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Beating the Odds

Aired January 26, 2003 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a Connie Chung special.
Supermodel Niki Taylor was on top of the fashion world, but it all came to a screeching halt in a near-fatal car crash.


NIKI TAYLOR, SUPERMODEL: I remember the, you know, surgeons saying that they were holding, like, my liver in both hands.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Niki Taylor in a rare TV interview, tells Connie how she's battled back.

Singer/songwriter Carnie Wilson. Her weight was all-consuming.


CARNIE WILSON, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Food was my savior for a long time, but it became my enemy, and what was going to kill me if I didn't get control.


ANNOUNCER: So she went under the knife to lose over 150 pounds.


WILSON: It was a scary thing, because obviously I could have died on the table.


ANNOUNCER: The inspirational story, Carnie.

Hemingway. The family name; the family tragedies.


MARIEL HEMINGWAY, ACTRESS: The Hemingway curse and suicide, and this, that and the other thing -- that's not my life. I know the genetic makeup of my family.


ANNOUNCER: Mariel Hemingway, stardom, tragedy and triumph.

Tonight, true stories of women beating the odds. From the CNN broadcast center in New York, Connie Chung.

CONNIE CHUNG, HOST: Good evening. Tonight, a special look at three people who had to face problems you and I might have, but they went to the edge. How they survived is really quite extraordinary. I just think women have a special strength; these women in particular.

We begin with Niki Taylor. The young supermodel not only survived a life-threatening ordeal, she came back, full force. On April 29, 2001, Niki almost died as a passenger in a car that slammed into a telephone pole. Now, the 27-year-old has her life back, and her career back, and much more ahead of her. As you'll see in this rare, on camera interview since her accident, Niki Taylor did it all by beating the odds.


NIKI TAYLOR, MODEL: I blacked out and a few months later I woke up in the hospital.

I had flatlined, I think, twice and they had to me back. Yes.

CHUNG (voice-over): It's hard to believe that Niki Taylor died, twice. Over the years, we've come to know her as the vivacious, athletic, supermodel. Strutting down the runway for every major designer. Gracing more than 250 major magazine covers, an unprecedented six covers on the newsstand in one month. She was the youngest "Vogue" cover model and the youngest cosmetics spokesmodel. Cover Girl reportedly paid her $6 million a year.

For Taylor it was a dream that started at 13, when this sun- kissed Florida teen was discovered by a local talent agent. Her close-knit family, mother, father and two sisters supported her every move. Her father, a highway patrol officer even quit his job so he and his wife could chaperone Niki through the fast-track world of modeling.

And it was a fast ride to stardom for Niki, but it all almost ended two years ago.

TAYLOR: I remember the night that I did get into the accident and getting out of the car and my stomach hurting really bad.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, we're on the way. Let me ask you this, is the person still inside?


CHUNG: Niki didn't appear from the outside to be seriously injured. But internally, she was in trouble.

TAYLOR: I was pretty much in and out. I was under a lot and it seemed like 40-something surgeries.

CHUNG (on camera): Forty-some surgeries.

TAYLOR: Yes. My liver was cut in half, so, you know, they had to -- they pretty much -- I remember the surgeon saying that they were holding my liver in both hands and it was like, no way. It was -- yes. And still when I did wake up I wasn't sure what had happened.

CHUNG: You thought you had only been asleep for only four or five days.

TAYLOR: Yes. I did. It was unbelievable.

CHUNG: And yet, it was months.

TAYLOR: Yes, it was. Months. When I woke up the nurse was in there and she's like, Do you know what day it is? And I was like, I don't know. Friday? No idea.

She's like, do you know how long you've been here? And I was like, Four or five days. And she's like, Try two months.

And I'm like, No way. What happened? And, you know, I'm looking down and all these bandages and stitches -- yes. And so -- yes. Everyone had to tell me what happened. Very scary.

CHUNG: Sure, it was scary.

TAYLOR: Yes. It was a very long road, you know? Just having to do everything again. Learn how to walk, learn how to move your arms. I am so grateful that I'm not in a wheelchair and that I can walk and just -- it's amazing.

CHUNG: You seem so gentle. You know, almost fragile and I'm thinking to myself where did you get the strength?

