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Profiles of 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Venus and Serena Williams

Aired July 23, 2005 - 17:00   ET


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Lisa Sylvester. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" in a moment, but first, here's what's happening now in the news.
The search continued in Sharm el-Sheikh today, both for bodies and for clues into the three deadly explosions at the Egyptian resort. Egypt's president toured the area later in the day. At least 83 people died in the blasts.

NASA started the countdown clock for the Shuttle Discovery today. The long-planned return to space is now set for Tuesday morning. A fuel sensor delayed takeoff earlier this month. The shuttle fleet has been grounded since the Columbia disaster.

Some injuries reported today in Japan after a magnitude 6.1 earthquake. Tokyo and other parts of southern Japan were shaken, the main airport shut down briefly, and bullet train service was also suspended for a time.

In one hour, on "CNN LIVE SATURDAY," a full wrap-up, plus analysis of the explosions in Egypt. Plus, how first responders in the U.S. are preparing for the worst while hoping it never happens. And I'll be back with more headlines at the half-hour. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" starts right now.


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's a controversial rapper who escaped a life of crime to become a multi-platinum sensation.

MIMI VALDES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "VIBE" MAGAZINE: He recognized that there was an appeal in just being true to who he was.

ANNOUNCER: His past as a crack dealer nearly cost him his career and life.

50 CENT, RAPPER: If I couldn't play music, I was going to be back on the street.

ANNOUNCER: 50 Cent. His rise from the hood to hip-hop heavyweight and superstar.

Then, she is a former child prodigy who has matured into a sultry, multi-Grammy Award winner.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: What is the trademark of the Alicia Keys sound? ALICIA KEYS, SINGER: I would like people to be able to relate to me and identify with it and understand it, and feel like it's their own.

ANNOUNCER: Inside "The Diary of Alicia Keys."

And later, they beat the mean streets of Compton and their competition on the court to become two of the greatest tennis players in the world. And with a stake in everything from fashion to reality TV, this sister act is still a force to be reckoned with, on and off the court.

VENUS WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: Everyone has dreams, and I think I've been fortunate to go after a lot of mine.

ANNOUNCER: Behind the net with Venus and Serena Williams.

Now, from the pages of "People" magazine and the network for news, some of the most fascinating PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


ZAHN: Hi, everyone, I'm Paula Zahn. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

His name is 50 Cent, and he's one of the rap world's biggest stars. The first artist since the Beatles to have four singles in the top 10 at the same time. And the rapper's rise has been remarkably dramatic, to say the least.

From drug dealer to hip-hop icon, he's all too familiar with violence, death and life on the streets. Here's Tony Harris.


TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cinderella he is not. But thanks to hits like "Candy Shop," "The P.I.M.P.," 50 Cent's rise from crack dealer to multi-platinum rapper has been like a fairy tale.

50 CENT: Hey, what's up? Yo, this is 50 Cent.

HARRIS: Make that a gritty, urban, bullet-ridden fairy tale. Definitely not one suited for kids.

Yet both kids and adults from all walks of life can't get enough of the 30-year-old rapper.

PETER CASTRO, EXEC. DIRECTOR, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Anybody that is selling a million records a week on a consistent basis is obviously appealing to pretty much every sector in the country. You know, white-collar businessmen who are, you know, driving in their BMWs, blaring this stuff, urban kids, white kids in the suburbs, housewives, everybody.

HARRIS: His first album, "Get Rich or Die Trying," debuted at number one and produced four hit singles.

50 CENT: And whoever said progress was a slow process wasn't talking about me.

HARRIS: His sophomore release, "The Massacre," also grabbed the top spot in its first week out and set the record for fastest selling debut.

50 Cent is a worldwide success, conquering music and fashion with equal aplomb.

50 CENT: I have no limit. When you come from where I come from and you reach where I'm at now, nobody can convince me I can't do something. There's points in my life when nobody was convinced that I'm going to do well but me. I mean, so I've got to be strong enough mentally to make myself believe that when no one else believes it.

HARRIS: You can't blame them for not believing 50 Cent, born Curtis Jackson in 1976, would make it out of South Jamaica, Queens.

