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Profiles of L.L. Cool J, Shania Twain

Aired December 18, 2004 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" is next, but first a check of the day's headlines.
A hearing for the former Iraqi regime figure known as Chemical Ali is accused of gassing the Kurds in the 1980's. The judge told reporters the hearing was not related to Chemical Ali's trial, which is expected to start soon.

Missouri police are holding a suspect today in the grizzly murder of this woman, Bobbie Jo Stinnett. She was strangled and her fetus cut from her body. They say a Kansas woman who recently miscarried admitted to the crime at Stinnett's home. The baby girl, who was almost full term, has been found and is doing fine.

Spain is questioning a new key suspect in the March 11 train bombings in Madrid. The 41-year-old Moroccan man and several of his colleagues were arrested in the Canary Islands. More than two dozen other suspects are in custody for that blast that claimed 191 lives.

Another update at the bottom of the hour. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's a rap music pioneer, movie star and main stay in pop star.


MIMI VALDES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "VIBE" MAGAZINE: No one has had the longevity as L.L. Cool J., no one.


ANNOUNCER: His voice grew out of the mean streets of Queens.


L.L. COOL J., RAP STAR: And rap was like a way to kind of be strong.


ANNOUNCER: But years of success didn't always bring happiness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) L.L. COOL J.: You know I was making plenty of money, but I wasn't even thinking about -- I was spending it all. I was just blowing through it.


ANNOUNCER: Beyond the rap star image...


SIMONE SMITH, WIFE: Well, he's really not a ladies' man. He's my man.


ANNOUNCER: Hip-hop master L.L. Cool J. And then she's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll and a whole lot of superstar. She grew up poor in Canada and tragedy in her 20s almost made her leave performing forever.


SHANIA TWAIN, MUSICIAN: I thought OK, they're not here to care whether I carry on with music or not.


ANNOUNCER: She managed to carry on and hit it big. After a brief break that sparked rumors, she is back with a chart-topping album and two Grammy nods. We'll go one-on-one with Shania Twain. Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, I'm Paula Zahn. Rap music is one of the most powerful and influential forces in pop culture today. Week after week, hip-hop dominates the radio charts. L.L. Cool J. is one of rap's true pioneers and he's just been nominated for another Grammy. In an industry where careers are often clocked with an egg timer, L.L. has been surviving and succeeded for nearly 20 years. Here's Kyra Phillips.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Monday night, L.A.'s House of Blues, people lined up for the man nicked Uncle L, the future of the funk.

L.L. COOL J.: We're going to make some history, baby. Are you ready?

PHILLIPS: Rap artist, L.L. Cool J., has been making history for almost two decades. In a business where careers last months not years, he's been dropping hits since the Reagan administration.

L.L. COOL J.: But if you ever need a place to stay, come around my way.

VALDES: No one has had the longevity as L.L. Cool J., no one.

PHILLIPS: And this August, he came back strong with his latest album, "The Definition."

L.L. Cool J.: It is really a forward-thinking and progress record, sonically. It feels right.

PHILLIPS: The album just garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album of the Year.

He stepped into the spotlight at just 16 years old with his trademark kangal hats and giant gold chains and he's made the transition from rap icon to movie star.

L.L. COOL J.: You've got to give me a chance, honey. I have to express myself creatively.

I kind of look at guys like Leonardo DiVinci, the great artist and inventor and scientist, in that I like to be able to do more than one thing.

PHILLIPS: But behind the image of the hard as hell rapper known as Ladies' Love, Cool J. is a man. Todd Smith, 36-year-old father of four, who's married to a woman he started dating in 1987.

S. SMITH: People probably look at him more as a ladies' man, but he's really not a ladies' man. He's my man.

L.L. COOL J.: I'm a person that cares about whatever he does. So if you look at father, actor, rapper, the root is the same even though the branches may go off in different directions.

PHILLIPS: The roots of L.L. Cool J. were planted in Bay Shore, Long Island in 1968, born James Todd Smith, the first and only child of Ondrea Smith and her husband, James. Todd sang in the church choir. He was in the Boy Scouts and he played football.

ONDREA SMITH, MOTHER: He was like, "Ma, is my uniform clean?" He would take his uniform and put it in the washing machine, wash it. Whatever he loved, he, like, to be good at it and take care of every aspect of it.