TAYLOR: I -- you know what? I have a great support system. My family, my boys and my mom and dad, my sister and just my friends, everybody.

I think there was a lot of prayers being -- you know, said for me and I appreciate all that. And just everyone who prayed for me, all just very positive energy.

CHUNG: Niki, how did you get through 40-some operations? I mean, I cannot imagine going back -- you know? Time and time again.

TAYLOR: Time and time again. Yes.

CHUNG: You have some core inner strength.

TAYLOR: I guess God wasn't ready for me. I'm not done here on Earth. There is something for me to do here.

CHUNG (voice-over): That something is to take care of her 8- year-old twin sons as a single mother. They gave her the strength to survive.

TAYLOR: My boys are amazing. They -- they're a big part of keeping me going. They're like my little helpers. They're just, you know, such gentlemen and then such boy all at the same time. It's really great.

MARC ANTHONY, SINGER: Ladies and gentlemen, Niki Taylor.

CHUNG: Her public comeback began with this extraordinary walk across the stage at the VH-1 Vogue Fashion awards. Less than six months after her near-fatal accident, the supermodel who had bounded down so many runways, teetering in high heels was tentative.

TAYLOR: I was really worried. I didn't want to trip on my dress or fall and I got a standing ovation and it was just like, I know my face turn bright red. It was like, wow. This is cool.

CHUNG (on camera): Was it exhilarating to know that you had so much support out there?

TAYLOR: Yes. Yes. It was very cool.

CHUNG (voice-over): And supermodel Niki Taylor was back. The following February, she was back on the newsstand posing for her first cover since the accident.

TAYLOR: Just starting back slowly. The two years I took off was to pretty much recover from the accident, and just everyday, just getting stronger and stocker.

CHUNG (on camera): How did it feel going back to work?

TAYLOR: It felt great, you know? I pretty much felt like I died because I'd been working since I was 13, for so long and get use to going somewhere and doing something. So I miss trade lot and it's good to be back. Now.

CHUNG: Now are you able to just about do everything that you used to be able to do?

TAYLOR: Not everything. I used to be like a real daredevil and bungee jumping and skydiving. Roller coasters and going on rides with all of the kids and you know, now they're line, take it easy and I have two rods and six pins in my back so they're like...

CHUNG: Two rods and six pins.

TAYLOR: Yes. I'm getting my balance back, but you know, just slowly. But I think everyday, I'm getting more stronger and I practice yoga which is really good for the back and you know, just every day.

CHUNG (voice-over): Now every day means trying new things. A music video star.

TAYLOR: There's something different. Something I hadn't done before.

CHUNG (on camera): Is there a rock star screaming to get out of you?

TAYLOR: Yes, I think there's rock star, punk rock, there's everything.

CHUNG: What kind of person do you think you are? Are you a positive person, negative person with a glass half full or half empty?

TAYLOR: Definitely half full. Very positive. It's all a learning lesson, I think and it's there to make you stronger, you know? If you're not going through something you're not learning.

CHUNG (voice-over): And Niki should know, before the accident she had faced other challenges. Her marriage to football player Matt Martinez fell apart. They divorced after two years. Then in the middle of that, her 17-year-old sister suddenly died of an undiagnosed heart problem. She and Krissy were close. Modeling together, walking the catwalk together.

TAYLOR: It's been very hard. Very hard. It still is, every day. You never forget stuff like that.

CHUNG (on camera): How did you get through that?

TAYLOR: Basically, a lot of praying. Really, I didn't handle it all that well, I don't think. It was just a very difficult time.

But, you know, I'm here and I don't want sympathy, I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I just -- I want people to, you know, when it does get real bad and I'm sure there's other people who have been through a lot worse than what I have, just to hang in there.

CHUNG: Have all of these really tough times for you have they change your view about life?

TAYLOR: I'm always trying to live each day to its fullest, not like it's my last, but, you know to the best that I can.

CHUNG (voice-over): Today, Niki's moving forward, as she always has down the runways. Strengthened by the knowledge of how fleeting life is. On her arms, tattoos in memory of her sister. One in Latin, "In Love Conquers All."

For this breathtaking beauty, a love for her sons, for the life she almost lost and for the future she so cherishes.

