She’s a world-famous actress who needs little introduction. But while her long-term relationship to one of Hollywood’s leading men kept gossip magazines in business for years, less is known about Angelina Jolie’s life before the spotlight found her. Because of this, recent revelations about just how low she sank in her darkest days came as a shock.
It is all the more surprising given how far Jolie has come since then. She famously is mom to a brood of six teenage (and younger) kids. What’s more the star, alongside tending to her family and taking on blockbuster movie roles, dedicates much of her time to humanitarian work.
Indeed, Jolie was appointed a Special Envoy to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in April 2012 following years of dedicated service. Three of her children – Maddox, Zahara and Pax – are adopted from orphanages in Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam respectively. Throughout her career, she seems to have been careful to balance time between her work and kids.
But today’s doting mother and aid worker in her 40s is a far cry from 20 or so years ago. Even Jolie herself admits that earlier in life, she struggled to find her way. She has recently said that a message to her younger self would be to take heart, as she would later find her purpose in being a mom.
Even before the talked-about beginning of her relationship to Brad Pitt (more of that to come), she was no stranger to controversy. Twice married before her relationship with Pitt, she walked up the aisle to first husband, English actor Jonny Lee Miller, in black leather pants and a shirt emblazoned with his name. It was written in blood.
Warming to this theme, Jolie was then to wear a vial of second husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck. The actor, who is almost exactly 20 years older than his ex-wife, told students during a talk recently that at the time it didn’t seem weird at all. “She thought it would be interesting and romantic,” he said.
Another significant other was girlfriend Jenny Shimizu, whom Jolie met while filming movie Foxfire in 1996. Jolie told Girlfriends magazine the next year, “I probably would have married Jenny Shimizu if I hadn’t married my husband.” When asked what it was like being a sex symbol for men and women, she replied, “It’s great, because I love men and women.”
Interestingly, in the same interview, she was informed that her then-husband, Miller, had been described as a British Brad Pitt – her future husband. When asked if she thought that was a fair assessment, she laughed and replied, “Really? I don’t know Brad Pitt, but that’s not how I treat him.”
Jolie’s life was never going to be ordinary. The daughter of actor John Voight and wife Marcheline Bertrand, the megastar was deeply affected by her parents’ divorce when she was very young. Perhaps because of this, she developed a very intense relationship with her brother. No stranger to controversy as we’ve seen, she kissed him full on the lips on the red carpet. It came after winning an Academy Award in 2000 for her part in Girl, Interrupted.
The gesture was somewhat misinterpreted. She later told People magazine, “It was disappointing that something so beautiful and pure could be turned into a circus.” But if that kiss got people talking, it was nothing compared with what was to come when she began a relationship with Hollywood golden boy Pitt.
The couple have always denied that they got together while he was still with his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston. Whatever the exact timings of the start of their romance, we know they met on the set of movie Mr and Mrs Smith while Aniston and Pitt were married. The movie was released in 2005, but in January of that year, Aniston and Pitt declared they were separating. He was seen on the beach in Kenya with Jolie and her adopted son within months.
One year later in January 2006 Jolie announced she and Pitt were expecting a baby. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt was born a few months later. While Pitt and Jolie were to stay together for the next ten years and share six children, she was never forgiven by those who rightly or wrongly accused her of breaking up the marriage of Aniston and Pitt.
Indeed, to this day, many hold out hope that Pitt, who officially divorced Jolie in April 2019, will get back together with Aniston. While this seems unfair given that Jolie and Pitt were in a relationship for longer than his former wife, it is perhaps testament to the fact that Jolie remains for some a controversial figure.
This cannot be due to a lack of good deeds on Jolie’s part. In her roles as Goodwill Ambassador and then Special Envoy to the UNHCR, spanning almost two decades, the actress has visited refugee camps and war zones across the world. Her mission is to raise awareness of the plight of the people she meets.
Jolie has also become involved in far-reaching conservation projects in Cambodia and Namibia, the countries where two of her children were born. In addition, the actress has fought for better legislation to protect at-risk children and women’s rights globally. She has self-funded her numerous humanitarian visits and donated six-figure sums to charity.
The actress has also experienced her share of hard times. Tragically, her mother died at the age of 56 from ovarian cancer. In 2013 Jolie herself underwent a double mastectomy after learning that she was highly at risk of developing breast cancer. Two years later, she also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer.
Of course, her separation from Pitt was obviously incredibly painful, too. Despite sharing three biological and three adopted children and being together for years, the couple said they wouldn’t tie the knot until legislation allowing gay marriage was passed in America. Eventually however, they got married at the French chateau they own in August 2014 before the laws were passed.
However, in September 2016 they decided to separate after only two years of wedlock; their divorce was finalized in April 2019. At the time, there were rumours of an altercation between Pitt and son Pax on a private jet, precipitating the decision. Jolie requested custody of their children in the divorce.
Certainly, she credits her children for helping through the recent difficult times in her life and giving her strength she might not have been able to muster on her own. She told The Sun newspaper, “The last few years have not been the easiest. I have had my ups and downs. I haven’t felt very strong.
Talking specifically about her family life with her children, she said, “We’ve all been a bit in lockdown. We all have our difficult times. Very similar to my character in the film [recent release Maleficent], my strength is from my children. I didn’t work, the kids needed me at home.”
