Heartbreaking And Troubling Details About NeNe Leakes

Fans of "Real Housewives of Atlanta" were surprised when NeNe Leakes had an emotional outburst about her past during a 2015 reunion episode. "My mother did not raise me, my father never claimed me," she tearfully declared during an argument, as the Daily Mail reported. "I have been lied to, I have been cheated on, I have been in an abusive relationship."

According to her autobiography, Leakes was deeply affected by her mother abandoning her and her brother to live with their aunt as a child. "I don't remember much about my life with my mother in Queens. I was really little — only about three years old — when my mother shipped us down to Athens," the Atlanta housewife wrote, explaining that although the situation was supposed to be temporary, they ended up staying for the rest of their childhood. "While I understand now that it would have been virtually impossible for her to raise us two babies on her own with no help from anybody, I'm figuring that if she truly loved us the way a mother is supposed to love her kids, she would have worked her a** off," Leakes reflected. 

They went long stretches without any contact, especially if her mother's phone line had been cut. "She didn't come get us when she got financially stable," Leakes noted. Her aunt and uncle, who had been childless, formally adopted them instead. Keep reading to find out more about one of the most charismatic and memorable housewives in the franchise.

The star turned to stripping after an abusive relationship

At age 23, NeNe Leakes was a single mother with nowhere to go, having recently left a physically abusive relationship with a man she later compared to Jekyll and Hyde. "Whenever we went out, he was a gentleman," she told Essence, recalling how her capricious partner took out a gun during their first night together. "I'd never been around a gun before. It really freaked me out," she added. "That should have been my warning."

Struggling to keep a roof over her and her son's heads, Leakes ended up looking at newspaper ads. "We couldn't pay our rent one month and we were like, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?'" the reality star told Uncensored, recalling how she used to model with her roommate Genesis. One day, the pair found a call for nude models and assumed that it would be something artistic. Instead, Leakes ended up dancing under the name "Silk" at a strip club. "I made a ton of ... money," she admitted. "And I couldn't stop."

Although she doesn't regret her strip club days, Leakes had some sleazy experiences, particularly after she had to quit her high-profile gig and start working at underground places because her family found out. "Men can do some really filthy things in the club," she wrote in her memoir, candidly revealing that she was particularly disgusted by men who treated her as a sexual aid.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

The search for her biological father didn't end well

As NeNe Leakes relayed in "Never Make the Same Mistake Twice," when she was trying to apply for a passport, she found out that the name she assumed was on her birth certificate — Linnethia Johnson — wasn't the name registered. Her name at birth was actually recorded Lenithia Bonita Smith, and the man she'd always assumed was her biological dad, Curtis, was not. In her memoir, she noted that although she and Curtis didn't have the best relationship, she asked him for the truth when she discovered the discrepancies surrounding her name. 

She began the search for her biological father, and although she eventually found him, she admitted that it was one of her biggest regrets. Not only was the reunion awkward and uncomfortable, Leakes said that having a relationship with him wasn't going to work. 

She revealed to Andy Cohen that her relationship with Curtis changed after that. "I still consider him my dad," she explained. "I don't think he considers me his daughter anymore, because that guy was my dad's friend. And he revealed in a clip that he had slept with my mom and that was really hurtful to my dad. My dad never got over that."  She added, "I regret ever going on that search, because that really hurt my dad."

NeNe Leakes has a criminal past

NeNe Leakes has come a long way since her 20s, when the reality star had several brushes with the law. She was open about the first arrest in her 2009 autobiography, "Never Make the Same Mistake Twice," describing how her friend Pam used to steal clothes from the mall for her. "We called this hustling," Leakes wrote. "The police? They called it shoplifting." During one particular weekend in Athens, Georgia, security waited until the two girls left together before sending the police to chase them down in their car. Before she knew it, Leakes was being fingerprinted and arrested.

Then Star magazine uncovered documents from Athens-Clarke County Superior Court, showing that Leakes had been caught scamming her phone company in 1992. The reality star, who was 25 at the time, pled guilty to three felony and one misdemeanor counts of "theft of services." She was sentenced to two years probation and had to pay the company $2,650, but her problems didn't end there: Leakes subsequently ran into the law again when she was arrested three times for violating that probation over the next two years.

The Atlanta housewife embraced her past, however, by wearing her own mugshots on a sweatshirt in 2018. "From MUGSHOTS to MILLIONS," the star wrote on her Instagram.

NeNe divorced Gregg because she felt mistreated

NeNe Leakes met Gregg Leakes while she was still stripping, as she revealed in her autobiography, and they got married in 1997. Although they were an iconic couple from the start of "Real Housewives of Atlanta," fans started realizing that there was trouble in paradise, as People reported in 2010.

In one episode of the reality show, NeNe talked to an attorney about divorce but seemingly still wanted her relationship to work. "I want it to be a wake-up call for Gregg," she admitted. Gregg was then caught ranting about his wife to an online radio host, however, claiming that he had started her career by spending $300,000 on the show's first season. "And the thing got to her head," the entrepreneur insisted in the leaked interview, according to Majic Atlanta. "I'm asking for every dime of it back."