PHILLIPS: Todd's parents had a stormy relationship. His mother left his father when Todd was four and they moved in with her parents in St. Albans, Queens, a place where Todd's love for music grew.

O. SMITH: The Temptations were on. Stevie Wonder was on. The Four Tops was on. And he just had music all his life.

PHILLIPS: But in his autobiography, Todd details how his parents' relationship went from stormy to explosive. Late one night in 1972, his father shot his mother after she returned home from work.

KAREN HUNTER, CO-AUTHOR, L.L. COOL J.'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: She's running through the kitchen door and the shots ringing out and hitting the refrigerator. And she's getting hit in the back and in the legs.

PHILLIPS: Todd's grandfather was also shot during the attack. Four-year-old Todd witnessed the shooting and recalled the event in his song, "Father." Though badly wounded, both Todd's mother and grandfather survived. They didn't press charges, telling Todd later that it was for his benefit. His father moved to California after the incident.

In his autobiography, Todd also says he was abused as a child. He says a boyfriend of his mother's routinely beat him, often while Todd's mother was at work.

L.L. COOL J.: I dealt with a lot of, like, child abuse and I dealt with a lot of drama as a little kid.

O. SMITH: My son reached out to me and I confronted this person and then, it was just over, period.

PHILLIPS: Todd found solace in writing rap songs.

L.L. COOL J.: Rap was like a way to kind of be strong, you know. It was like an opportunity to, like, escape that.

PHILLIPS: Todd rapped wherever he could, in school yards, on street corners, and at block parties at The Rock, on Farmer's Boulevard, a Queen's landmark.

CUT CREATOR, L.L. COOL J.'s DJ: The first show we ever did was at a place called Benjamin Franklin High School for, you know, a little high school party. And the stage was the lunch tables and we didn't get paid. We got a -- whole lot of phone numbers, but we didn't get paid.

PHILLIPS: The 14-year-old was becoming a staple on the rap party scene and adopted a cool new name.

L.L. COOL J.: My friend's name was Playboy Mikey D. and I was the Ladies' Love Cool J. And we was just two kids that just wanted girls to like us. That's all. It ain't even that -- you know it ain't even that deep.

PHILLIPS: With rap starting to emerge as a commercial force, Cool J. was eager to land a record deal. After months of rejection, he focused his attention on the only place that hadn't turned him down.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, CO-FOUNDER, DEF JAM RECORDS: When I first met L.L. Cool J., he was a little skinny kid and he didn't look anything like the big voice. He didn't seem as confident as the voice he exuded.

PHILLIPS: Record mogul, Russell Simmons, and his producer partner, Rick Rubin, signed the Ladies' Love Cool J. to their brand new label, Def Jam Records on one condition.

L.L. COOL J.: When Rick was ready to sign me, Rick was like well, Ladies' Love is cool but how about just L.L. I was like whatever. It could have been whatever he wanted it to be, you know, Jethro. I'd have still made the album.

PHILLIPS: The newly anointed L.L. Cool J.'s "I Need a Beat," was the first release in Def Jam history. The song sold more than 100,000 copies.

L.L. COOL J.: When I first heard my song on the radio, I was kind of -- I was in front of the game room on Farmer's Boulevard in Queens and saying -- you know, it was nighttime. I was staring at the glow of the morning on the street and just saying to myself I like this.

PHILLIPS: When our story continues, L.L. Cool J. becomes the 16- year-old king of rap and spends his money royally.

L.L. COOL J.: I remember just sitting in front of the accountant, you know, and just saying I want a Benz. You know I've just got to get a Benz, man. I've got to get a Benz. I need a Benz.





PHILLIPS (voice-over): In 1984, 16-year-old rapper L.L. Cool J. struck gold with "I Need a Beat." He'd emerged from the streets of St. Albans, Queens, to become one of the hottest new stars on the rap scene.

SIMMONS: L.L. Cool J. came along looking like every kid in the street, the kangal hat, the Adidas sneakers.

PHILLIPS: With just one hit single under his belt, L.L. Cool J. decided to make music his career. He dropped out of high school.

L. L. COOL J.: I'm going to school and I'm dealing with some jealous fruitcake who's upset because I'm doing well or living my dream. And it was like, it just, it just seemed likes I needed to commit.

O. SMITH: My mother really was against it and my father. And I said, but you have to let him have a chance because he was so young. I said, if he didn't make it, he would still be young enough to just go back and pursue another career.