LLOYD BANKS, FRIEND: South Jamaica's very fast. The street is like real -- everything negative is there for you. Everything, like anything you could possibly think of that can make you stay there, or make you go to jail, make you not progress. It's all there, man, and it all seems good.

HARRIS: 50 Cent's father wasn't around, and his mother sold drugs. When he was just 8 years old, his mother was murdered -- he says the result of a drug deal gone bad.

50 CENT: I lived with my grandparents anyway growing up. My mom had her own place, but she spent a lot of time in the streets. She had to do what she had to do to provide for me. And my grandparents, I remember them telling me that I was going to stay, you know, permanently, and trying to explain to me that I wasn't going to see my mother again. And then, I mean, at 8 years old, you don't understand at that point, you know what I mean, what it is. But it's just -- it's a difficult thing.

HARRIS: Now orphaned, he felt he had to take care of himself by himself.

50 CENT: My grandparents always wanted to do nice things for me. And I didn't want them to, because I felt like it was putting a strain on them. So I would (INAUDIBLE) people who appeared to have it with no problem, and those were all people from my mother's life. And you know, they had jewelry, nice cars. They were hustling. It was from that life. And what they did was, they -- they bought me nice stuff. Took care of me. And then they got tired of giving me.

HARRIS: In a perverse version of a hand up and not a hand out, 50 Cent says his mother's friends taught him the business of becoming a drug dealer. Not even a teenager yet, he left school and hit the streets.

50 CENT: You try telling a 12-year-old kid that's having a hard time in school, you do this for about six more years, you can have this car, you know, you might even get a car and a nice apartment. And a lot of kids' curiosity make them leave the neighborhood to find somebody who's accomplished that in six months' time, well, it's right there in the neighborhood. So then it doesn't appear as one of the options; it appears as the only option.

HARRIS: As the crack epidemic swept the inner city, the young hustler was cleaning up financially. In 1994, at the age of 16, his ex-boys got him arrested, and he spent six months in a boot camp for youthful offenders.

When he was released, he went back to selling drugs and back to living the lavish lifestyle he had become accustomed to.

BANKS: You know, he had money. You know, he was like a hood star.

HARRIS: That money and the local celebrity status that went with it came in handy when 50 Cent ran into Jam Master J, a local rapper who gained international fame with a super group Run DMC.

50 CENT: I've never been in a studio with intentions of recording a record. You know, so I told J, yeah, you know, I rap, you know. I write music, I do. I was hustling him.

HARRIS: Jam Master J took him under his wing, showing him how to write songs and letting him record for over a year. During that time, 50 Cent says he was so consumed with writing music and learning the business that he stopped selling drugs.

In 1999, Columbia Records came calling with a recording contract. But 50 Cent's first legal pay day didn't quite live up to his expectations.

50 CENT: They offered $65,000 for me in advance. And J, he had to have $50,000. The attorney got $10,000. So I was left with $5,000 after doing a deal with Columbia. So it was like, back to just having $5,000 again after all -- a whole year of working on music. I went right back to selling drugs.

HARRIS: 50 Cent's reentry into the Jamaica drug trade brought more than just disposable income. It also brought old enemies and new danger.

When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the street violence that nearly ended 50 Cent's career and his life.


HARRIS: Nowadays, even on mainstream and pop airwaves, rap rules. One of the undisputed rulers of the kingdom is 50 Cent, topping the charts with songs like "In the Club."

VALDES: 50 Cent has very much a typical gangster rapper image. He's hard. You know, he has an attitude. You know, there's no sort of sugar-coating his message of what he wants to do in terms of having that success. Any means necessary to get it.

HARRIS: His racy and violent lyrics push the boundaries of good taste, but with upwards of 15 million albums sold, he's proving that he knows what fans want.

50 CENT: I try to be as sexy as I can possibly be without being obscene or disrespectful.

CASTRO: This guy has incredible credibility and staying power, in not -- forget about rap community, just the music community. And he would not be this popular if you also didn't have a whole bunch of white kids in suburban areas buying this record and thinking, this guy's the coolest guy in the world.

HARRIS: Coolest guy in the world? Maybe. But there was a time not so long ago when record labels wanted nothing to do with him.

