In the '90s, Shania Twain became a household name when her pop and country songs dominated the charts. She captured the attention of legendary music producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange in 1993, and the two collaborated to create Shania's album The Woman in Me—which sold more than 12 million copies and turned Shania into the best-selling female country artist of all time.
Shania's personal life was also on the rise. After a six-month whirlwind romance, she and Mutt married. Shortly after their wedding, the couple got back into the studio to record Shania's album, Come on Over. It became the best-selling album by a female artist ever.
Then in 2002, at the height of her career and with five Grammys under her belt, Shania walked away from it all. She and Mutt moved into a Swiss château to live a quiet life with their young son, Eja. Unfortunately, wealth and fame couldn't shelter Shania from pain in the public eye. Six years later, she made headlines when her 14-year marriage fell apart and she says she discovered Mutt was having an affair with her closest friend.
Today, in her first television interview in more than five years, Shania opens up about the secrets of her past, the betrayal and the crisis that caused her to literally lose her voice.
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Shania had a tumultuous childhood. Her mother and stepfather struggled to pay the bills, and the family was often left with little food to eat and not enough heat in their home. It was Shania's mother who pushed her into singing gigs, seeing it as a way for the family to earn money. "I think she really did see something genuine there, but she grabbed onto it as though it was a lifeline for her," Shania says.
Even more difficult than her family's financial troubles was the violence Shania witnessed at home. Shania loved her stepfather, who adopted her and her sisters when they were very young, but she says he was abusive and beat her mother. "When you're little, you don't even really know what's going to happen. You just know it's really bad," she says. "The house is shaking, and there's pounding and yelling and screaming and crying, and you don't even know what's happening. You just wait for it to be over like a bad thunderstorm."
Shania says she remembers the first time she witnessed violence between her mother and stepfather: She was just 4 years old, and she watched as her father dunked her mother's head repeatedly into the toilet. "My father had her by the hair, and she just really looked dead to me," Shania says. "I was screaming because I thought she died. I thought I lost my mother at that moment. Now, you relive that all—every time there's a violent episode, now you're going to relive that fear."
Since Shania was just a child, she says she would often go and hide when the violence started. By the time she turned 10, she started to fight back—attempting to attack her stepfather. "Anger started to take over from all of the other emotions that I would feel," she says. Shania says her stepfather was so startled the first time she hit him that he hit her back, and she says she "learned very quickly to run away fast."
Despite the abuse she witnessed at home, Shania says she did love her stepfather. "My father was a beautiful man. He took us children in as his own. There were three of us girls, and he gave us so much. He worked hard for us, he took care of us the best he could. He always had a great sense of humor, he taught us to laugh, he taught us to carry on...he was proud of my singing. He was just a great guy. Everybody loved him," she says. "You have to learn to live with the good and the bad. [The bad] was extreme, I know. But as a child, you naturally cling to the good."
Tragically, when Shania was 22, her parents were killed in a car crash—turning Shania and her siblings' lives upside down. "I was an 8-to-10-hour car ride away," Shania says. "They explained to me on the phone that they were dead."
Strangely enough, Shania says she had a premonition that it was going to happen. Months before the accident, Shania dreamed her mother died and told her she was going to have to take care of things. "It was weird," she says. "Maybe it was my own sense of the responsibility that I'd always taken in the family anyway."
After her parents tragic death, Shania was left to take care of her brother and two sisters. She says she kept up her singing gigs because she wanted to make enough money to provide for her family—but she wasn't trying to be a star. She says she instead thought she'd make a great backup singer.
"That was my reality," Shania says. "Coming from where I came from, it was unimaginable to ever be wealthy. That was just too far out of my reach."
Growing up in poverty and watching her mother being abused, Shania says her goals were relative to where she was in life. "You learn to accept your own reality and what that is," she says. "You dream more realistically." Little did she know that her "realistic dreams" would soon lead to fame and fortune.
In the years that followed, Shania skyrocketed to success with her albums The Woman in Me and Come on Over, which became the best-selling album of all time by a female artist. She went on to win five Grammy Awards, and is one of the first country artists to successfully cross over to pop music.
By 2008, Shania appeared to be leading a fairy-tale life with her husband, Mutt, and their young son. In reality, she was struggling to keep it together. Shania says that she and Mutt were both workaholics, and as a result, they spent a lot of time a part. "I was very lonely, to be honest," she says.
