From the time he was 12 years old, Ricky Martin drove women wild. As a member of Latin American boy band Menudo, Ricky's youthful good looks sent teenage girls worldwide into hysterics.
As Ricky got older, his sexy voice, red-hot dance moves and chiseled good looks turned him into an international solo sensation. He sold out stadiums, gave one of the most explosive performances in television history at the 1999 Grammys and found himself surrounded with beautiful women on and off the stage.
To the world, it appeared Ricky was truly living la vida loca. In reality, he says he was living a lie. For years, Ricky declined to respond to rumors of his sexuality—until March 29, 2010. That day, Ricky came out on his website, saying: "I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am."
Now, Ricky is opening up about his decision to speak his truth in a new memoir, Me. In his first television interview since coming out, Ricky sits down with Oprah to reveal why he stayed silent about his sexuality for years and his decision to become a father.
Ricky says his 2-year-old twins, Valentino and Matteo, inspired him to tell the world he is a proud gay man. "I had to because I couldn't take it anymore," he says. "But who gave me that final push was definitely my children, because if I didn't come out for them, what was I going to be teaching them? How to lie? I don't want my family to be based on lies. I want to be transparent to them. I want them to be proud of their dad. I want them to be proud of themselves, of their family."
After writing that message and posting it, Ricky says he felt a rush of emotion. First he says he was numb, then relieved. "I was in my studio alone for a minute. My assistant walked in, and I just started crying like a little baby," he says. "He [grabbed] me in my arms. He goes: 'Let it go. Let it go. Finally you're free.'"
In that moment, Ricky says he felt liberated. "I felt that I could finally say, 'I love myself completely,'" he says. "It's very difficult because for many years I was trying to pretend I was somebody."
Ricky says he knew from a young age that he was gay. "I was 4, 5 years old and I felt this chemistry," he says. "The first day I went to school, when I came back, the first thing they asked me was: 'Do you have girlfriends already? How many girlfriends do you have?' ... I was like: 'What? I don't understand what you mean.'"
Ricky says he never felt he could be himself. "For many years, I was told that the way I was feeling was a mistake. I was told that what I was feeling, that my emotions, were evil," he says. "I would try to deny those emotions as much as I could. There was a moment in my life that I thought I was a really bad person, that I was not enough."
Ricky says his parents were always there for him.
When Ricky was 20, he says he fell in love with a man for the first time—and had his heart broken. "I was ready to give up my career," he says. "And he told me: 'I think your mission in life is very clear. You move masses of people. And I cannot be a burden to that. If something goes wrong between us, you're going to blame me for that.'"
Ricky was devastated. "I was sad and my mom asked me, 'Are you in love, my son?' And I said, 'Yes, Mom, I am in love,'" he says. "[She asked], 'Is it with a man?' [I said], 'Yes, Mom, it's with a man.'"
Then, Ricky says his mother embraced him. "[She said]: 'I love you. Don't worry,'" he says. "She told me everything's going to be fine."
As Ricky's mom held him, he says she began to cry. "She said: 'Oh, my God, what's going to happen to my child? What's going to happen to his career?'" he says. "Unfortunately, people [were] not ready back then, and unfortunately we're still dealing with this issue of homophobia."
Ricky says his dad also accepted him. "I have a really cool dad," he says.
Despite his parents' acceptance, Ricky says the pain of that breakup pushed him farther away from his truth. "[I thought]: 'Being heartbroken? I don't want to feel ever again. So you know what? I'm going to start going out with women because maybe this is telling me that this is not my path.'"
Ricky says he had passionate affairs with women—and even fell in love. "I felt with women and I felt amazing. I felt comfort. I felt passion and sexual. It felt good," he says. "I had long relationships with women. In fact, they are still my friends today."
Ricky attributes his chemistry while performing with women to his love of entertaining. "I just allow my thoughts and my feelings and the music [to] take over," he says. "Yes, we are sexual beings. Let's enjoy it. Let's have fun. This is me. When I'm onstage, I just feel it."
Although he had relationships with both men and women, Ricky says he is gay. "I am not bisexual," he says. "I am a gay man."
On March 26, 2000, Ricky's interview with Barbara Walters aired before the Oscars®. During the interview, Barbara said to Ricky: "You know, you could stop these rumors. You could say, as many artists have, 'Yes I am gay.' Or you could say, 'No, I am not.'"
Ricky responded: "For some reason, I just don't feel like it."
Though Ricky says he expected the question, he says it felt like Barbara wouldn't let it go. "I have a lot of respect for Barbara. She's an amazing journalist, and she was doing her job," he says. "I was feeling she was beating me up."
In that moment, Ricky says he felt punch-drunk. "Was I ready to tell the world who I was?" he says. "Maybe I didn't even know who I was."
