In 2004, Charlize Theron became the target of envy for every woman in Hollywood when she was named the Best Actress at the 76th Academy Awards after her groundbreaking performance as the prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film ‘Monster.’ Theron is also an actress that can make any women in America jealous of her talent and natural beauty.
But one thing most people don’t envy about Charlize Theron is her tragic childhood, specifically, a certain incident that occurred in her youth that left her traumatized. And for a very understandable reason, too. The South African blonde beauty had to witness her own mother take the life of her father. Mind you, it was justified. Theron’s personal life story may have all the ingredients of a Hollywood drama – illness, abuse, and even murder – but sometimes the facts are crueler than fiction.
This is Charlize Theron’s story…
Illness Plagued Her Childhood
When you look at her today, you would think that Charlize Theron skated through life with her good looks and sense of class. But the first decade of her life anything but ideal. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Born August 7, 1975, her “early childhood was quite devastating,” the A-list actress revealed (to The Sun). “I had no teeth until I was 11.”
Well, she did have teeth, but they had to be removed on account of a long-term illness. That illness? Jaundice. “I had these fangs because I had jaundice when I was a kid, and I was put on so many antibiotics that my teeth rotted,” she explained. According to Theron, they had to cut her teeth out. “So, I never had milk teeth.”
Growing Up in South Africa
As you can imagine, this only made her school years even more difficult. Especially when it came to yearbook day. “That was tough, you know, being in school having photos taken while I was pretending I had teeth. It was hideous.” The poor girl. Theron also recalled what it was like growing up in South Africa.
At eight years old, her three most prized possessions were her pet goat, her ballet shoes, and her VHS cassette of the film ‘Splash,’ starring Tom Hanks. Theron admitted to having watched the tape so many times that the VHS’s ribbon tore and she had to fix it with Scotch tape (or as South Africans call it – Sellotape). For Theron, watching that movie was her escape.
When Dreams Come True
“There was this filthy duck pond on our farm that I would splash around in waiting for Tom to rescue me and show me Manhattan,” Charlize described of those early years. Around a decade later, in 1996, Theron’s dreams came true. None other than Tom Hanks gave her, her first big breakthrough in Hollywood when he cast her in the film ‘That Thing You Do.’
Recalling the audition, she said: “I remember after my first read, I thought I completely blew it. I didn’t know where I was or who I was…I had somehow forgotten to breathe. Tom just kindly looked at me, took a beat, and said ‘I’m sorry Charlize, would you mind giving me just five minutes?’”
Growing Up in a Conflicted Era
He told her he would be right back, “and then we’ll do that scene again.” We know now that he gave her a second chance, and she nailed it. From there, she was on her path to fame. But it was the absolute last thing she would ever have imagined given the life she endured in apartheid-era South Africa. Theron has opened up about growing up in that era, admitting that she was born with the “right” skin color.
She was born in Benoni, a town outside of Johannesburg, during the heart of the apartheid. In an interview with NPR, she explained that she grew up surrounded by different cultures when she was living on her parents’ farm.
The History They Were Told
Only once she was 12 or 13, when she started going to an art school in Johannesburg, did she “really get to witness firsthand the atrocities of apartheid.” She described how history was leaning very much “into our white history. The heroes of our story, of our founding fathers, were all white.” It was the story they were all told as kids.
Theron recalled being invited to sleepovers at friends’ houses, only for their parents to change their minds once they discovered black workers were living on her family’s farm. Theron says that she’s “blessed” to have been raised by a mother who was appalled by the others’ behavior and racism. Sadly, her life was made more comfortable because of the suffering of many people who were simply born in the “wrong” skin color.
Living With an Alcoholic
While living in an apartheid country and era was enough for a child to come to terms with, it turns out Theron’s outer world was only half the battle. Her internal life was filled with turmoil. According to his own daughter, Charles Jacobus Theron was a “tall, big-bellied man” who subjected both her and her mother to horrors after drinking too much.
While she says that he never physically abused her, her father was a “verbal abuser,” she recalled when she shared her memories of her father with ABC News. She recalled that he could be very serious, yet he loved to laugh as well and did enjoy life. But “He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic.” And it was his alcoholism that led to a life-changing event…
She Knew Something Bad Was Going to Happen
Her father’s alcoholism led to an incident in June 1991 that forever changed the lives of the Theron family. After a typical night of heavy drinking at his brother’s house, Charles and his brother went to the Theron home. When her aunt called ahead to warn that her and her mother, Gerda, that Charles was particularly agitated that night, Charlize expected the worst.
“Nature gives you instinct,” she later said of that night. “And I knew something bad was going to happen.” Theron has opened up about that fateful night back in the early 2000s, saying that she’s not ashamed about what happened. It was pretty brave for a woman of her celebrity to say (before the era of “Wokeness”) referring to her mother killing her father…
The Night of the Murder
On the night of June 21, 1991, when her father came home stumbling drunk and angry, Charlize was 15 years old and had just returned from boarding school. She was old enough to know that her parents were in a troubled marriage, but in South Africa at that time, divorce was simply not an option.