Her closest friend and confidant at the time was her assistant Marie-Anne. "I asked Marie-Anne, 'Don't you think that my husband is acting strange?' And she said, 'No, I don't see anything strange. I think he's fine,'" Shania says. "All Marie-Anne did through the whole thing was comfort me, telling me that everything's fine, and I believed her, and I accepted it as being genuine."
Mutt eventually asked Shania for a divorce, and the very next day she heard some painful news: Mutt and Marie-Anne were allegedly having an affair. "I did discover the affair with my wife and Mutt in a quite concrete way," says Fred, Marie-Anne's ex-husband, "and I said, 'Guys, now you have to tell [Shania]. This is ridiculous. You just owe her that.' And they didn't want to do it. So I had to tell her."
Heartbroken, Shania says she became an emotional mess. "There were days when I really just was like, 'You know, I just don't even really care if tomorrow comes,'" Shania says. "I was just so miserable. So miserable. Never been so miserable in my whole life."
Despite her pain, Shania says she wanted the details. "Through my experience with my parents dying, the accident, for example, I was responsible for dealing with the lawyers and the insurance companies, and I had to know all the awful details—how they died, every mark on their body," she says. "It was hard at the moment, but I was able to then work through what I knew, and then in the end, I could come to understand it. By not understanding and knowing the details, your imagination is left to run wild."
Shania says she never did get the details she wanted. She says she tried phoning Marie-Anne, but she didn't respond. Shania eventually wrote Marie-Anne a letter—pleading with her to leave her family alone. In her book From This Moment On, Shania shares the letter word for word. Part of it says, "Find love somewhere else, from someone else that isn't hurting two families so much. All of us have to suffer for the two of you. It just isn't right."
Shania says the challenge wasn't in sending the letter to Marie-Anne; the challenge was putting it in the book and sharing it with the world. "Suffering does not discriminate. No one is above this type of low," she says.
Shania says she doesn't hold her husband responsible for the breakdown of her marriage because she says she also played a role. But Shania says she can't say the same for Marie-Anne. "The fact that the marriage broke down is nobody's fault. That is just a mutual breakdown of communication between two people," she says. "That is not the case with Marie-Anne. She was my friend. As far as I knew, everything was great."
Even though Shania says she'll always be sad about the way her marriage ended, she has been able to move on.
To this day, Mutt and Marie-Anne have never admitted to infidelity. Since Shania and Mutt share a child together, she still sees Mutt, but she refuses to see Marie-Anne. "It's a trigger. I think it's healthy to avoid certain triggers when you can't change them," Shania says. "I can't change who she is, so I'd rather just not have her in my life and avoid that."
With her marriage over and her confidence shattered, Shania lost her ability to perform. On top of that, she started to slowly and progressively lose her voice. "It's not like I lost it overnight when I lost my marriage," she says. "When my marriage fell apart, that paritcular crisis was almost the straw that broke the camel's back of something that had already been building."
A doctor told Shania that her vocal chords were fine but diagnosed her with dysphonia—a condition in which the muscles squeeze the voice box, making it difficult to swallow and, in Shania's case, sing.
Shania attributes her voice closing up to the fears she's been living with her whole life. "Stage fright, domestic violence in the home as a child, my parents dying, not knowing what's next—just all of these different stages of fear in my life," she says. "I've just trapped my own voice, and now I've got to unwind all that."
Shania hasn't performed for an audience in nearly five years, but she says she hopes to put an end to that some day. "Life unravels the way it does, and it has an effect on you, but you have to take responsibility for dealing with it," she says. "So that's what this is about. I'm not happy not singing. I want to sing."
After her marriage fell apart, Shania turned to the one person she thought could understand: Marie-Anne's ex-husband, Fred. Shania says she and Fred had always had a distant friendship, but that all changed after they learned about the betrayal. "The person to comfort me was Fred because he's been through the exact same thing," Shania says. "Fred was safe. So it was really a beautiful and perfect friendship."
Over time, Fred and Shania's shared pain evolved into something more. "He was Marie-Anne's husband. That's twisted, if you really think about it. But just so beautifully twisted," Shania says. On January 1, 2011, Fred and Shania married on a beach in Puerto Rico.
"I really can't complain. I've got a beautiful man; I have everything I could ever want in life," Shania says.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, March 12, 2014