In 1999, the rapper had signed a deal with Columbia Records. But demons from his former life as a drug dealer caught up with him in a blaze of gunfire outside his grandmother's house in New York. Shot a staggering nine times, he was rushed to the hospital. 50 Cent later dramatized the event in one of his music videos. But it nearly ended his life and his music career. When Columbia Records heard what happened to its newest artist, the label dropped him immediately.

50 CENT: When I got shot, they were scared to death, man. Because they heard all the things that I said on the records. And then people began to confirm it for them. And then they were like, wow, like, OK, we're not going to deal with this. You know? It's easier to just walk away from it.

HARRIS: The 24-year-old hadn't even gotten a chance to release a record, and he saw his dreams disappearing before his eyes.

50 CENT: I remember being confused, like what am I going to do with my life. What am I going to do, period. And that was the most painful portion of that situation. If I couldn't make music, I was going to be back on the street. So that's the only other thing I know how to provide for myself outside of that. I never filled out a job application in my life.

HARRIS: After weighing his meager options, 50 Cent decided not to give up on the music business, only this time he would have to go a nontraditional route. Releasing his songs directly on the inner city streets, through mixed tapes, cassettes and CDs produced by local deejays.

Eminem, himself a rapper known for bold, controversial lyrics, heard the underground songs and introduced the novice to legendary producer Dr. Dre. The two of them went on to produce 50 Cent's debut, "Get Rich or Die Trying." The record was a smash hit. With anthems like "In the Club" and "P.I.M.P.," it skyrocketed to number one in its first week on the charts, and went on to sell more than 11 million copies. 50 Cent felt vindicated.

VALDES: He recognized that there was an appeal in just being true to who he was, because there's so many kids out there who have gone through the same thing, who have gone through the same struggles. And I think for him, he just sort of saw that there was a sort of opening there, a niche for someone just to come out and be so unapologetic about his background, that I think that's what -- that's the reason why he's so successful.

HARRIS: And like most modern-day superstars, the man became a brand. One that would translate into millions of dollars.

JIMMY IOVINE, CEO, INTERSCOPE RECORDS: I think he's one of the best marketing people, like, since Madonna. I think he's one of the best marketing people to ever hit the record business.

HARRIS: In 2004, the unlikely corporate pitchman made $20 million just from sales of his G-Unit sneaker line with Reebok. He also started a popular clothing line, and a record label that has turned several of his long-time friends into fellow platinum-selling artists.

50 CENT: Yeah, I make more money outside of music than I do off of my actual music. You know, and that's because I take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up for me. And I'm moving forward at a pace that they haven't seen.

HARRIS: 50 Cent's success didn't just bring cash. It also brought conflict that sometimes spilled over from the airwaves onto the streets. He detailed his fight with another platinum rapper, Ja Rule, in the song "Wanksta."

VALDES: What happens when you come from nothing, the only thing you have is your respect. That's sort of, you know, what you live and stand by. And anytime someone questions that, whether they criticize your music or criticize your, you know, way of life or your dress or whatever, it becomes this sort of battle, so to speak, where people feel like they have to defend themselves.

HARRIS: Earlier this year, right before the release of 50 Cent's sophomore album, "The Massacre," he got into another public spat with his newest rap protege, The Game. The war of words culminated in shots being fired outside a popular New York radio station.

CASTRO: Right after this whole incident and the flying bullets and all, you know, all the trash talking, one album sold like over a million units. So you have to wonder, and a lot of people do, was this all a ploy? Was it all fake?

HARRIS: Publicity ploy or not, "The Massacre" went straight to number one and broke a SoundScan record by selling one million plus copies in its first four days.

Despite his overwhelming success on and off the charts, 50 Cent promises not to turn his back on what enabled him to go from selling drugs to selling his own multi-million dollar brand.

50 CENT: Music is definitely my priority. Because without the music, I wouldn't be able to do any of the other things. I wouldn't generate the interest that allows me to do business for RBK. Wouldn't be able to do G-Unit clothing. I wouldn't be able to do (INAUDIBLE) vitamins, or anything. G-Unit watches. I got on G-Unit drawers right now. It's serious, it's that serious right now for me. And I don't want to sell anything that isn't the best possible product. And I can vouch, these drawers feel good.