According to her mother’s later testimony, when he got home that night, Charles began shooting his gun, first at the home’s locked gate, and then through the kitchen door. “The terrible thing is that everybody in South Africa has a gun… That’s just the lifestyle there. And those things are handy; terrible things happen,” Theron said. It was then that her father started banging angrily on Charlize’s bedroom door.
“Charlize, I Shot Them”
According to the testimony, his words were: “Tonight I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun.” After this very blatant threat, Theron’s father fired his gun yet again — this time into her room. At that moment, her mother grabbed her own handgun and shot the two men. The shots ended up killing her husband and wounding her brother-in-law.
Theron’s later made a sworn statement to police, indicating that she emerged from her room and asked her mom: “What happened?” Her mother’s answer: “Charlize, I shot them… I shot them.” Her father was dead on the spot. But for the young teenager, it would take a long time for her to fully process what just happened.
Letting it Sink In
When the dust finally settled on the family shooting, Theron was able to grasp the fact that her mother had only acted out of love and protection of her child. “I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing.” Theron acknowledged that there was no doubt in her feelings about what her mother did.
But she admits that she was stunned. “I think, for me, it took a long time to sink in… because you just don’t think stuff like that will ever happen to you. You always think it happens to somebody else.” In the days following the murder, Gerda insisted that her teenage daughter leave and continue her life away from home.
It Was Legally Justified
In the aftermath of the family tragedy, Gerda told Charlize that she would face the investigation on her own. Several question marks hung over Gerda — was her version of the events true? Was she justified in using deadly force against her drunk husband? Well, according to South African law, the answer is yes.
In the end, Theron’s mother didn’t have to face prosecution. And that’s because the attorney general ruled that Gerda Theron acted in the act of defense of both herself and her daughter. She had no choice but to fatally wound her husband. Furthermore, just clipping him would have given him the chance to retaliate and potentially kill his whole family.
The Sacrifices She Made
It was during the police investigation and court decision that Gerda told her daughter to forget about the family home and go out into the world – to chase her dreams. “For her to say ‘Go, go make something of your life, go, go do something’ — that was an extremely brave thing for her to do,” Theron said of her mother.
“Those are the sacrifices, you know, that I think you do for your children, and she always did that. She always put me first.” But for many, many years, Theron ever disclosed just how her father died. In her early interviews, she claimed that he died in a car crash. In her eyes, she didn’t want to go into the reasons nor the event itself.
Like a Scar
But Theron has since come to terms with it and has been able to move on. Surely, that night and its repercussions have stayed with her ever since, and they will likely be with her until the end. Theron bears the scar of that night like a tattoo: “It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t rule my life.”
In an interesting and eerie turn of events, the Theron family home actually became the scene of another grisly murder 21 years later. According to a Daily Mail report, the new owner, Barry Newland, was tortured to death by a gang of five intruders. The horrible murder involved the victim being burned and suffocated.
Starting With Modeling
When Theron took her mother’s advice and headed out on her own, she eventually ventured to the United States. But acting wasn’t her dream line of work; it was another kind of performing that she had her heart set on. At 16, a year after the murder, she won a modeling contest and moved to Milan, Italy.
Even though she was modeling, she always thought of herself as a dancer. “I had the capability to be a bigger model than I was,” she admitted. According to Theron, they were always telling her: “Lose five pounds, and you’ll be a supermodel.” But the way she saw it, modeling was like waitressing — it was just a way to pay for another career. And that career was dance.
Her Body Had Other Plans
But sadly, her dream of making it as a professional dancer came crashing down in the very place she had hoped it would take off — in New York City. Theron was making ends meet, sleeping in a friend’s basement so that she could study at a nearby dance academy. The thing is her body had other plans.
She spent a winter in NYC, living in her friend’s windowless basement apartment. “I was broke, I was taking a class at the Joffrey Ballet, and my knees gave out.” She had to come to the devastating realization that she couldn’t dance anymore. And that’s when she went into a major depression.
Mama Knows Best
In the end, it was her mother who rescued her again, but this time in a less physical and life-saving way. Gerda was the one who steered the ship and sent her daughter on a course for Hollywood – while she was still back in South Africa. “Stop wallowing,” is what her mother told her after hearing about her knees.
“Figure it out. You like to tell stories, you like movies — try that.” as she normally did, Theron took the advice of her mother. Mama knows best, right? Theron then made the move from New York City to Los Angeles. But breaking into show business is tough, even when you look like Charlize Theron (believe it or not).