TAYLOR: I'm not done here. I'll see what the day brings me and then there's tomorrow, you know? God willing. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHUNG: Niki Taylor's tomorrow may bring a new book from her, and she's pursuing an acting career.

When we come back, another familiar face, but a lot less familiar looking these days. You're going to say, is that really Carnie Wilson? Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Next, they wouldn't shoot her from the waist down because of her weight.


WILSON: It was hard, because I was fat and they were thin, and it was like, I remember, you know, the guys not looking at me.


ANNOUNCER: The turnaround of Carnie Wilson.


WILSON: It's all about faith. I think success is faith.


ANNOUNCER: When the Connie Chung special, "Beating the Odds," returns.


CHUNG: Carnie Wilson was part of the hit singing group Wilson Phillips. Even Carnie will tell you she stood out in the group, because of her weight. At one point, the 5 foot, 3-inch singer went up to 300 pounds. She was so heavy her life was in danger. Three- and-a-half years ago, she did something about it, something that worked.

And when I met her, I was blown away by her transformation. I found out exactly how she got her life back and beat the odds.


WILSON: I was on a mission for sugar. I just had to have sugar. I wanted sugar. It was the one thing that made me feel good.

CHUNG (voice-over): Carnie Wilson then.

WILSON: I can have two bites of something I love and enjoy it and savor every minute of it and say, you know what? I'm done. And the fact that I can do that is the most empowering thing.

CHUNG: Carnie Wilson now, a weight loss warrior winning the battle against food. Over the past 3 1/2 years, we've watched her transform. Her husband, Rob, likens it to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The before-and-after pictures tell it all, a victory in a war that started when she was young, really young.

WILSON: I can remember kindergarten. I remember a little boy, Brandon (ph). And he was really mean. He was on my case a lot. And I thought, well, gosh, I know that I'm a little bigger than the other kids, but I didn't feel different.

CHUNG (on camera): Was there anyone else in your family who was fat?

WILSON: Yes. I have a lot of members of my family. Both my grandmothers were overweight. My father has been overweight and battles it. My mother battles 30, 40 pounds. And I was taught to clean my plate, eat it all, eat more, more and more, eating more is great, and eat out of emotion.

Food was my savior for a long time, but it became my enemy and what was going to kill me if I didn't get control.

CHUNG (voice-over): Since the day she was born, Carnie was close to her father, Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys. But his life on the road had a profound impact on Carnie. In a family where food was love, eating became a way to fill the void. By third grade, Carnie weighed 110 pounds.

(on camera): You tried several times, didn't you, to lose weight?

WILSON: I've been dieting since I was 6.


WILSON: Six years old. I was at Weight Watchers camps. I was doing Lindora. I was doing the Beverly Hills diet, Dexatrim, and high-protein, low-protein, and high-fat, low-fat, everything. And it was constant failure.

And I think what happens is, when you get locked into that diet routine, your spirit just crumbles, because you are constantly failing. I was in denial about it, because, at one point, I thought, OK, you know what? I give up. I'm meant to be this way.

CHUNG: Right. Well, what's wrong with that?

WILSON: Well, my body started to fall apart.

CHUNG: Literally?

WILSON: Literally.

CHUNG: What happened?

WILSON: Well, I was 31. And I started to choke in my sleep. I couldn't breathe anymore. The fat is closing your airways. You can't breathe.

I would wake up choking and my heart was racing. And I knew something was very wrong. I had never -- I always was a good sleeper, eight hours, you know, on my belly, sleeping away. And, all of the sudden, I would wake up and I would cough and my heart was racing. And this raises your blood pressure.

CHUNG: Sure.

WILSON: And you're deprived of oxygen. You are tired during the day. It's horrible.

That was the main thing that scared the daylights out of me. And, also, my cholesterol was going up. My blood pressure was high. I think I would have been diabetic within a couple of months.

CHUNG (voice-over): Yet Wilson's career was at an all-time high. The group she had formed with her sister Wendy and childhood friend Chynna Phillips was a hit. On stage, a brave face; behind the scenes, a painful life.

(on camera): You called the three of you two sticks and a fat girl. I mean, I can't imagine your actually saying that.

WILSON: It was hard back then. It was hard, because I was fat and they were thin. And it was like, I remember the guys not looking at me. The guys looked at them. And that made me sad.