ZAHN: 50 Cent will make his film debut in the upcoming movie, "Get Rich or Die Trying," the same title as his first CD. The storyline may also sound familiar. It centers on an orphan who turns away from crime and finds a successful career in music.


ANNOUNCER: When we return, her album sales are in the multi- millions, but this R&B star shies away from the spotlight.

KEYS: A perfect day for me would be able to come home, get a great rest at night in my bed...

ANNOUNCER: The private life of Alicia Keys.

And later, they're glamorous, sophisticated and stars of their own reality TV show.

V. WILLIAMS: I am a competitor. And I take that seriously. And I compete hard.

ANNOUNCER: But what do they do off the court? Serving up the Williams sisters when "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" returns.



ZAHN: R&B superstar Alicia Keys has won over fans and critics alike with her soulful, intense lyrics and her exceptional talent. A musical prodigy since the age of 5, Keys, now 24, is already a millionaire with nine Grammys. So much, so fast. And yet Alicia's success was anything but overnight, anything but easy.


ZAHN (voice-over): She may be just 24. But Alicia Keys writes, sings and plays the piano with the sure touch of a veteran.

Four years ago, she stunned the music industry with her debut album, "Songs in A Minor," and the hit single, "Fallin'."

The album sold 5 million copies and won five Grammys, a rare achievement for a debut effort.

This February, her sophomore album, "The Diary of Alicia Keys," made its mark at the Grammys and earned the artist four more.

(on camera): How have you dealt with this process of becoming an overnight sensation?

KEYS: Well, I think the main thing is that it definitely didn't happen overnight. So for me, personally, that helps me a lot.

The way that I dealt with just everything that was happening simultaneously, I felt like in effect was really just keeping people that I loved and trusted and cared about around me.

ZAHN (voice-over): Most of all, her Italian-born mom, who raised Alicia on her own. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan.

TERRI AUGELLO, MOTHER: It was cozy. Every couple of years, Alicia used to tell me where she wanted to sleep. So we would make her bedroom accordingly. Sometimes she would have the bedroom, sometimes I did.

ZAHN: Mom was an actress. And by the time Alicia was in kindergarten, she, too, felt the lure of the limelight.

AUGELLO: We were doing "Cats." And I didn't know until I came to see the show that she was singing "Memories." And she was only 4. It was quite extraordinary.

ZAHN: Mother and daughter shared a passion for music.

KEYS: That was probably our best times, were like on Sundays. I would climb up on the little stool, and there would be shelves of records, and I would go through it and see Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis and just all kinds of old jazz records.

ZAHN (on camera): You tap into classical music.

KEYS: Definitely.

ZAHN: Rap. Just about anything you hear.

KEYS: Definitely. I feel blessed from where I grew up, because it was a very diverse neighborhood. You could walk down the street, and you could hear salsa, you could hear meringue, you could hear Biggie Smalls, you could hear Mozart.

No one has to be a certain way. You can be yourself. And I love that about New York.

ZAHN: And before her 10th birthday, Alicia found the key to her future.

KEYS: A friend of my mother's was moving somewhere else, and she had a piano, and she couldn't take it. And she said, if you can move it out of this apartment, you can have it. And then for the first time, I had this brown upright player piano.

ERIKA ROSE, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: Something about it that's magnetic. It just draws her in. And no matter where we are, if she sees a piano, she goes directly to it. And she'll just start playing, no matter what time of night it is.

KEYS: I did have a really great piano teacher. She was really about helping us to discover the things we loved about the piano, as well as, of course, the discipline that comes with studying. You have to -- there's no way around that.

ZAHN: Music teacher Aziza Miller would shape the young Alicia's trademark sound.

AZIZA MILLER, FORMER MUSIC TEACHER: I started a jazz improvisation class, vocal, that met after school. And you know how a lot of children, after school, are you kidding? I want to get out of here. But again, her ambition and her drive and her love for the music, if you had to meet after school, she's there.

KEYS: Ms. Aziza really showed me the beauty of harmonies, and that was the first experience I had watching an individual really develop a song and make it sound the way they wanted to and arrange it.

ZAHN: Alicia started performing at a community club in Harlem, where the man who's now her manager spotted her.

