Focused On Urban Issues, Nightlife, & Kenny Smoov
*Actress Jenifer Lewis opens up about her battle with bipolar disorder in her memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood, excerpted exclusively in the current issue of PEOPLE.
“We are as sick as our secrets, so I tell everything,” says the 60-year-old singer and actress, who lived with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and a sex addiction through her 20s.
Lewis is revealing her journey to a happier, healthier life in her memoir, in which she writes that her sex addiction kicked in when she moved to New York City after college and found success in the several Broadway productions.
“Performing on Broadway was a rush,” she writes. “The applause coming over the footlights was like a tsunami in slow motion. The crash after the show, I assure you, is just as intense. Let’s just say that post show I had a sort of habit of sex serving as a nightcap. I was Cleopatra, Pam Grier, Marilyn Monroe, and Jezebel rolled into one. For me, nothing could extend the thrill of a standing ovation like great sex with a gorgeous guy.”
Her undiagnosed bipolar symptoms worsened as the years passed, and by 1989 she was heavily self-medicating with alcohol. Eventually, she sought help, and her therapist Rachel diagnosed her as having bipolar disorder.
“Had she said, ‘you’re crazy,’ I would have agreed. I had been crazy all my life,” she writes. “When she said, ‘mental illness,’ I thought, ‘b—-, you crazy.’ I associated mental illness with people who couldn’t function, with straitjackets. I certainly knew what a depressive mood was, but this other ‘manic’ part was new. When Rachel explained the details, I gasped. You mean, there is a name for describing why I talk fast and walk fast and rage, create drama, and speed when I drive a car? Compulsive, you say? The doodling, the braiding and unbraiding my hair? The arguing with people and storming off ? Kicking s—, throwing s—? Yeah, okay, I guess all of that describes me.”
Rachel also helped her come to terms with her sex addiction.
“Just as alcoholism isn’t really about the liquor, my addiction wasn’t really about the sex. It was about the unresolved psychological problems that caused me pain. Sex was simply my painkiller,” she writes.
At 50, Lewis decided to open up about her sex addiction and bipolar diagnosis in a one-woman show, Bipolar, Bath and Beyond.
The Black-ish star also details a one-night stand with Angelina Jolie’s father, actor Jon Voight.
In the chapter titled “A Doll Named ‘Killer,’” Lewis recalls performing at Studio 54 one year for an AIDS charity and catching Voight’s eye.
“We talked about being from families of hard workers,” she writes. “We stared into each other’s eyes and kissed. We went to his room on the 35th floor of the Essex House. I was spellbound by his sensitivity and kindness … Let’s just say he was a real ‘Midnight Cowboy.’”
Lewis shared with Page Six: “It was a beautiful night. Hansome carriage ride. We walked. And he was very sweet, he walked me home,” she said before digging into his political views. “Of course now he’s a Republican and goes with the NRA.”
She never wanted more from Voight, elaborating that she knew it was simply a one-night stand.
“That was just some young, part of the sex addiction, part of the drama of being in my 20s … It was ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ child, please. I went in!”
The “Black-ish” star also detailed an experience from her early 20s about the time she was able to convince her would-be rapist that she had an STD that he would contract if he tried to force sex on her.