CHUNG: When you were making those videos, they actually tried to hide you, didn't they, put you behind pianos?

WILSON: It was always: How do we hide Carnie? Chynna, you stand here. Wendy, you stand here. Right, I'm in front. Carnie, you stand behind them. Turn to the side. Turn one-eighth degree this way. OK, there, stop. OK, perfect. Can't see the chins.

It was really...

CHUNG: That had to be debilitating.

WILSON: Oh, it was horrible. It was horrible. It was like torture. And, mentally, I just -- I didn't know -- I just felt very lost.

CHUNG: How did you deal with it?

WILSON: I would be the first one to poke fun before you would. But I would also eat. And I would smoke marijuana. And I would numb out.

CHUNG (voice-over): The pounds piled on. Pop stardom was hard for all the girls to deal with. After their second album, Wilson Phillips broke up.

Carnie hit rock bottom, as her weight peaked at 300 pounds. She was now morbidly obese, a life-threatening medical condition. She could barely walk, had developed asthma. And half her face was paralyzed from Bell's palsy. WILSON: I think that was a way of God saying: Stop. Freeze frame, literally, and look at your life. Look at what you're doing to yourself. Look at what you're denying yourself.

CHUNG (on camera): A life.


CHUNG (voice-over): Carnie made the drastic decision to have gastric-bypass surgery. Doctors stapled her stomach down to the size of her thumb. It would stretch to the size of a lemon. She had lived her life publicly and decided the surgery wouldn't be the exception. It was televised live on the Internet. An estimated 2.5 million people watched.

WILSON: It was a scary thing. It was a scary thing, because, obviously, I could have died on the table. I mean, I took a risk.

CHUNG (on camera): And the risks were great, weren't they?

WILSON: The risks of being morbidly obese are way worse than the risks of surgery. There was a possible risk for infection, a leakage, a bowel leakage. But I had the best surgeon. I knew that I was in good hands.

CHUNG: Did you realize that you were going to have to alter your entire way of eating and your lifestyle?

WILSON: Absolutely.

When people stop me on the street and they say, oh, God I want to do that surgery, too, the first thing I ask them is, are you ready to change your lifestyle? And they go, well, what do you mean? I'm going to have the surgery and it is going to be great. I'm going to have a small stomach and I'm going to eat less and I'm going to lose weight and it is going to be great.

And I say, well, yes, that will happen. But are you willing to commit to your health? Because you have to take vitamins every day. And you have to drink more water. And you have to keep up your exercise. And you can't snack.

CHUNG: When I read about what you have to do, I feel as if you're really depriving yourself.

WILSON: I have never felt deprived. I eat everything. I focus on protein. When I sit down to have breakfast -- like today, the hotel, I was going to do this interview with you. I said I'm going to have a nice healthy breakfast. I ordered an omelet with American cheese and mushrooms. I ate half the omelet and three bites of fruit, two cups of coffee, two little cups of coffee.

I was full and satisfied, totally full and satisfied.

CHUNG (voice-over): It's not just how she eats, but what she eats. Too much sugar or fried food and Carnie feels rotten. WILSON: You feel awful. You lay down. Your nose is running. Your heart is beating. You're nauseous. You feel anxious, like you have the flu. You're tired. You might fall asleep for a half-hour. This is called dumping. And this is something I prayed for. I prayed for it to happen, because this is the way that I don't eat bad food.

CHUNG: She's lost 155 pounds and still wants to lose 15 more. But, with her war against food under control, just this summer, Carnie faced some new enemies, believe it or not, her new body.

WILSON: I would say about 50 percent of gastric-bypass patients have excess skin removed. You're losing weight very quickly. So, chances are you are going to have some hanging skin.

CHUNG (on camera): You literally mean hanging skin.

WILSON: Hanging. Hanging. Oh, yes, like lay in the bathtub and watch it float to the top and play with it, like you're playing with Jello.

CHUNG: Oh, no.

WILSON: Oh, yes. It was intense. Actually, It was vile. It was vile. That was so weird to me, it was -- it was like a mental thing, like, this was filled once and now it's wrinkly. And it made me feel old. I would look in the mirror and I would be like, my stomach looks like a 90-year-old woman.

I had a tummy tuck, yes, and a breast lift. And it was the best thing I ever did. It was like shedding the skin, you know? It was like just emerging out of that old skin.