JEFF ROBINSON, MANAGER: She sang a song, you know, on stage. I thought, OK, she's got a little twang to her, a little swagger. And then she sat down at the piano and started playing songs that she had written, and this girl's like 13, 14 years old, and she's already singing songs about the state of the world, and what have you. And I was like, wow.

ZAHN: Intelligent and mature beyond her years, Alicia Keys was soon in great demand. At just 16, she was offered a scholarship to Columbia University and a million-dollar deal by Columbia Records. She accepted both, but soon found out she couldn't cope.

KEYS: Everything was just upside down. It was all turned around. And I tried to make my classes late so that I could do my homework in the morning, and I would be at the studio all night. And it was just a wreck.

AUGELLO: I know that she was sitting on the couch one day after class, and I knew that she had -- she had taken a leave. It broke my heart.

ZAHN: For a while, it seemed leaving college was the wrong move, as Columbia Records tried to make a teen pop star out of her, and she resisted.

KEYS: I was very depressed and very sad, because I felt like I was trying to do all these things, and I had this vision of what I could do and who I could be in my head, but it just wasn't coming into reality.

ZAHN: When we continue Alicia's story, how meeting a music legend gave her new inspiration. And the experience in Africa that changed her forever. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta. We're going to turn now to Jacqui Jeras, who's standing by with more information in the Weather Center. Jacqui, what can you tell us?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we've got a tornado on the ground in California. This is in Riverside County, just in. A trained weather spotter reported a tornado on the ground in Hemmock (ph), close to the intersection of Highway 74 and 79. It's moving to the west now, at 5 miles per hour.

If you live in Bella Vista or San Jacinto, you need to be taking cover now. There you can see the cell of concern. Again, this is a tornado on the ground reported by weather spotters. Riverside County at this time. You need to be taking cover now.

Of course, the heat also a big issue. We'll have the complete wrap-up of severe weather and the heat coming up at the 6:00 hour -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Important breaking news in the weather department. Thanks for keeping us informed, and we'll continue to keep you informed as the evening progresses. Stay tuned to CNN.


ZAHN (voice-over): At the age of 17, Alicia Keys was resisting music executives' attempts to mold her into the next Mariah Carey. In desperation, her manager reached out to other record companies, and set up a meeting with industry veteran Clive Davis.

KEYS: I first walked in, and he had all these pictures of all these artists that he worked with, Whitney Houston, and Bruce Springsteen, and Santana, and he really understood music and he really cared about it.

CLIVE DAVIS, CEO, BMG NORTH AMERICA: When you hear her voice, when you study the lyrics of her material, it's what I call a no- brainer. You just know that you're in the presence of somebody who could become an all-time great.

ZAHN: Newly energized, Alicia went back into the studio, and in the summer of 2001, reemerged with "Songs in A Minor."

Soon, there was a real buzz about the girl who could play Tupac, '70s soul and 18th century sonatas.

JOE LEVY, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": She could write, and she could play the piano. And she couldn't just play the piano, she didn't just love Stevie Wonder, she knew her Chopin.

ZAHN: "Songs in A Minor" appealed both to kids hooked on hip-hop and moms who liked country.

(on camera): What is the trademark of the Alicia Keys sound? KEYS: I would like people to be able to relate to it, and identify with it, and understand it and feel like it's their own.

ZAHN (voice-over): And plenty of people identified with "Songs in A Minor."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Grammy goes to Alicia Keys!

ZAHN: Five Grammys, and recognition of long years of teamwork.

KEYS: Whoa! Whoa.

ZAHN: The success of "Songs in A Minor" opened up the world for the 20-year-old. But also in ways she never expected.

KEYS: I went to South Africa right after my first tour, and I really met a lot of kids who were raising themselves, and who were dealing with living with AIDS, who were raising their younger brothers and sisters, 4 and 5 and 6 years old, and they were only 14. I came home, and I just didn't feel like the same person anymore.

ZAHN: She became and remains a fund-raiser and advocate for AIDS sufferers in Africa, organizing benefits and doing TV spots.

KEYS: There's a way for you to help.

ZAHN: Despite the demands of touring and huge expectations for her follow-up album, Alicia Keys likes to keep a low profile.

KEYS: A perfect day for me would be able to come home, get a great rest at night in my bed, put on my little slippers, and mess around the house.