A Chance Encounter in Tinsletown
Let it be known that her first language isn’t even English. It’s actually Afrikaans, the West Germanic language spoken in South Africa. When she made the move to Tinsletown, she struggled to get an agent and started to regret her decision. But then a chance encounter in a bank ended up giving her the break she needed.
Theron explained to Indie London that her mother had sent her a cheque to help pay her rent. She went to cash it in a bank on Hollywood Boulevard. For whatever reason, the clerk refused to cash it, and Theron “just went nuts.” Her tantrum on that seemingly unlucky day turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
A Blessing in Disguise
After her shouting episode was over, a man handed her a business card and told her to get in touch with him. “I thought he was just another guy with bulls***,” Theron admitted. But the man turned out to be a talent manager by the name of John Crosby. She indeed got in touch with him and then introduced her to some casting agents.
Before long, the aspiring actress landed her first gig in 1995’s ‘Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest’ as Eli’s follower. The following year, she scored her first named credit, playing James Spader’s bombshell girlfriend Helga in the dark comedy ‘Two Days in the Valley.’ But even with her newfound luck, she never believed she would become one of the world’s most famous actresses.
Modest For a Reason
“I never thought that I would be particularly successful as an actress,” Theron revealed. “I just wanted to earn a living.” Charlize Theron has always come off as one of the more modest actresses in Hollywood. And seeing what she went through in her early life, it only makes sense that she has remained grounded.
Another reason for her down-to-earth personality might have something to do with the fact that she’s had a string of mental and physical health problems throughout her life. Her early battle with jaundice and teeth wasn’t the last health issue she had to deal with. Theron has long been a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What Keeps Her Awake at Night
“I have OCD, which is not fun,” Theron exposed on Australian radio show Kyle and Jackie O. “I have to be incredibly tidy and organized, or it messes with my mind and switches off on me.” Just like she has learned to be open about her past, she has also been candid about her mental health. She revealed that her OCD has kept her awake at night.
For instance, “cabinets being messy and people just shoving things in cabinets and closing the door” is something that will cause her to “literally lie in bed and not be able to sleep.” After years of being honest with herself and gaining perspective, she considers herself “very lucky” and doesn’t focus her life on her suffering.
After spending so much time trying to overcome her tragic history, Theron was sent back to the past in 2008…
Her Aunt Called Her Mother a Liar
In 2008, a South African true-crime writer by the name of Chris Karsten published a book called “Killer Women: Fatal South African Females.” One of the main cases was that of Theron’s mother, Gerda, whom he suggested wasn’t entirely truthful about the events that night. According to Karsten, Charlize Theron’s official police statement “mysteriously went missing” after the actress won her Academy Award in 2004.
Only after his own digging, did it come up. Apparently, his book infuriated Theron, particularly because it featured interviews with her family members who previously vowed to keep what happened between them. Her aunt, Elsa Malan, told Karsten that her late brother (Charles) was a “benign and mild-mannered man” who loved his wife and daughter and would never raise a hand to them, let alone a firearm.
From Her Mouth to His Ears
“We want to set the record straight,” Malan told Karsten. In her opinion, all the perceptions that Charles was a monster at home were hurtful to their family and anyone who knew him. She described him as a “dedicated family man.” She truly believed that his wife and daughter were the most important things in Charles Theron’s life.
She cast doubt on the claims that her brother drank too much, pointing the finger at Gerda as the problem in their marriage. Elsa described her sister-in-law as “testy and grumpy, and never hesitated to speak her mind.” Charles apparently knew when he overstepped the mark with her and would try to patch things up. As for his alcoholism, his sister said they all knew that he loved to drink, but she “never saw him drunk.”
An Unrecognizable Charlize Theron
For anyone who’s seen ‘Monster’ knows that one: the movie is intense, and two: Charlize Theron deserved the Oscar. Her role as Aileen Wuornos, the Florida prostitute-turned-killer, was the kind of role that leaves a lasting impression. And playing such a role takes a lot more than just gaining weight and shaving your eyebrows (mind you, that’s a difficult thing to do, too).
But Theron had to dig deep inside of her, and her past, to find the “killer” in her. Theron’s transformation was just astounding. She gained 30 pounds, wore brown contact lenses and a prosthetic overbite, dyed her hair a dingy blonde, and perfected Wuornos’ shoulder-rolling swagger when she says, “Don’t mess with me.” All in all, the stunner was unrecognizable.
Using Her Experience to Win the Oscar
According to Theron, “I think we can all relate to the things she goes through in the film, betrayal and the need to be loved, and the need to fit into society, and the need to just make life work.” The gap separating her and the real-life Wuornos is not as wide as many people may think, and it was her own tragedies that brought her closer to the character.
“I don’t know how to play other people’s emotions,” Theron disclosed. “I only know how to substitute my emotions. It’s how I was taught as an actor. I don’t know if I can do a movie unless I really do tap into something emotional with (the character).”