PHILLIPS: But L.L. Cool J. was no one-hit wonder. He followed up "I Need a Beat" with the single "I Can't Live Without My Radio."

He quickly became the biggest solo artist in rap and helped bring the music out of the inner city and into the suburbs.

SIMMONS: Mainstream kids in Beverly Hills embraced hip-hop. Mainstream kids in Middle America embraced hip-hop.

PHILLIPS: In 1987, L.L. Cool J. released his second full album, "Bigger and Deffer," featuring the single "I Need Love." The track was a milestone in rap history. It was the genre's first ballad.

L.L. COOL J.: I had people that told me it was Christmas music. When I did "I Need Love," I had people telling me that this will never work.

VALDES: It was a really interesting time because of course, the girls, you know -- we were all in love. We loved it. But the guys, they were confused. They didn't understand what he was talking about.

PHILLIPS: L.L. had found love in real life as well. In 1987, he met Simone Johnson, a fellow Queens native.

S. SMITH: The first time I met Todd was April 19.

L.L. COOL J.: It was Easter Sunday.

S. SMITH: And it was in front of my aunt's house.

L.L. COOL J.: I saw a friend of mine out on the block and...

S. SMITH: He was outside talking to my cousin, Jerry.

L.L. COOL J.: ...and he introduced us, and this is Simone. I said how are you doing, how are you doing.

S. SMITH: He was like, I didn't see you before. You know back then, I had a real, you know slick mouth. So I was like, well, I haven't seen you before.

L.L. COOL J.: I was like OK. You got a phone? She said yes. I said, "Write your number down."

S. SMITH: And remember when he walked away, I was like oh yes, he has a cute butt.

PHILLIPS: L.L. Cool J.'s growing fame meant money, lots of it. He says he spent his money as fast as it came in, thick gold chains, brand new wardrobes, and fast European cars.

L.L. COOL J.: Yes, I remember just sitting in front of the accountant, you know and just saying, before -- this is even before -- I want a Benz. I've just got to get a Benz, man. I got to get a Benz. I need a Benz. I got to get a Benz. He was like we're going to get you a Benz. We're going to get you a Benz. And he was...


S. SMITH: When we were 18 and he bought me this big name ring that sat up like this high. And it said "Mo" in diamonds and I was like where am I going to wear this too.

L.L. COOL J.: I mean I was getting on elevators and old ladies were holding their purses and like, moving away from me because they thought I was, like, a hoodlum and I was a millionaire.

PHILLIPS: But while enjoying his success and excess, L.L. Cool J. faced a new challenge to his career. The trend in rap was shifting from his happy-go-lucky party songs like "Jingling Baby," to a harder, edgier sound.

JONAH WEINER, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "BLENDER" MAGAZINE: You saw the emergence of Gangsta rap, which was pretty much personified by bands like NWA out in the West Coast, incredibly violent, graphically violent music.

PHILLIPS: Needing a new direction, L.L. Cool J. released "Mama Said Knock You Out." It was his most aggressive work to date, a rough, streetwise album but without excessive violence.

SIMMONS: L.L. Cool J. was never a Gangsta rapper. He never aspired to be a gangster. He lived in a tough neighborhood and he was tough but he was never a gangster.

WEINER: He didn't need to be in a car doing drive-bys with a sawed off shotgun to be tough. He could just stand there with his shirt off and just scream in your face.

PHILLIPS: Hollywood took notice, as well. L.L. Cool J. took acting jobs in movies like "The Hard Way" and "Toys."

L.L. COOL J.: The food keeps touching it. I like military plates. I'm a military man. I want a military meal.

VALDES: It was sort of the beginning of the whole kinds of, you know, hip-hop sort of going into this other arena.

PHILLIPS: L.L. Cool J. was at the height of his career but behind the scenes, he was at his lowest. L.L. says after years of free spending, he had little to show for his multi-platinum success.

L.L. COOL J.: I actually had to kind of take a look at my taxes and look at what was going on. And I worked myself into a jam. I kind of realized that, you know, you can't spend -- you know you can make millions, but if you spend millions, you won't have millions.

PHILLIPS: His personal life was also in turmoil. Though he and Simone had two children together, the responsibility of being a father overwhelmed him.

L.L. COOL J.: I felt like I wasn't going to be young no more. I felt like Simone was just, you know, picked up, you know, 315 pounds off the bench and just put it in my back pocket and told me to run around the track 10 times or something.