ZAHN: And keep her private life private. Whatever the rumors.

The gossip columns have linked her with several stars, most recently Usher because of their hit duet.

KEYS: It was kind of funny, actually. We would -- they would tell we would go places we had never been. We had been doing things we never did.

ZAHN: The title of her second album, "The Diary of Alicia Keys," was not accidental.

KEYS: I have kept a book of words since I was 9 years old, all the way up until now. I still write, you know. It's been my voice, you know. It's been my way to really express what I feel, the way that I can tell my secrets.

ZAHN (on camera): Do you hear music all the time?

KEYS: Definitely. Sometimes I'm, like, it has to just be quiet, I have to be quiet for a minute. So I'll just shut everything off. And suddenly, I do start hearing all types of rhythms and sounds and chords or songs. ZAHN (voice-over): Like her debut, "The Diary of Alicia Keys" has won praise from fans and critics alike.

VALDES: I think when she did the first album, she sort of stumbled onto her style and was still trying to figure it out. With the second album, she nailed it.

ZAHN (on camera): I know you think that there's another chapter ahead for you, where your songs will become more political.

KEYS: I just want those songs to be able to really talk about what's going on in the world, beyond our own little boxes of whatever.

ZAHN: So you want to be provocative?

KEYS: Yes, I love that word.


ZAHN: Alicia Keys is now prepping for her next release, an unplugged album featuring songs from her latest CD, "Diary," as well as a few new tracks.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, they're the sisters of center court. And they're beating back the competition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's beautiful.

ANNOUNCER: Now, they are serving up their version of reality TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kick the heels off the ground while you're running.

ANNOUNCER: Venus and Serena Williams get real when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns.



ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. To tennis fans all over the world, they are simply known as the sisters, Venus and Serena Williams. And while they remain a dominating duo on the court, it's their lives off the court that are making headlines these days. Just this week, the pair debuted their new reality show, "Venus and Serena for Real." Here's Kyra Phillips.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Venus Williams. She's a fashion designer and she owns her own interior design firm.

V. WILLIAMS: I like to further myself. I like to explore myself, and if I'm not absolutely very, very busy, then I get bored.

PHILLIPS: This is Serena Williams. She, too, designs her own line of clothing. She's also a model and an actress.

SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: I don't know how I do it. I just -- I have this energy. I don't know where it comes from. I don't sleep.

PHILLIPS: Oh yeah, they play a little tennis too.

Venus and Serena Williams have grown up from teens in beads to babes in boots. These sibling sensations took the tennis world by storm. And if there was ever any doubt about their commitment to the game, witness Venus' startling comeback win at Wimbledon this year. The sisters are proving they still have it, on and off the court.

V. WILLIAMS: Everyone has dreams and I think I've been fortunate to be able to go after a lot of mine.

S. WILLIAMS: Every year I grow, and I've grown 10 years in the past year.

PHILLIPS: Venus and Serena Williams were born in 1980 and 1981. They're the youngest of five daughters. Oracene and Richard Williams raised their girls in Compton, California, a notorious section of Los Angeles known for its gang wars and drive-by shootings.

RICHARD WILLIAMS, FATHER: I wanted them to be in a neighborhood that didn't have no other choice but to pull themselves out themselves. And they was able to do it.

SONJA STEPTOE, SR. CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: There are drugs, there are gangs. And in the midst of it were these two little black girls with braids all over their hair and hair ribbons, who had long legs and long arms and incredible tennis talent.

S. WILLIAMS: I just think it just was able to prepare me, in a way, for the situations in the future. I'm able to get through them without no problem. Nothing really bothers me anymore.

PHILLIPS: While the surroundings were tough, Richard Williams had his daughters' destinies planned out.

JON WERTHEIM, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": These two were brought up to be tennis stars.

STEPTOE: He had a dream before they were born, that this is what he wanted. And it's almost as if he willed it into being by sheer dint of his convictions.

PHILLIPS: By age 10, Venus Williams had become the number one ranked 12-and-under player in Southern California. Her talent was apparent on and off the court.