Acting is Her Therapy
For Theron, playing Wuornos was cathartic. She had to “turn on some lights in some very dark rooms.” In her eyes, acting is her therapy. First-time writer and director, Patty Jenkins, knew that she wanted Theron to play Wuornos. “Charlize was my first choice from Day One,” Jenkins said. “I wanted somebody who was brave enough and strong enough to do what was necessary to play her.”
I think it’s safe to say that she chose well. But with no distributor and a measly million-dollar budget, Jenkins didn’t know if she would be able to score the A-lister. A few weeks after casting began (where Kate Winslet and Brittany Murphy reportedly lined up), Jenkins needed to get a “no” from Charlize before she could choose anyone else.
She Understands Darkness
Interestingly enough, Jenkins didn’t even know about Theron’s past at the time. But she knew that Theron had something. “There are people who know darkness, and people who don’t,” Jenkins explained. “There aren’t a lot of actresses in Hollywood, I think, who have that in them.” Roger Ebert called Theron’s performance “one of the best in the history of the cinema.”
During her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Theron directly addressed her mother. While most actors tend to dedicate at least a part of their winning the statue to their loving and supportive parents, hardly any speak as literally as Theron did when she spoke of the sacrifices her mother had to make to get her to the United States and live the American Dream.
Using Trauma to Her Advantage
After establishing her name in Hollywood with her Oscar win, Theron was given another chance to make a movie that touched on subjects that important to her. She revisited her past again when making the film ‘Dark Places’ in 2015. The mystery thriller is based on the novel by writer Gillian Flynn (who wrote “Gone Girl”).
The movie wasn’t much of a success, but it was still a special project for the actress because she got to draw on real-life experience. She acknowledges that she had a very traumatic experience, “an event in my life, and somehow it’s formed me.” While the A-list actress has used her trauma in some of her more challenging roles, she doesn’t let it rule her life.
Enjoying her Life
“I have an incredible life!” Theron said. “I love my job. I have beautiful people around me. I’m in love with an incredible man. My career is beautiful.” Theron was married to actor Stuart Townsend (who was in ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’). The way she sees it, she won the lottery. Their marriage ended, however, recently.
Theron was asked in an interview if there was anything she would do if she was given a chance to go back into the past. She said there’s only one thing she would do: “I would force my parents to get a divorce. That would be it. The rest of it has been an incredible journey.”
Her journey has indeed been incredible, with some bumps along the way…
Ouch, That Must Have Hurt
In 2004, the same year she won the Oscar, Theron was nearly paralyzed when she performed a stunt for the sci-fi flop of a film, ‘Aeon Flux.’ She messed up and damaged a disc close to her spinal cord. She was trying to pull off a series of backflips when she lost her balance and landed on her neck. As a result, they had to shut down production for eight weeks.
Doctors worried that the injury would leave her with permanent limited mobility. Luckily, however, she fully recovered and is now cautious when it comes to any stunt work. She did cause permanent damage to her voice box, though, when she was filming the 2009 film, ‘The Road.’ She ruptured her vocal cords during the birth scene.
A Single Parent
After a decade-long relationship with Stuart Townsend came to an end, she dated long-time friend Sean Penn, but they didn’t last either. For Theron, the main man in her life is her son Jackson. Just because her love didn’t work out the way she wanted, it doesn’t mean she can’t be the best mother she can be.
She did admit to Elle Canada that nobody really aspires to be a single parent. Theron adopted both Jackson and her daughter, August. “When you adopt, you have to do it unconditionally. I threw myself into the adoption process because I was convinced that I could fulfill the role of mother and give my children all the love and attention they need.” All the power to this wonderful woman!
Fighting Domestic Violence
Recently, more than 50 female celebrities, including Reese Witherspoon and Salma Hayek joined Theron’s campaign to fight the violence against women during the coronavirus lockdowns. #TogetherForHer is an initiative that was launched in April 2020 by the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. In the last year, 243 million women and girls have experienced such abuse.
According to Theron, humanitarian crises like Covid-19 only make it worse. So she got more than 50 female role models from film, sports, fashion, and business to pledge money to the campaign. Donations will support women in up to 100 countries. Theron has a long history of advocating against domestic abuse. Ever since 2008, she served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a focus on ending violence on women.
Playing the Bombshell
The latest move that Theron starred in was 2019’s ‘Bombshell.’ She played the role of Megyn Kelly in the film. John Lithgow played the part of Roger Ailes. The film focuses on the real-life newscasters Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, as well as a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil. Kelly, one of Fox News’ most popular newscasters, is set to co-moderate the 2016 Republican debate.
But on the day of the debate, she gets sick, but still questions the president’s comments that he made about women. In retaliation, the president tweeted insults about her and made public comments on TV about her having blood come out of her eyes… and body. The film wasn’t so much of a success, but it surely ruffled some feathers.