S. SMITH: I couldn't deal with it no more, so then we split up.

PHILLIPS: When our story continues, L.L. Cool J. tries to put his life back together and fights to stay on top of the rap game.



PHILLIPS (voice-over): In the early 1990s, L.L. Cool J. was at a professional high. His album, "Mama Said Knock You Out," had gone multi-platinum. His acting career was taking off but personally, the man also known as Todd Smith was reassessing his life.

L.L. COOL J.: You know I was making plenty of money but I wasn't even thinking about -- I was spending it all. I was just blowing through it.

PHILLIPS: Smith changed his financial team and kept a closer eye on his money.

L.L. COOL J.: I learned to tithe, which is I give 10 percent of, you know, all of my income, the gross to the church. I learned to invest. I started getting into, you know municipal bonds as opposed to, you know, jewelry.

PHILLIPS: Smith was also getting his personal life in order. He and Simone Johnson, the mother of his two children, had split up for more than two years. Smith decided to change that after his mom gave him a blunt piece of advice.

O. SMITH: And honestly, I said. "Todd, if you don't marry Simone -- she's the only one that's going to put up with you because you're just an artist."

PHILLIPS: Todd took his mother mother's words to heart. He and Simone rekindled their relationship. Soon after, Simone became pregnant with the couple's third child.

S. SMITH: It was just one day when he woke up, he was like, you know what, we need to get married before Samaria (ph) -- before the baby gets here because, you know, we had the other two out of wedlock and we need to do this right. And I said OK.

PHILLIPS: In August, 1995, nearly a decade after their first meeting, L.L. Cool J. and Simone Johnson became Mr. and Mrs. Todd Smith.

L.L. COOL J.: She has benefited me probably more than I've benefited her in a lot of ways.

S. SMITH: The one thing that we do have is a friendship as well as a marriage, and that's one of the ways that he's grown.

PHILLIPS: With his personal life in order, L.L. Cool J. branched out in his professional life. He landed the lead role in a sitcom, "In the House."

L.L. COOL J.: I knew you guys were going to find a way to screw up this evening. I'm not going to let you make these kids miss out on a big donation. It's like a family vibe. There's a lot of love around here. I'm having a great time. I'm really happy.

PHILLIPS: The show ran on NBC and UPN for four seasons. But his work in television didn't keep him out of the recording studio. In 1995, he released the album simply called "Mr. Smith." It featured the Grammy Award winning track, "Hey Lover."

VALDES: "Mr. Smith" was a big surprise because there was a lot of question of whether or not he can still be relevant. But he was able to come out and kind of surprise everyone by again adapting to what's going on.

L.L. COOL J.: I've grown. That's how I've maintained, by allowing myself to evolve, allowing myself to grow and quite frankly, really loving what I do and believing that I'm the best and that I can be the best in whatever I do.

PHILLIPS: Movie parts also poured in. From 1998 to 2002, L.L. Cool J. appeared in nine films, including roles in "Halloween H2O," "Deep Blue Sea" and "Any Given Sunday."

L.L. COOL J.: I don't get the ball, I don't get my stats, I don't get my money. And I like getting my money, coach.

PHILLIPS: In 2003, L.L. Cool J. got his biggest acting role to date, the lead in the movie, "Deliver Us From Eva." For the first time, he used his given name in the credits.

L.L. COOL J.: I just wanted to expand on it a little bit and let people in. I'm not going to switch from L.L. Cool J. I don't think that calling myself James Todd Smith is going to convince people that I'm any better of an actor. I think that the work speaks for itself on the screen.

PHILLIPS: This August, L.L. Cool J., the rapper, released his 11th album, "The Definition." His latest effort is a return to the club anthems that made him a superstar.

L.L. COOL J.: I've been having some of the most exciting parties around the country recently, you know, in the past year, year and a half. And I just wanted to make the kind of music that plays at those parties.

PHILLIPS: The album's first single, "Headsprung," was a hit and helped "The Definition" debut at No. 4 on the Billboard charts.

WEINER: Hip-hop has a violently short attention span. People will fall in love with a star one day and the next day you've never heard from them again. It's miraculous that L.L. has been in the game for going on 20 years.

PHILLIPS: But L.L. Cool J. insists his main priority is his family.