RICK MACCI, FORMER COACH: I went to Compton in 1991 in the spring. And Venus asked to go to the bathroom. And she walks out the gate. And for the first 10 feet, she walks on her hands. And then the next 10 feet, she did backward cartwheels. And I'm sitting there going, I've never seen anything like this. And I told Richard, I said, "You got the next female Michael Jordan on your hands." And he put his arm around me and he said, "No, brother man, I got the next two female Michael Jordans on my hands."

PHILLIPS: That quest for unparalleled success was constantly reinforced.

MACCI: It was almost like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and we'll be one and two in the world. This was almost like an arrogant, cocky, as a matter of fact, this is going to happen, there's no doubt. This is what was being talked about at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, all the time.

PHILLIPS: It was a vision Richard Williams was more than happy to share with the world.

STEPTOE: In those days, I think we all sort of said, yes, Mr. Williams, OK, I'll write that down. And in the back of your mind, you're thinking, you know, what's he talking about?

WERTHEIM: Tennis has this rich history of these tennis fathers from hell. This wasn't an example of that. This was a tennis father from outer space.

PHILLIPS: The girls' training was no walk in the park.

MACCI: Richard one time said, I want Venus to play a match today with a boy who's the biggest cheater in your academy. So I put 12- year-old Venus on a court with some 17-year-old boy, one of the best players in Florida. There was about 40 kids on the fence watching the match. Any time the ball was on the line, the guy cheated her. Venus got 6-0 -- got beat 6-0. And that's Richard Williams. He wants his daughter's skin to get thicker.

STEPTOE: He trained them to be tough. He said, "There are going to be people at these tournaments that are going to call you nigger, that are going to cheat, they're going to do everything they can. They're going to scream when you serve. They're going to try to make you think the balls are out. And you better be tough."

PHILLIPS: At the same time, the Williams sisters were being taught tennis wasn't the only thing in their lives.

MACCI: He always treated them like kids. And he always talked to me about that. We're not going to practice today. We're going to the mall.

ORACENE PRICE, MOTHER: The priorities first would be to God, and then family. And then everything else is secondary.

PHILLIPS: In 1994, after going three years without playing in a competitive tournament...



PHILLIPS: ...14-year-old Venus Williams made her professional debut, winning her first match before losing to the second ranked player in the world.

WERTHEIM: Everybody saw Venus Williams put a scare into this top five player and said, you know, maybe this Richard Williams isn't so crazy after all.

PHILLIPS: By 1997, Serena had joined Venus in the professional ranks. And the sisters made an immediate splash.

STEPTOE: Their outfits were colorful. They were colorful. Their hair was different. It was colorful.

WERTHEIM: They were covering balls that no player would even try to get to. And the power, even at age 16, their power was nothing that anybody had seen before.

PHILLIPS: The Williams sisters were on their way to the top, but coming up, controversy as the sisters square off against one another.


PHILLIPS: By 2001, Venus and Serena Williams had reached the top of the tennis world, winning three of the last five Grand Slam tournaments. They'd gotten gold at the Olympics: Venus in singles, together in doubles. But success also meant they would have to play each other, something their father had never encouraged.

R. WILLIAMS: I never would have allowed it when they was little kids, because I think it's a good way to tarnish the family. To be honest with you, I didn't want them playing each other head to head on the WTA Tour either. Or should I say the -- what is it? The Williams Tennis Association?

PHILLIPS: There was no mistaking the emotional strain the sisters experienced when they did face one another. Most notably in the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals, where Serena walked off the court in tears after losing to her big sister.

WERTHEIM: Both play the same game. They both are power players, which usually leads to a lot of unforced errors. Also, though, they warm up with each other before their matches. So it's not as though one's got a secret weapon the other hasn't seen that she's ready to unleash.

PHILLIPS: It added up to questions about the sisters' willingness to play one another. "The National Enquirer" even printed a story that alleged Richard had predetermined which sister would win their 2000 semi-final match-up at Wimbledon.

V. WILLIAMS: Come on, it's "The National Enquirer." I mean, God. I'm having -- the next thing you know I'm going to be pregnant by some Martians. R. WILLIAMS: I would never tell my daughter to lose or to win, under no circumstance. But I would tell my daughter this here, when you're out there, do the best you can do.

WERTHEIM: I don't think the matches are fixed. And I don't think they ever were fixed. But I think people see how the level of play dropped so dramatically when they compete against each other. And you also have the Richard factor to contend with.