After the interview, Ricky says he felt invaded. "I felt violated in many ways. But once again, it was not the first time I was asked this question in an interview," he says. "But this was a massive TV show, and then that gave the right to every journalist to ask."
Oprah: One of the things you say in Me is that the constant bombardment of the gay question actually pushed you further away from the truth.
Ricky: Because it was treated in a very scandalous way. And people were mocking my sexuality, and I was like: "I don't want to be that. Is that me? I totally want to reject myself. You know what? I think I hate myself." And that's where you go. Those are the thoughts where you go. That's why I must insist when someone is not ready, we must not try to force that person to come out. Right now we're dealing with people that are being bullied because they are gay, and now we're dealing with people that are committing suicide because they're forced to come out. And that is horrible. You're ready whenever you're ready. You have to go through a process. You have to go through a very spiritual process in order for you to accept yourself, and then it feels amazing when you do so.
The scrutiny and secrets had begun to take a toll on Ricky. "You just go to bed and you say, 'I hate myself.' And you just don't want to say that again," he says. "[I'd think]: 'Look at everything you've done with your family. With your charity. Look at all the love that you've given. How can you hate yourself?'"
To heal, Ricky stepped away from the spotlight. While working with his foundation in India, Ricky learned about the horrors of sex trafficking and founded the People for Children project to help defend exploited children around the world. Ten days after the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Ricky and his team arrived to assist in the humanitarian efforts and help ensure that human traffickers wouldn't take advantage of the devastation.
While in Thailand, Ricky met a baby who would change his life forever. A baby, nicknamed Baby Wave, was the last unclaimed orphan at a local hospital in Phuket. He was found abandoned in a park with a short note pinned to his blanket. "Please adopt this baby. I cannot afford to take care of him. His parents are missing because of the tsunami disaster at Patong. If you cannot adopt this baby, please take him to the orphanage adoption center."
Ricky writes in Me about meeting Baby Wave. "The first thing I thought was that I wanted to adopt him," he says. "Of course, given that he had become a national hero, that was not even an option."
After meeting Baby Wave, Ricky felt it was time to become a father. "I think I always wanted to be a father," he says. "I had a beautiful relationship with my dad and beautiful memories."
Ricky decided to use a surrogate. His used his sperm to fertilize eggs from an anonymous donor that were then implanted into a different surrogate mother. Neither the egg donor nor the surrogate knew that Ricky was the father. "There are open adoption and private adoptions. We can do the same thing in surrogacy," he says. "Some mothers who are carrying the babies prefer it that way. And my case was like that."
During the surrogate interview process, Ricky spoke on the phone to the woman who would eventually carry his children. "I said, 'Why do you do this?' And she said, 'Because I'm a very spiritual woman, and I've never felt closer to God than that moment where I can give the gift of life to someone that cannot do it on his own,'" he says. "'I said, 'You are the one.'"
On August 6, 2008, Ricky welcomed his twins, Valentino and Matteo, into the world. "Valentino is a very, very noble boy. He's always sharing and he puts others first," he says. "Matteo is a very outgoing kid. He's alpha. He takes care of his brother, but he takes initiative and he's very inquisitive and he loves books."
When the twins came home, Ricky says he did everything himself for seven weeks straight. "I'm a hands-on dad," he says. "I want them to be 15, 16 and say, 'Daddy, you were always there with us and for us.'"
Ricky says he's never away from the boys for more than two nights and says they'll travel with him on tour. "The three of us create a really cool, beautiful dynamic of love energy. That's what's important," he says. "And I've only accomplished that with my children, being a father."
Ricky says he's already thinking about what he'll tell the boys about their biological mother. "I'm going to tell them: 'You know what? I wanted you in my life so bad that with the help of God, everything lined up,'" he says. "'I think the family is based on love, and I love you. You love me. And that is the most important thing, and not every family's the same.'"
Ricky says he's also found love. "I am in a relationship right now," he says. "It feels amazing."
Ricky says love happens when you least expect it. "I was very happy the way I was, and all of a sudden they're there and they make you feel things," he says. "All I have to say is that he loves my children and my children love him, and it can't get better."
Ricky says his journey has taught him an important lesson about living in fear. "It's all in your head," he says. "You just have to get rid of fear and confront the world. Look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself, 'I love you and nothing will destroy you and you're not going to fall.'"
As he writes in his book: "Now I am ready to give myself exactly as I am to my public, to my family, to my friends and my lovers. I want my children to be able to read this book one day and understand the spiritual journey I had to experience to be able to accept the joy of being their father. I want to open my heart to them fully and absolutely so that in the future they will never be afraid to do the same."