6 of 11
Long before Mary hit R&B stardom with her debut album What's the 411? in 1992, music was a refuge from the pain of her troubled childhood. Raised by a single mother in a New York housing project, Mary says she was molested at the age of five. "That's a hurtful thing to feel like [the sexual abuse] was your fault," Mary says. Physical abuse also left its mark on Mary's life at a young age, she says. "It's a vicious cycle," Mary says. "You look at the way your mother is being treated and you think this is the way you're supposed to be treated."
Mary turned to drugs and alcohol early in life and struggled with addiction for years. The music industry's partying lifestyle accelerated her downward spiral. "No one was telling me the truth," Mary says. "I had someone say to me, 'Girl, it's okay to drink and be promiscuous.' ... It was a lot of me just not loving or respecting myself and not thinking I deserved anything better."
Mary says her turning point came in 2001. After the loss of a close friend, her grief was compounded by the death of fellow hip-hop star Aaliyah on August 25 and the 9/11 tragedy.