PHILLIPS: Richard Williams seemed to get more outrageous as his daughters became more successful. He bad-mouthed other players, held up signs, and danced at tournaments. He supplied the press with a seemingly endless string of outlandish comments and stories.

STEPTOE: Well, I think Richard is a modern-day P.T. Barnum. There's no question about him. He's full of bluster.

WERTHEIM: This was a man who just doesn't distinguish between fact and fiction. And he's buying Rockefeller Center for $3.9 billion and he owns thousands of buses. And he has a seat on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. And I'm not sure if it's sort of controversy so much as it's amusement.

R. WILLIAMS: When any black person come along in this country and say anything, he's crazy. Well, I tell the world today, I'm not crazy. I tell you one thing, I have plenty of money, though, but I'm not crazy.

PHILLIPS: Despite the drama, the sisters pushed forward, playing each other and beating everyone else.

WERTHEIM: Certainly they're uncomfortable playing against each other. But if you sort of look at the results, it was all Venus in the first half. And then once Serena got over the hump, she's been rolling over Venus ever since.

PHILLIPS: By the fall of 2002, Serena and Venus Williams were numbers one and two in the world.

R. WILLIAMS: I've been dreaming about this all my life. And when it happened, I wasn't ready again. I mean, they keep catching me off guard. It's just such a thrill.

PHILLIPS: But 2003 would bring devastating news. Yetunde Price, their half-sister, was killed in a shooting in Compton, California.

S. WILLIAMS: We're doing -- we're all doing, and I think that's the best way to describe it, you know. We're so close as a family, we've always been very close. My sisters are my life, and just I couldn't live without them. They're like the blood that's in my body. And so, it's always tough.

PHILLIPS: The sisters also battled injuries that kept them off the court, yet gave them time to pursue other interests.

Venus now owned V-Star Interiors, a design firm which did the set for "The Tavis Smiley Show" on PBS, and has worked on New York city's bid for the 2012 Olympics, designing rooms for the Olympic Village.

V. WILLIAMS: Maybe you're working with a small space, or there's all kinds of challenges that come up. And it's kind of the same way in tennis, it's always changing.

PHILLIPS: Serena Williams has begun pursuing an acting career, appearing on "Law and Order: SVU."

S. WILLIAMS: When they carry you on your shoulders to the stage and shine a spotlight on you, what do you call that?

PHILLIPS: She also has her own fashion line, Aneres, which is "Serena" spelled backwards.

S. WILLIAMS: I draped this one dress, I'm like, OK, I need you to make this dress with all these different fabrics, I just said, I'm going to work on it in England, I'm going to tell you what to buy, buy you the tool for it. And so it's really exciting. I really enjoy it.

PHILLIPS: However, as the sisters enjoyed life off the court, their commitment to tennis was questioned. Doubts furthered by their lackluster results when they did play.

WERTHEIM: Tennis has had all these players where all they've done is eat, drink, sleep, breathe tennis. And here come these two sisters, and they're reading, they're trying to take up foreign languages, they travel with their laptops, they're in fashion and acting. And people somehow get a bad feeling somehow they're short- changing tennis.

PHILLIPS: But July 2nd, 2005, Venus proved their critics wrong. The 14th-ranked underdog made a startling comeback, defeating number one ranked Lindsay Davenport, and clinching her third Wimbledon singles title. She came from behind to win the longest women's final in the tournament's history.

V. WILLIAMS: I can't believe it. It was such a tight match. And a match that I played until just the last two games, you know, down. And I can't believe, you know, it was me that -- you know, I'm the champ this year. I'm just so glad that this is part of my destiny.

PHILLIPS: Two sisters striving for excellence, both on and off the court. Playing tennis is their passion, and living life to the fullest will be their legacy.

V. WILLIAMS: Every day I try to be me. And in doing that, I hope that I can be successful on every plain that I try for.

S. WILLIAMS: I realize that, you know, anything can happen on any day. And everything could be all over in a moment. And you've got to live your life to the fullest.


ZAHN: Venus and Serena's new reality show debuted Wednesday on ABC's Family Channel.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, being Whitney Houston.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Hope you'll be back with us next week.

ANNOUNCER: And for more PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.


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