L.L. COOL J.: You know, taking care of your children, taking care of, you know, your responsibility, making sure that they understand so you have to equip them with the tools but they've got to climb the mountain of life themselves. If you're setting your kid to climb the Mount Everest of life unequipped, ill-equipped, then whose fault is that?

PHILLIPS: L.L. Cool J. has spent a lifetime climbing his own mountains. A journey that's seen him scale the heights of the music business while trying to stay true to himself.

L.L. COOL J.: You just have to pursue what you pursue and just be who you are. And that's, I think, the thing that, through the grace of God, has allowed me to continue on -- my confidence in me, my confidence in God, my faith in me, my faith in God, and then not being afraid to just do what I want to do from the heart.


ZAHN: L.L. Cool J. is set to return to the big screen. He's reportedly joined the cast of "Last Holiday," a remake of a 1950 British comedy. L.L. will be billed as James Todd Smith in the film and he'll play an ex-con who has a secret crush on the main character, played by hip-hop star Queen Latifah.

ANNOUNCER: Up next, she's come a long way from her humble roots.


TWAIN: I really am sincere when I say that my intentions were never to be a star.


ANNOUNCER: The ups and downs of country's queen of pop, Shania Twain ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


HARRIS: I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" continues in a moment but first a check of the day's headlines.

From Iraq, there's word an investigative hearing has been held for two prominent members of Saddam Hussein's deposed regime. Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali, and Hussein's former defense minister are among the former Iraqi leaders facing war crimes proceedings. Iraqi officials have said the trials will begin before the end of December with al-Majid expected to be the first defendant to stand trial.

The former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet is now in a Santiago hospital after falling ill earlier today. There's no word on the cause of his illness. The 89-year-old Pinochet was indicted Monday on human rights charges, including nine counts of kidnapping and one count of homicide. He has appealed the indictment. A court hearing is scheduled for next week. And President Bush is said to be considering a freeze on domestic spending to reign in record deficits. Congressional aides say all programs could be targeted except defense and homeland security. The president proposes his 2006 budget in February.

Headlines in the day's new in 30 minutes. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" continues right now.

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. She's one of the top female artists in country and pop, and Shania Twain isn't slowing down. There's a new greatest hits album, two more Grammy nominations and the success of the most profitable country tour of the year. It's just the latest icing on a life that has seen equal parts of great joy, unimaginable fame and unbearable sorrow. Sharon Collins has our profile.


TWAIN: Man...

CROWD: I feel like a woman!

TWAIN: Let's go girls.

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With an explosive mix of sass and sex, she shimmied her way into pop music history. More Mariah than Minnie Pearl and offering a bold invitation to come on over, Shania Twain decimated the wall, which divided the worlds of country and pop.

TWAIN: That don't impress me much.

JOE LEVY, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": Her country records are made like opera records. It's one little melody piled on top of another piled on top of another. It's catchier than a cold.

COLLINS: With six hit singles, 1997's "Come on Over" was a success beyond her wildest dreams, and as Nashville scratched its head...

TWAIN: Here we go.

COLLINS:, did she sell records.

VINCE GILL, COUNTRY SINGER: Thirty-five million records. I have been working for 30 years and haven't done that good.


COLLINS: But the road to riches has been anything but smooth.

LEVY: Nashville has been hostile to Shania. They don't like the fact that she doesn't wear a gingham shirt and cowboy boots. They don't like the fact that she's Canadian. They don't like the fact that her model was more Barbara Streisand and Madonna than it is Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynne. COLLINS: Disappearing from the public eye in 2000, she returned in November 2002 with a baby boy and her first studio album in five years.

TWAIN: Let's go.

COLLINS: Immediately, she broke records. The first week alone, "Up!" sold 874,000 copies, the largest female debut of all time.

TWAIN: Don't want you for the night...

COLLINS: But it's been a long, rough ride for this 39-year-old superstar, from poverty, death and scandal to a successful career rooted in her parent's dream.

TWAIN: Music was all I had. It's what I knew, and that's what my parents told me I was best at, so that's what I did.

Look how far we've come now, baby.

COLLINS: Shania Twain's story begins on August 28, 1965, in Windsor, Canada. She was born Eileen Regina Edwards, and following her parents' divorce, relocated with her mother and two sisters to the mining town of Timmins.

COLLINS: In June of 1970, Shania's mother, Sharon, remarried. His name was Jerry Twain, a full-blooded Ojibwe Indian.