CHUNG (voice-over): With Carnie throughout it all, her husband of 2 1/2 years, musician Rob Bonfiglio. They met five months before her surgery, when Carnie's weight was at an all-time high.

(on camera): Some people say husbands become more insecure when their wives are looking really good and other men are staring at them. Did this happen to your husband?

WILSON: I don't think it did. I kind of like it when he notices a man looking at me, because he kind of grabs my hand a little tighter. I kind of like that.

CHUNG: Is there anything about the new Carnie Wilson that, actually, you don't like?

WILSON: Yes. I still have issues with self-esteem and being self-critical, still. And it's weird, because, sometimes, if I'm looking in the mirror getting dressed, I still think, wow, I really look so different. I must be different. I must be something else now. But I'm not.

CHUNG (voice-over): She's the same Carnie, but with more energy. She's thinking about having children, while, at the same time, recording a new album with Wilson Phillips and writing a book and lecturing across the country.

WILSON: What I've learned is that you're not going to get anywhere unless you put the effort into it. Whatever you give, you'll get. And I was thinking, there are people that work really hard and don't get that promotion. And they work really hard to get pregnant and they can't get pregnant.

But you're going to fill yourself up in other ways. There's always ways -- there are ways to help yourself. And you've got to be positive in life, you know?

CHUNG (on camera): Oh, yes.

WILSON: You just have to.

CHUNG: You are so right.

WILSON: You have to believe.

CHUNG: All I have to do is call you up.


WILSON: A little pep talk.

CHUNG: And you'll give me the positive answer, won't you?


CHUNG: I can tell.

WILSON: It's all about faith. I think success is faith.


CHUNG: As for Carnie, her new outlook will be the theme of a new book she's writing about her life-changing surgery, a surgery that can cost upwards of $10,000.

We should also tell you that Carnie Wilson is a spokesperson for, and is paid to talk about her gastric bypass surgery. The Web site is sponsored by several health-related companies.

When we come back, Mariel Hemingway has been living with a curse. That when we continue.




ANNOUNCER: Next, she survived family tragedy, eating disorders and the burden of fame.


HEMINGWAY: I don't think the old things are torturing me anymore. Really, I keep looking like, is it going to come up again? Because if it does, I'm ready for it!


ANNOUNCER: Mariel Hemingway tells her story, when the Connie Chung special, "Beating the Odds," returns.


CHUNG: Almost by definition, beating the odds means that triumph comes after things seem to hit their worst, which sometimes means people discover reservoirs of strength they never thought they had. On the surface, Mariel Hemingway wouldn't seem to be someone fraught with problems. The Oscar-nominated actress looks as great at 41 as she ever did. But like many in dysfunctional families, she found herself trying to save her family. When I talked with her, I found out that overcoming her Hemingway history meant beating the odds.


HEMINGWAY: The name Hemingway carries a tremendous amount of weight. It makes you think, oh, God, I'll never live up to it.

CHUNG (voice-over): For the Hemingways, the fear wasn't just living up to the name. It was living it down, the so-called Hemingway curse, a history of self-destruction, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide.

Mariel's grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide with a shotgun blast to his head. It was the fourth suicide in his immediate family.

(on camera): Do you become angry when you hear the word Hemingway curse?

HEMINGWAY: I don't become angry. I just think that it's an easy way for the media to go -- it's just such a hook, the Hemingway curse and suicide and this, that, and the other thing. That's not my life. I know the genetic makeup of my family. I know that.

CHUNG: What is the genetic component in the Hemingway family?

HEMINGWAY: Well, I would -- I think there is a tendency towards alcoholism, which causes depression.

CHUNG (voice-over): Mariel's father, Jack Hemingway, and Mariel's mother both drank too much and constantly argued. Mariel says her mother was never in love with her father. Her mother still held a torch for her first husband, who died in World War II.

When Mariel was 8, her father had a heart attack. Soon after, her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

HEMINGWAY: It was me who decided that I was going to be the healer of the family or I was going to heal my mother.

CHUNG (on camera): Was your mother a good patient? Did she appreciate you?

HEMINGWAY: No, she wasn't. She wasn't always appreciative, but she was -- she was trying her best. She blamed. She thought, poor me. How could this happen to me? I lose a husband. I suffer. I do all this. How come this happens to me?

