Family

Before she became a Broadway great, Audra McDonald survived a suicide attempt.

Content warning: discussion of suicidal thoughts and actions.

Audra McDonald is one of the greatest performers of our time. Full stop.

A venerated actress, spellbinding singer, and consummate performer, McDonald is a six-time Tony Award winner, the most of any individual, and the only person to earn the coveted trophy in all four acting categories. To say nothing of her television and film roles and her resistance-ready Twitter account, this is a woman with some serious talent.

But like many great performers, McDonald's path to success wasn't easy.


McDonald, center, and the cast of "Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed" perform onstage during the Tony Awards. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions.

The Broadway great joined Alec Baldwin on his podcast, "Here's The Thing," to talk about her rise to fame and the detour that almost ended it all.

McDonald grew up in Fresno, California, and started college at Juilliard, a world-renowned performing arts school, in New York in 1988. She chose to study classical music and operatic singing, hoping to also take classes in dance and drama too, but soon learned her intense course of study wouldn't allow for it.

"I felt lost, completely lost," she told Baldwin.

Her lack of fulfillment coupled with the pressure of being the young woman from her hometown who was supposed to "make it" weighed heavily on her. One night, it was all too much.

In the winter of her third year, McDonald slit her wrists. She quickly called the Student Affairs Director, who helped get her to Gracie Square Hospital, a psychiatric facility in the city. She noticed a few other Juilliard students there too.

"I was [at the hospital] for a month," she said. "They evaluated me and said, 'You're not going any time soon.'"

McDonald took a year off school to recuperate and later took on a role in "The Secret Garden." She returned to Juilliard and graduated in 1993. The rest, as they say, is history ... and awards from the president.

McDonald received the 2015 National Medal of Arts in September 2016. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

McDonald's story reminds us depression is a monster that can be tamed, but not one that easily goes away.

Baldwin seemed surprised to learn of McDonald's depression, given the strength and confidence she has onstage. She credits that experience and her passion for art for helping her find joy and strength in dark moments.

"I realized I'm someone who suffers from depression but I learned in the years: A. how to deal with it, B. to find my joy, and C. to realize that like alcoholism, it's something you wake up every day and you say, 'Yeah that's still something I have to deal with.'"

McDonald and Neil Patrick Harris perform onstage at the Tony Awards. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions.

That's why she's so transparent about her experience with suicide and living with mental illness.

She speaks freely about that time now, knowing it could save someone else's life. "I'm open about it because I think I'm a case of 'it gets better,'" she said.

In a fitting epilogue, Gracie Square Hospital stands right next to the OB-GYN practice McDonald attended while pregnant with her now-10-month-old daughter. The full-circle moment wasn't lost on her.

"Every time I passed it, there was a part of me just, you know, waddling down the street pregnant as can be some 29 years later. I felt such relief and joy and a sense of 'Yes, I get the big picture now.'"

McDonald and Norm Lewis join the cast to take a bow during the curtain call at "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" on opening night. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

Depression, suicidal ideation, and other mental health concerns can affect anyone, at any time. But there is hope.

If you or someone you care about is having a difficult time, it's OK to ask for help from a trusted friend, teacher, counselor, or your doctor. In an emergency, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255. There is help. There is hope.

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less

Former President George W. Bush and current president Donald Trump may both be Republicans but they have contrasting views when it comes to immigration.

Trump has been one of the most anti-immigrant presidents of recent memory. His Administration separated undocumented families at the border, placed bans on travelers from majority-Muslim countries, and he's proudly proclaimed, "Our country is full."

George W. Bush's legacy on immigration is a bit more nuanced. He ended catch-and-release and called for heightened security at the U.S.-Mexico border, but he also championed an immigration bill that created a guest worker program and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

Unfortunately, that bill did not pass.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less

I saw this poster today and I was going to just let it go, but then I kept feeling tugged to say something.

Melanie Cholish/Facebook

While this poster is great to bring attention to the issue of child trafficking, it is a "shocking" picture of a young girl tied up. It has that dark gritty feeling. I picture her in a basement tied to a dripping pipe.

While that sounds awful, it's important to know that trafficking children in the US is not all of that. I can't say it never is—I don't know. What I do know is most young trafficked children aren't sitting in a basement tied up. They have families, and someone—usually in their family—is trafficking them.

Keep Reading Show less

Roland Pollard and his 4-year-old daughter Jayden have been doing cheer and tumbling stunts together since Jayden could walk. When you see videos of their skills, the level of commitment is apparent—as is the supportive relationship this daddy has with his daughter.

Pollard, a former competitive cheerleader and cheer coach, told In The Know that he didn't expect Jayden to catch on to her flying skills at age 3, but she did. He said he never pressures her to perform stunts and that she enjoys it. And as a viral video of Jayden almost falling during a stunt shows, excelling at a skill requires good teaching—something Pollard appears to have mastered.

Keep Reading Show less