighbourhood. Our dog was poisoned and they burned crosses in our front garden. I thought that I was wrong. If being black was wrong, so was I. I still view myself first and foremost as a singer, but I also find it exciting to expand my limits, and I want to know if I can really learn how to act, or whether people are just being kind to me because I am such a big name in the pop world. It's interesting to play different characters, beyond the roles in my own videos, and my ambition is to work with Gary Oldman."

"The whole process of acting, the whole process of doing a movie has helped me grow as a person, just because a lot of times, in a lot of things I went through, my tendency was to shut down and block out what was really going on emotionally. Otherwise I would have drowned in that mess. I don't mean just recent stuff, but my entire life and whatever situations came about. In acting you can't do that, you can't shut down and block out what was really going on emotionally. I had to really not do that, and explore why I sometimes do do that and how it impacts on my life and the decisions that I make," said Mariah, who recently completed filming mobster comedy, Wise Girls, with Mira Sorvino before undertaking a massive promotional tour for Glitter.

Having dated Latin pop idol Luis Miguel for two and a half years, she was reluctant to discuss whether the couple remain an item, although some reports blame her breakdown on the rumoured end of their romance.

"I'm living a very nice period in my life after having really bad and stormy years. With Luis I am very happy. By his side I feel very comfortable and I'm finding great inner peace. This relationship has changed my life. He is a beautiful person and an excellent human being — so sensitive and so cute. He has lots of charisma and is very sweet," said the 5' 4" songbird who met Luis Miguel during a Christmas break in Aspen.

"He's sensitive and so much fun to be with. He's always giving me little gifts. I never get tired of spending time with him — when I get the chance that is, because my life is so busy. He also makes me laugh. The most important thing is that he has a great sense of humour, because that's the most relevant thing to me. And when it comes to men, I like a man who really cares and understands me. Someone I can talk to about anything. Communication is very important in any relationship." she insisted.

The biggest-selling female artist of the 1990s, she has had more number one singles than any other female artist, surpassing both The Supremes and Madonna, selling more than 120 million albums and singles worldwide, earning a whopping 84 gold, platinum and multi-platinum certifications for her singles, albums and videos. "I'm finally able to be who I am," cryptically announced Mariah, who has also dated Sean 'Puffy' Combs, Donald Trump, Q-Tip and New York Yankee baseball heartthrob Derek Jeter since her divorce from Sony records boss Tommy Mottola in March 1998.

Like most children of divorces, she dreamed of a romantic 'happy ever after' ending since the day her parents separated when she was only 3-years-old. But her four year marriage to mentor Tommy Mottola finally crumbled beneath the pressure of pretending that true love existed when only balance sheets prevailed. Thus she has spent the past few years taking charge of her life and her music. "It's been a process of reinvention and discovery for me. Taking acting lessons, dating and finding out more about myself," she said.

Amid rumours she was virtually held prisoner at Mottola's ostentatious, well guarded $10 million, 14 bathroom, two swimming-pool New York fortress, she is rather diplomatic. "Well, I wouldn't describe it as prison. It was a beautiful place although in other ways it was too much of a fantasy."

"As a child, I always felt inferior when I visited other people's homes, so when Tommy and I built our dream home together it made me feel like I had accomplished something and released a lot of the old feelings of inferiority. That said, I must admit that my way of living today — in an apartment in New York — is much more to my liking. It feels much more appropriate.

"If I don't go out sometimes, I feel like life is passing me by, because I missed out on so much fun in the past. It was unnatural for me to curb my feelings, and control what I said. I'm only now learning to express myself freely. I feel good about myself now, I feel better about myself than I have in a long time. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. You have to remember also that I was very young and hadn't really experienced enough of life itself. I probably still haven't; I was somewhat swept up in the excitement of living a dream come true. Obviously, it's a glamorous, flattering, amazing thing when someone on Tommy's level believes in you so much and is interested in you and is focusing on you. He represented a form of stability that I'd never had. I was very innocent at the time we met. As a 19-year-old, I was made to feel very nervous. People had very high expectations about everything I said, or wore, or the way I did my hear. But I felt insecure and a little bit unstable."

Few can blame her for allowing herself to indulge in the fruits of her well earned success — staying in fabulous hotels around the world and splashing out on her own $5 million New York Apartment. "So what about me staying in expensive hotels? I have to. In chic hotels people don't bother me, no idiots can enter my room at nights, and screaming fans won't keep me awake. Personally, I am happy everywhere, as long as I am with friends," murmured the singer, whose first purchase for her new home was Marilyn Monroe's white piano for which she paid $662,500 in auction last year.

Discussing her much speculated upon love life, she insisted: "I have never been a promiscuous person, which has a lot to do with the things I saw growing up with people who behaved recklessly — and paid the price for it. I've had an amazing career for the past 12 years, but I still didn't enable me to be happy. It was miserable for me during my marriage because I couldn't be the woman I wanted to be.

Asking her if she has any plans to marry her current attachment, Luis Miguel, she pauses a moment before replying: "I don't think I was ready for marriage the first time. I think I had always had a fear of marriage because my parents divorced when I was so young. I never had a vision of what an ideal married couple, ideal mother/father relationship, was all about. But we have no marriage plans right now, because we are so busy with our careers. We do have similar interests away from the stage and recording studios. For one thing, we both love the sun. I get a sense of serenity from warm climates and water. Any excuse to get sun and sea, and explore new places with someone you care about. With Luis it's entirely different, but it's really difficult finding time for each other. We've been in 33 cities together since we met; that's life in entertainment world," she says in a matter of fact way which gives a clear impression she's not about to walk up the aisle again any time soon. "And if I was planning a wedding, I wouldn't be telling the press," she added sweetly, but rather hastily.