Tatum O'Neal earned an Academy Award® for best supporting actress in Paper Moon, starring opposite her father, Hollywood leading man Ryan O'Neal. Only 10 years old, she became the youngest Oscar® winner.
But Tatum did not live a charmed life. Growing up, Tatum says few people realize that offscreen she and her brother Griffin had been shuttled back and forth between their mentally unstable mother and their father who Tatum says was volatile and unpredictable. Tatum claims they were living in a world full of drugs, neglect, and physical and mental abuse. By age 20, she says she was addicted to cocaine. And later, when her 10-year marriage to tennis star John McEnroe ended in an explosive divorce, she turned to heroin, eventually losing custody of her three children.
Now, at age 40, Tatum reveals the untold stories behind her notorious Hollywood life in her new book, A Paper Life. "I mean, I have to be honest about what happened in my life," says Tatum. "Now people know what happened to me. I didn't just fall off the side of the road and decide to do drugs and, you know, terrible things happened to me. Terrible. It's no joke."
After Paper Moon, Tatum O'Neal seemed to be the "It" girl, living what looked like a glamorous life as Hollywood's hottest child actor, with her handsome father always by her side. Tatum writes in the book, A Paper Life, "I remained [my father] Ryan's companion on the Hollywood party circuit, growing inured to sex and drugs before I was in my teens. A needy little girl, still haunted by neglect, I clung to him and even the women in his life. However, the more love I craved, the more distant and abusive he grew."
When her father began dating Hollywood's biggest sex symbol, Farrah Fawcett, Tatum says she found herself shut out and on her own at age 16. Tatum says she and Farrah have never come to terms with one another. "I just don't know how to communicate with her," says Tatum. "Like I don't know if she remembers, you know what I mean? Like I just don't know what planet she's on."
Tatum and her father Ryan O'Neal haven't spoken in years. He is reportedly in remission after battling leukemia. "I love my dad," says Tatum. "I would love nothing more than my dad to sit here and say, for him to have said, 'I'm sorry, Tatum.'"
Ryan O'Neal made this statement, "It is unfortunate that Tatum has chosen to write a book that depicts her life in such a negative manner. We are all responsible for our actions and must live with reminders of them daily, Tatum included. It is a sad day when malicious lies are told in order to become a bestseller. As a father, it is my hope that this book was written to serve as her therapy, and if this is what she needed to do to wake each day and live with herself, then I can only support her healing process, good, bad and ugly. It is now my hope that she get sober, so her perception of the future is nothing like her clouded memories of the past."
Tatum's reaction? "Well, I think that's not true," says Tatum. "First of all, the sober part is an insult, because I have and I am and that's unfortunate that he had to say that. That makes me angry."
John McEnroe was contacted regarding Tatum's book and sent this statement: "[I] continue to be very disappointed in Tatum's interpretation of my life and the lives of our children. I would hope that after all these years she would see things more accurately and that she would share my concern for the welfare of our children."
Tatum says that although her marriage to tennis superstar John McEnroe came to an end, they do continue to stay in touch for the children—however difficult it may be at times.
"We're divorced 10 years and it's still a long story because we're still deep into a psychic drama, he and I," Tatum says. "It's a very difficult communication, through our kids, you know, and God bless how well they've turned out."
After her divorce, when she was in her 30s, Tatum's drug use progressed to heroin. However, when her 7-year-old daughter walked into her bedroom and found a syringe, Tatum says she had hit "rock bottom."
"That's what happens when you're in the disease of addiction," says Tatum. "That's when you know that you need help and that's when I called John [McEnroe], and I said, 'You need to take the kids, and I need to get help.' … And it wasn't the first treatment and I went to many more after that."
Tatum says becoming sober was a struggle filled with guilt. "[I had] lots of conversations with [my daughter] and lots of heartaches and lots of shame and lots of regret. I think it's really hard for mothers to get sober and to get clean. It's very hard for us because we have a lot of shame. We have a lot of maternal guilt."
John McEnroe has custody of their three children, but Tatum says she gets to see her kids every weekend. She says that custody, to her, is more a matter of where the heart lies.
"They're very close to me," Tatum says, "I've never lost their desire to be with me or their love for me at all. … Of course, I'll always wish I could un-ring the bell and make their life growing up perfect."
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