COLLINS: But times were tough at #44 Montgomery. When he could find employment, Jerry Twain logged timber. He worked hard, dreamed big, but made little money.

TWAIN: Not a lot of normalcy and not a lot of stability all of the time either growing up. We didn't always have enough money to eat properly or to keep the heating on through the winter.

CARRIE ANN BROWN, SISTER: We ate something called goulash a lot. Everything that's in your fridge, you put macaroni, hamburger and it's a mixture, right? But our goulash was warm milk and bread.

COLLINS: Keeping the family afloat weighed heavily on Shania's mother, who often sank into deep depression.

BROWN: You know she would stay in bed for a lot of hours in a day. And we wouldn't -- we would sometimes not even see her, unless we would go in and say, you know, "Hi, mom."

TWAIN: We built a love so strong...

COLLINS: Music became the family's only solace. Free and abundant in a home where even school lunch was a luxury.

TWAIN: Well, I would just, you know, pack up my guitar and walk five minutes up the road, and I would be in a bush somewhere, and I would start up a little campfire, and I'd sit out there all day and just write music, sing songs. BROWN: She was always listening to the radio, always writing songs and always singing. And I remember when we used to go to town, she would just be singing. And I used to say, "Eileen, you're singing out loud." I was embarrassed, right. But she didn't care.

COLLINS: With the need to make money and a child who loved to sing, Sharon Twain booked 8-year-old Shania at every open mike she could find. Soon, newspapers took notice, and a local telethon put her on the air.

TWAIN: Mama never wanted anymore than what she had...

My mother had the performing bug. She wanted me to get up on stage. I was really the type of kid who wanted to just stay in my bedroom and sing with the door closed, and write songs and never tell anybody about them.

COLLINS: A blurry-eyed grade schooler by day, pint-sized lounge singer by night, no booking was off-limits.

NATASHA STOYNOFF, CORRESPONDENT, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: They would drive her around, wake her up in the middle of the night to go play after last call at the local bars, because she was not allowed into the bars until there was no alcohol being served.

COLLINS: In 1978, the late nights paid off. Thirteen-year-old Shania made her Canadian TV debut.

Billed as Ellie Twain, the appearance only fueled her passion for music, but getting Shania to these performances was becoming expensive.

BROWN: Getting Eileen to the gigs and doing these things always -- was always a struggle. But they just found a way to do it because my mom was very, very determined that something was going to happen with Eileen.

COLLINS: In the spring of 1983, the 17-year-old got her first break, hired as a lead singer for a rock band in Toronto. With the blessing of her parents, she headed out on her own.

TWAIN: While everybody was planning on their -- you know, making college plans and off to university, and I was basically just going to be a singer.

COLLINS: Coming up, Shania raises eyebrows, going toe-to-toe with the good old boys of country music.

LEVY: Famously, Shania exposed her belly button. This is not a very Nashville thing to do, apparently.

COLLINS: But first, late night news shatters the Twain family.

BROWN: I don't think there could have been a worse day for any of us.





TWAIN: My parents' theme was for me to always sing country music, and that was what I considered more of the music of my childhood. And as a teenager, I moved on to these, whatever the bars were hiring, that's what I did.

COLLINS (voice-over): And by 1982, 17-year-old Shania had moved on to rock 'n' roll and the city of Toronto, fronting the band Longshot. Ironically, it was. The group flopped.

Back in Timmins, the Twains were doing well. Having received a small business loan, they now oversaw a tree replanting business, and every summer, Shania returned home to work alongside her parents in the Canadian bush. Times were good, but they wouldn't last.

BROWN: Well, I didn't find out until 10:00. Our friend came to pick me up and told me. So I don't think there could be have been a worse day for any of us.

TWAIN: God bless the young with our mother's...

COLLINS: In the cold afternoon of November 1, 1987, Shania's parents were heading to a work site on a remote logging road in northern Ontario. The last thing heard was a horn.

BROWN: It was a head-on collision with a loaded log truck. You know they didn't have much of a chance. The sun was in my dad's eyes, and he just couldn't see, couldn't see where he was going, I guess.

COLLINS: Jerry and Sharon Twain died instantly. Carrie Ann made the call to Shania in Toronto.

BROWN: She just screamed and cried and you know, screamed and cried, because you just don't want to believe it.

