Actress Jenifer Lewis Speaks Out
While on her national book tour, the high-spirited entertainer shares some extremely personal tidbits
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Perhaps Lewis is best known for her film Jackie's Back, a movie that has reached cult status and chronicles the life and career of Lewis' character Jackie Washington, an R&B diva who decides to organize her own comeback concert the only way she knows how––her way.
Entertainment has been a part of Jenifer's life for most of her life, beginning with her singing a song in church when she was a very small child. In an excerpt from the book, she says: "My solo flowed from my five-year-old self with force and feeling so great the entire congregation of First Baptist Church in Kinloch, MIssouri, exploded in a standing ovation. I knocked them out doing my best imitation of the great gospel artist Dorothy Love Coates singing with the Gospel Harmonettes. In that moment, my destiny as a singer [entertainer] was sealed. Though we were there to praise God, I loved that I was getting some praise, too. I plugged my mouth with my thumb and stood there a bit cross-eyed. I felt steeped in love and secure in the knowledge that I was indeed a child of God."
After nearly 50 years in the business, Lewis considers herself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be an entertainer, a career that she cherishes because she loves to see people laugh. Looking back, show business, she says, has been easy for her, but not life in general. She has been through the proverbial storm and apparently has survived it. That challenging experience has prompted her to deliver one, life-changing message to anyone who will listen: "Love yourself so that love will not be a stranger when it comes."
"This is the way it is . . . there ain't no shame in my game."
ACTRESS/comedian/singer Jenifer Lewis is nothing if not a straight shooter, and she shared some straight talk with Chicagoans during her recent stops in the city to promote her book, The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir, which gives an intimate look at the journey that took her from St. Louis to fame while she navigated an undiagnosed mental illness and sex addiction along the way. "I was very ill in my 20s," she says. "I had bipolar disorder and I did not know it. So my drug of choice was sex. I went and got help––a lot of therapy––and I'm better. We are as sick as our secrets. I spent my life holding so much in, but now, baby, I tell it all!"
Telling it all means no-holds-barred honesty as she goes from city to city talking about the content in The Mother of Black Hollywood. During one of her promotional stops (above), Lewis, a co-star on TV's popular "Black-ish," engaged the crowd at WVON's "Speak Sistah Speak" at the DuSable Museum, where, at the same time, she had attendees laughing and choking with emotion as she told her gripping life story that took her from poverty to Hollywood royalty.
With one of the most recognizable and distinctive voices, and a piercing, infectious laugh, Lewis has established herself as one of the most admired and versatile entertainers in show business. She has crafted a career that includes 259 episodic television shows, 63 movies and four Broadway shows. That collection includes TV's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Murphy Brown," "In Living Color," "Friends," "Girlfriends," and movies such as Beaches, Sister Act, Poetic Justice, Juwanna Mann and Think Like A Man Too.
Photograph by Elyse Kennard