CHUNG (voice-over): While Mariel was nursing her mother, her two sisters were rebelling. Oldest sister, Muffet, was experimenting with LSD and was later diagnosed as manic depressive. When Mariel was 10, she learned Muffet's imbalance could bring on bizarre and dangerous behavior.

HEMINGWAY: She was holding scissors to my mother's throat and screaming at her. And my mother was just saying: Calm down. You're going to scare your little sister.

And, indeed, she turned to me and because we had this incredible connection, she dropped the scissors. It was all over. But it was things -- it was moments like that that were frightening.

CHUNG: Despite drinking as early as 14, middle sister Margaux climbed to the top of the fashion world.

HEMINGWAY: She was an incredibly successful model, one of the most successful, and so beautiful and so -- such a free spirit.

CHUNG: But Margaux really wanted to be an actress. And for the movie "Lipstick," Margaux unwittingly launched Mariel onto the big screen.

HEMINGWAY: I was 13 at the time, living in Idaho, little girl. And she suggests me to play her little sister. And I think, oh, great, I'm going to get school clothes. I mean, I was as naive as the day is long. I never thought I was going to be an actress. I just thought, this will be fun.


HEMINGWAY: We should have done something, called the police.


CHUNG (on camera): And the critics really liked what you did.

HEMINGWAY: They did.

CHUNG: But they panned what Margaux did.

HEMINGWAY: Yes, they did. And that was very, very difficult on her and couldn't have been -- couldn't have been as far from what I wanted to have happen, because I really longed for her to -- that was her dream. To be an actress was her dream.

CHUNG (voice-over): Mariel's acting career took off when Woody Allen cast her as his young love interest in "Manhattan."


WOODY ALLEN, ACTOR: She's got homework. I'm dating a girl who does homework.


CHUNG: At only 17, Mariel was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress.

(on camera): Was that hard on Margaux, too?

HEMINGWAY: I'm sure that it was. There was an underlying tension that happened from that.

And going back to the sort of Hemingway thing, what she did was, she turned to alcohol and drugs to get out of her pain. And she was in this jet-set life. And it turned on her. And it started to pay its -- pay a heavy price.

CHUNG (voice-over): Like a bad dream, that pain and anger came out in the middle of one night, when Margaux returned to the Beverly Hills Hotel suite they were sharing.

HEMINGWAY: I was sort of groggy, but I could tell that she was not sober. And knowing that from my childhood, I pretended to stay sleeping. And, in the night, she actually put her hands around my neck and was -- she wasn't really like trying to kill me, but she was saying: You're not the big sister. You're the little sister.

And then she sort of came out of it. And it just showed me that there was this pain inside of her about that.

CHUNG: Mariel continued to thrive on the big screen. She was in demand. In "Personal Best," she played a jock.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: How you feeling?

HEMINGWAY: Ready to give it a try.


CHUNG (on camera): Then you went after this role "Star 80." And everyone thinks that you got breast implants for that role, but you said you didn't.

HEMINGWAY: No. I wouldn't have gotten the role had I not gotten them. I'll be honest about that. But I got them because I didn't want to be a little -- I didn't want to be thought of as a tomboy anymore, a boy.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I think there are very big things ahead for you.

HEMINGWAY: I don't know about that, but I'll certainly try for you.


CHUNG (voice-over): "Star 80" bombed at the box office. And Mariel eventually had her implants removed.

In 1984, Mariel met the man who became her husband, Stephen Crisman.

HEMINGWAY: And it was truly love at first sight. We met at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York, which he was running at the time. It was very, very hot to go there. I saw him across the room. And I actually said to a friend, that's the man I want to marry.

CHUNG: Eight months later, they did. Three years later, the first of their two daughters was born. But soon after, her mother lost her battle she had been fighting for 16 years. Mariel says her mother was angry, resentful, and bitter to the end.

HEMINGWAY: We expected my mother to die since she got cancer almost all the time. So, when she died, it was almost like, oh, oh, it's -- oh, it's finally happened. But what was great was, we made our peace, my mother and I.