Gregg later threatened legal action over the recording, insisting that he had been under the impression that he was just venting to a friend. According to People, NeNe responded to the news by claiming: "Sometimes I feel like I have slept with the enemy." Although her husband tried to explain the situation, she insisted that trust had been shattered. Later, she filed for divorce. "I felt like at that time that Gregg wasn't treating me the way I felt I should be treated," she told Uncensored. "It was me teaching Gregg a lesson, and I think he got it."

She accused her husband of messaging another woman

NeNe Leakes and Gregg Leakes hit another rough patch when the reality star publicly accused her husband of sending flirty text messages to Juanita Marshall, the manager of NeNe's store Swagg Boutique. Sources told Page Six that NeNe had fired the store manager as soon as rumors started swirling. "Gregg never propositioned me," Marshall insisted in 2020, denying the gossip. "I left willingly because at the time it was just out of hand. It was too much drama for me."

Fans were quick to point out that the Atlanta housewife had already hinted at the situation on her social media. "U find out ur husband/boyfriend been talkin on the phone regularly to 1 of ur female employees as 'just a friend' but u had no knowledge of it, did he cross any lines?" NeNe had cryptically asked on her Twitter in 2019, claiming that she was asking on behalf of a friend and that the situation hadn't necessarily been sexual.

She later revealed that Gregg flew off the handle when she rang from the store to ask about Marshall. "Like, he went insane. I just asked one question, he was screaming," NeNe insisted on the podcast "Lip Service," adding that as soon as she hung up, Marshall's phone lit up. "You need to drop your keys in your bag," she reportedly told her employee. According to her, Gregg denied any cheating and told her that they only formed a connection because NeNe was so busy.

Gregg Leakes died from colon cancer in 2021

In 2021, NeNe Leakes confirmed that Gregg Leakes, her husband of over two decades, had tragically died from colon cancer. He was 66 at the time of his death, per Variety.

Gregg was first diagnosed in 2018, and the couple's journey with chemotherapy had been documented on the show "Real Housewives of Atlanta." Although he went into remission a year later, his cancer returned in 2021. "The last five days before his passing was really beautiful," NeNe later told People, reflecting on Gregg's final conversations. "All of his children were there. His best friends were there. Our closest friends were there. We all sat with him around-the-clock."

Despite the ups and downs of their marriage, NeNe assured her husband in his final days that she would never have committed to any other man. "I said, 'I married you twice, crazy man,'" she remembered. "I thought I would be scared, but I just held him and kissed him." In the end, she reflected on how his death didn't feel real. "I keep thinking to myself he's away on a trip and he'll be right back," the reality star continued. "I'm still waiting for him to come home."

Two years later, she paid tribute to Gregg on what would have been his 68th birthday. "I feel like you went somewhere and you'll be back," NeNe wrote on Instagram. "I miss you every day."

She accused Bravo of encouraging racism

When NeNe Leakes left the "Real Housewives" franchise in 2020, she insisted that "It wasn't an easy decision" in her announcement on YouTube. There was no love lost between Leakes and the show's producers, however, as she proved by suing them for allegedly violating federal employment and anti-discrimination laws.

Leakes took the Bravo network to court for helping to "foster a corporate and workplace culture in which racially-insensitive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated — if not, encouraged," claiming that executives like Andy Cohen punished her for complaining about co-star Kim Zolciak's continuous racism. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the reality star testified that the network "did not terminate their relationship with Zolciak-Biermann, nor take any other meaningful action to put an end to her racially-offensive behavior," despite allegations that Zolciak-Biermann had used slurs and offensive stereotypes toward Black co-stars. In fact, they gave her an eight-season spin-off called "Don't Be Tardy" instead.

As People reported, Zolciak-Biermann responded to the allegations by insisting that "[NeNe] knows what she's saying is not true in regards to me." In an interview on "The Nightcap," the Atlanta housewife promised that she would confront her former co-star after the lawsuit, adding: "You can't say things that aren't true and try to defame somebody." Leakes eventually dropped the lawsuit in 2022, declining to seek any compensation for her legal fees. As The Sun reported, she could still re-open her case at any time.

Her son was hospitalized for a heart failure and a stroke

NeNe Leakes was blindsided by her son Brentt's medical emergency in October 2022, as TMZ reported. He had been visiting Atlanta when a heart attack and a stroke sent him to the hospital, according to inside sources. Brentt only turned 23 in February, making him very young for either medical emergency. After the story broke, NeNe addressed her Instagram followers to confirm the shocking news. "This is not the way I wanted it to come out," the reality star clarified in her story, according to Today. "We wanted to be able to talk about it ourselves when Brentt was in a better place." 

She confirmed that doctors had tested him for HIV and COVID-19 since the viruses could have contributed to this medical emergency, and had also ruled out alcohol, drugs, and his weight. They also speculated that it could be genetic, connected to NeNe's previous experience with blood clots in her lungs in 2013. She also suggested that Brentt's grief over Gregg's death could have been a ticking time bomb. "He was very close to his dad, and he's been super stressed out over it," the reality star told her fans, adding that doctors didn't seem to agree with her theory. He is reportedly still recovering and facing difficulties with speech, but NeNe stated that she was in contact with Brentt and that his mood was improving.

"We're just shocked," she added, thanking the public for their prayers.