It’s clear that Jolie sees her role as a mom as the most important one she plays. She added, “Anyone who is a parent knows there is a strength within you that grows when you just have to survive anything to be strong enough for them and you have to pull them through anything.”
All the above ties in with Jolie wanting to tell her younger self to hang in there, and that she’d find strength in being a mom. But what were the demons that the actress fought in her younger days? Stunningly beautiful and the daughter of successful Hollywood actors, on the surface she didn’t seem to want for much.
But from the start, her relationship with her father was troubled. Voight won a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Luke Martin in 1978 movie Coming Home. This was the same year he applied for divorce from Jolie’s mom, Bertrand. Jolie, who’d been born on June 4, 1975, was barely more than a baby.
The divorce was said to have been triggered by Voight’s infidelity. Partly due to this, and partly due to the physical distance between Jolie and her father growing up – she moved with her mom to New York, while her dad remained in L.A. – the two weren’t as close as they could have been.
Then in August 2002 Voight described Jolie as having “mental problems.” He added that she had “serious emotional problems that I have witnessed very closely.” In response, Jolie told TV show Access Hollywood, “I don’t want to make public the reasons for my bad relationship with my father.
She added, “I will only say that like every child, [James] and I would have loved to have had a warm and loving relationship with our dad. After all these years I have determined that it is not healthy for me to be around my father, especially as I am responsible for my own child.”
Following the announcement, Jolie didn’t talk to her father for six years. But it wasn’t just her relationship with her dad that had troubled the young Jolie. She has admitted herself to CBS News that she’s experienced some pretty wild times in her life. Indeed, she dubbed her youth “dark and dangerous.”
She told the TV news channel, “I went through heavier, darker times and I survived them. I didn’t die young. People can imagine that I did the most dangerous (things) and I did the worst… For many reasons, I shouldn’t be here.” One of these “dangerous things” was interpreted as being hard drugs.
Indeed, in a video released on the website of newspaper The National Enquirer, Jolie paces around the room apparently high on heroin. The video was filmed by her alleged drug dealer at the time, Franklin Meyer. According to Meyer, Jolie is on the phone to her father in the video – thought to have been taken in 1999.
In the clip, she certainly seems a million miles away from the glamorous actress we’re used to seeing gracing the red carpet. Her eyes look hollow, with smudged makeup, and her skin is greasy and pimpled. The actress’ famously luxuriant hair is bleached and scraped haphazardly back. She frantically paces the room as she talks.
As upsetting as the video is to watch, it wasn’t just drugs to which she might have been referring when talking about “dangerous times.” Cis Rundle was a friend of Jolie’s mom, and said that she helped bring her up. She has claimed that the star suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, for which she was even hospitalized at one point.
Rundle also claimed that Jolie self-harmed when she was a teenager. She told website RadarOnline, “She just liked that little bit of pain. She liked that edge. I carried her into the hospital. She was in that anorexic stage. It was one of her stages. She didn’t stay, it got worked out.”
Furthermore, in Andrew Morton’s biography of Jolie, he wrote of the teenager’s love of knives, with which he claimed she used to cut herself. He claimed that at the age of 14, her mom let her boyfriend live with her, so she could keep an eye on them. Jolie herself corroborated the story, and told Cosmopolitan magazine it stopped her being “reckless on the streets.” However, according to Morton, she and her boyfriend would use the knives to cut each other.
After battling so many demons from an early age, Jolie experienced a nervous breakdown at the age of 24. Playing the part of sociopath Lisa Rowe in a psychiatric hospital in Girl, Interrupted had no doubt been mentally straining for the actress. She starred opposite Winona Ryder in the 1999 movie, and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Nonetheless, the filming seemingly took its toll and Jolie said later that she had been glad to take on less emotionally intense roles immediately afterwards. Yet it had been two years earlier, when she was 22, that the actress had truly hit rock bottom; she had wanted to end her own life. However, she knew how much hurt this would cause her family.
Rather than killing herself, Jolie had decided to employ the services of a hitman to do it for her. That way, her thinking went, her family wouldn’t feel guilty. She told website The Internet Movie Database, “This is going to sound insane, but there was a time I was going to hire somebody to kill me.
“The person spoke very sweetly to me, he made me think about it for a month. And after a month other things changed in my life and I was surviving again.” She admitted that this episode had come at a “bleak” time in her life and as far as she was concerned at the time, it had been the only conceivable way out.
Jolie explained why, had the hitman not asked her to think about it, she would have gone ahead. “With suicide comes all the guilt of people around you thinking they could have done something. With somebody being murdered, nobody takes some kind of guilty responsibility.”
Thankfully, the foresight of the hitman averted a tragic loss of life. Nowadays, Jolie seems to be in a better place, with the help of her brood. The star has even reconciled with her father after years of acrimony. “Jon and I have gotten to know each other – through grandchildren now,” she told magazine The Hollywood Reporter in 2017.
In fact, Jolie is now so content with her life that if the rumours that Pitt and ex-wife Aniston have reconciled are correct, she reportedly was at peace with it. “Angelina doesn’t care about Jen and Brad’s reunion…she already knew they were friends and isn’t going to let it eat her,” a source told website Hollywood Life. “She’s moving on. She’s not going to let it sting.”