CHUNG: But peace for Mariel didn't last: in 1996, another Hemingway tragedy. Thirty-five years to the day since grandfather Ernest Hemingway committed suicide, Mariel's sister Margaux's body was found in her California apartment.

(on camera): The coroner ruled it a suicide, but you don't think so.

HEMINGWAY: I know my sister. Had she committed suicide, she would have left a note. She was a flamboyant, outspoken, wonderful woman, who also would have wanted people to know. She wouldn't have just -- it just wouldn't have happened.

CHUNG (voice-over): Four years later, another tragedy: In October 2000, Mariel was at her father's bedside. He was hospitalized, recuperating from heart bypass surgery.

HEMINGWAY: He was just in this horrible breathing pattern. And I knew at that moment, as I sat there watching him -- not very long -- I mean, time had slowed down so incredibly before I went into the hallway screaming for doctors to help him. I knew that he was going and that he was dying. Even though he lived for several weeks later physically, he was gone emotion -- he had left his body. I know it. I know it. And I know that I was with him in those last moments of his life, truly.

CHUNG: But then the youngest Hemingway daughter, who tried so hard to be a rock in her troubled family, could no longer keep up a brave front. HEMINGWAY: It really wasn't until my father died that I really mourned my mother and my sister and my father all at the same time.

CHUNG (on camera): Why?

HEMINGWAY: I don't know. I think grieving is this bizarre process. I was scared of it or something. I don't know what it is. But when my father died is when it -- it was like floodgates opening.

CHUNG (voice-over): Incredibly, five days after her father's death, devastating news.

(on camera): You blink your eyes and your husband is diagnosed with cancer.

HEMINGWAY: Daunting. It's daunting. I mean, I was like -- I really thought -- I had a moment where I didn't think all my stuff was going to work.


HEMINGWAY: I thought, oh, my God, I don't know how I can handle this.

CHUNG (voice-over): Her husband had level five melanoma, the most serious skin cancer.

(on camera): And the likely prognosis would be?

HEMINGWAY: Would be death, death. Stephen came home and he said, I could die very soon. And I was like -- the kids started crying. I mean, he was so emotionally -- I mean, he was scared, obviously. And I just said, honey, you're not going to die. We're going to deal with this. At least right now you're alive, so let's deal with this.

CHUNG (voice-over): Steve's melanoma was removed in emergency surgery. And now, after two years, he's still cancer-free. Her little family, her husband and two daughters, aren't just surviving. Together, they're healthy, mentally and physically.

HEMINGWAY: And my daughter said it. It was sweet one day. She said, when daddy has cancer, it wasn't just his cancer. We all got it.

I just looked at her. She was 12 at the time.

CHUNG: Oh, my goodness.

HEMINGWAY: And I just thought, you're right. It was all of our cancer. And we learned so much.

CHUNG: But you know what? What she said was so true about you. When your mother got cancer, you got cancer. When your father went through his alcoholism with your mother, you got it. When Margaux went through all of her drugs, and when Muffet went through all this...


CHUNG: ... you had it too, didn't you?

HEMINGWAY: Yes. Yes. It's a very good point. You don't realize it, but that's -- that was the battle.

That's what yoga brings to my life, is an openness and the whole idea of an open heart.

CHUNG (voice-over): She credits years of yoga and meditation with giving her the peace of mind to cope with the events in her life. The key, she says, is to stay balanced, centered, and present. It's working for her. And, most importantly, it's working for her family.

(on camera): Do you believe that the way you brought up your daughters and the environment you put them in successfully has kept them from the Hemingway curse?

HEMINGWAY: Absolutely. I don't think it's a part of our life at all.

I mean, there's stuff that's going to happen in my life, but I'm not -- I don't think the old things are torturing me anymore. I really -- I keep looking, like, is it going to come up again? Because, if it does, I'm ready for it. But it's not coming up. And so I have to say that I don't think that I'm battling it anymore.


CHUNG: Mariel Hemingway's family history is a good thing these days. She begins preproduction next month as director of "A Movable Feast," based on the book by her grandfather. And she talks about her own experiences in her new book, "Finding My Balance."

We'll be right back.


CHUNG: Thank you for joining us for this special look at how three very different people triumphed. We hope in some way that we may have helped or inspired you to beat the odds that you face in your life. For all of us at CNN, good night and we'll see you on Monday.


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