TWAIN: Now that my parents were gone, I thought, OK, they're not here to care whether I carry on with music or not. All these years, I'd spent doing music and working as a songwriter, and now the very people whose wish and dream it really was, is gone. It was a very strange, strange feeling and a very strange time in my life.

STOYNOFF: Shania was thrust into this world of being an adult and being a mother and father to her siblings, so she took care of the mortgage, she paid the bills, she did the laundry, she got the kids to the school.

COLLINS: But eight months later, money was running out. A friend pulled a deeply depressed Shania aside.

TWAIN: She just said, "Look, you can't just quit. Please don't, you know, don't throw your talent away, don't quit." She said, "Look, there's a place called Deerhurst. If you can get in there, then you can live in one town and bring in a weekly paycheck." So I went and auditioned.

LYNN HILL, FRIEND: I remember her audition here when she first came to Deerhurst, and the producer had brought her over there, and there was a whole huge room full of guests, and what better place to audition someone than in front of an audience. So she went up there, and everybody just went -- OK, we'll hire her now.

TWAIN: It was just a whole different experience. I'd never sung in high heels. I don't think I had ever worn high heels. You know girls were dancing in bikinis, and I never got the confidence to do that, but you know, I certainly learned how to wear fishnets and wear gowns, and just get more in touch with the feminine side.

LEVY: She was a showgirl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our lead vocalist, starting out with Eileen.

LEVY: She did three shows a day, singing the same songs time after time after time, and she learned a work ethnic like nothing else, that she sticks to to this day. The woman works hard.

COLLINS: And that's exactly what Richard Frank, a famous Nashville attorney thought when he caught the 11:00 p.m. Deerhurst show in August of 1990. Having represented everyone from the Everly Brothers to Patsy Cline, he couldn't believe his ears or eyes.

BROWN: When she walked out, you couldn't see her at first. You could just hear this voice. Wow!

HILL: And she wore this green dress and that was what knocked out the audience. She came out and sang this song and blew everybody away.

BROWN: I think that was the turning point for me when I saw it. You know I'm just getting goose bumps just thinking about it. You know what? This is it. I mean listen to that, look at that, then that is pretty much when things started to move.

COLLINS: With siblings now grown and with the backing of Richard Frank, the 25-year-old headed to Nashville. Just as her parents had dreamed, she was going country!

First order of business? A name change. Eileen became Shania, an Indian word meaning "on my way" and within two years, she was.

TWAIN: So I thought, well, I'd better go out and get myself a recording contract, and that happened very quickly for me.

COLLINS: The debut album "Shania Twain" hit the stores in April 1993. It sold a disappointing 100,000 copies, a virtual dud in the record industry. TWAIN: What made you say that?

COLLINS: That's because Nashville didn't know what to think. The midriff-bearing Canadian was almost too hot to handle, and CMT, Country Music Television, initially banned the debut video.

LEVY: Famously, Shania exposed her belly button. This is not a very Nashville thing to do, apparently. But you know everyone in Nashville has a belly button. Maybe they don't show it, but they've got one.

COLLINS: Coming up, Shania survives her first taste of the tabloids.

TWAIN: I have never lied about who I am and where I come from.

COLLINS: And later, the phenomenon of "Come on Over" breaks the boundaries of country and pop.





COLLINS (voice-over): By 1993, a Canadian breeze had blown south, and with sassy style and killer curves, Shania Twain was about to tip the scale on hee-haw and honky tonk.

GILL: Her first video, it's so obvious, you know, to be, wow, who's she? I'm a guy.

TWAIN: Maybe, just maybe...

COLLINS: Unfortunately, the sexy beach video was the only thing catching people's eye. With lackluster sales, her debut album was a flop. But in London, a reclusive rock producer by the name of Mutt Lange had caught the sultry video and he saw more than just eye candy.

TWAIN: Mutt and I first met over the phone. I had no idea that he was some big-time producer.

COLLINS: Turns out Mutt Lange was one of rock's most legendary producers, and it was hardly a shock she didn't recognize him. As brilliant as he was private, he never gave interviews. He never took photographs. And with a net worth estimated at half a billion, that faceless name was synonymous with success.

LEVY: Mutt is famous as a man who produced AC/DC, the Cars, Billy Ocean, Celine Dion, the Backstreet Boys, Britney. What do these people have in common? Well, when Mutt Lange produced their record, they sold a lot of records.

TWAIN: Who's bed have your boots been under? COLLINS: And in January of 1995, that's exactly what "The Woman in Me" did. Produced by Lange, Shania's second album was pure cash register gold.

LUKE LEWIS, CHAIRMAN, U.M.G., NASHVILLE: She and Mutt had created magic.

COLLINS: They had also fallen in love, marrying just months after their first encounter at the Nashville Fanfare.

TWAIN: From that day on, we just got closer and closer. Within six months, we were married. It was very fast, very wonderful and beautiful.

COLLINS: And very successful. Less than three years after her recording debut, Shania Twain surpassed Patsy Cline as the best selling female country artist of all time.

TWAIN: You got to shimmy, shake, make the earth quake. It has been a hell of a ride.

COLLINS: The ride was about to get bumpy.

LEVY: Nashville was pissed off. Nashville assumed that the reason it was selling was because she was sexy, and sex sells.

COLLINS: Matters got worse when she chose to market the album with music videos, rather than a tour.

LEWIS: For some reason, people thought maybe she couldn't perform.

QUESTION: And when are you going to tour now?

TWAIN: Ninety-seven. We'll put a tour together in the fall.

QUESTION: What's taking so long?

COLLINS: But the hardest blow came in April 1996. Her hometown newspaper accused the singer of lying about her Indian heritage.

STOYNOFF: The fact that she had talked about being Native, and then when they found out that her father was actually her stepfather, they thought that she was overstating it for publicity's sake, which to Shania, is not true.

COLLINS: She responded days later in this handout video.

TWAIN: I have never lied about who I am and where I come from.

From this moment...

COLLINS: Badly stung by the past year and a half, Shania returned to the studio, and 12 months later, in 1997, audiences got their first glimpse of Shania Twain on the road, on tour, with an explosive new album. LEVY: "Come on Over" is a career-making record. It's an icon- making record. It's the record where she went from a country performer who sold a lot of records to a pop performer who had a massive public image.

COLLINS: It was a country/pop crossover unlike anything ever seen, selling 34 million copies. To this day, it's the biggest selling female album of all time. A feat even Nashville couldn't dispute.

And then in January 2000, at the top of her game, Shania said good-bye to the spotlight and disappeared. Rumors circulated that her marriage to Lange was on the rocks.

LEWIS: I have never understood where the rumors about their sort of breakup ever came from. It certainly didn't come out of any facts that I know of.

COLLINS: Retreating to their 46-room chateau in Switzerland, it seems the exhausted star just needed a break. And on August 12, 2001, the couple welcomed their first child, a baby boy, Eja DeAngelo.

TWAIN: He's beautiful and sweet and loving. All my emotions are heightened somehow. More love, so much more love in my life.

I'm going up...

COLLINS: In November 2002, Shania emerged from her self-imposed exile with another new arrival, her fourth album, "Up!" Complete with not one but three disks, "Up!" went, well, up. Eleven million albums and one sold out world tour later; the industry is still a buzz. TWAIN: Hey Billy?


TWAIN: I'm having a party. Want to come?

COLLINS: And last month, the celebration continued with the release of Shania Twains' greatest hits. On it, classic chart-toppers and a few new ones, including...

TWAIN: A party for two.

COLLINS: ... with country newcomer Billy Curnington. Selling 530,000 copies in its first week alone, Shania's latest is ranked the second largest greatest hits debut of all time, just behind the Beatles.

BROWN: I'm sure my mom knew it all along, that Eileen wasn't just going to be a star, she was going to be a superstar.

COLLINS: A superstar who wrote the single, "From This Moment On," dedicating the words to two very important people.

TWAIN: My dreams...

BROWN: I cry every time I hear that song because it was a song for my parents. Because of Eileen, my mom's dreams came true. I can just imagine my mom saying, "I told you, Jerry." I can just imagine that that's what they're feeling.

COLLINS: Beyond the fame and fortune, at the core it seems she will always remain Eileen, born with a musical gift and a parent's dream that drove her to where she stands today.

TWAIN: In your arms...


ZAHN: In addition to her Grammy nomination, Shania Twain is up for a People's Choice Award. She's one of the nominees for Favorite Female Country Singer. The winners will be announced on January 9.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us, hope to see you again next week.

ANNOUNCER: Be sure to pick up a special edition of "People" magazine this week, "The Best and Worst of 2004."


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