Sheryl Underwood's Tragic Real-Life Story

Sheryl Underwood has been a stand-up comic since the '80s and has since gone on to appear in films, such as Bulworth and Beauty Shop. She later received national attention when she was chosen to become a co-host on the CBS talk show The Talk in 2011, and she has used the platform to keep viewers in stitches with her hilarious sense of humor and witty one-liners.

But behind her infectious perma-grin lies a life story that many of her diehard fans aren't aware of. Her life has been marred since childhood by multiple incidents of sexual abuse, a violent assault, and the death of a family member that drove a wedge between her and her father.

She is known for making us laugh, but is she using humor to hide the pain that she has endured throughout her life — like comedians before her have done? Let's find out as we detail Sheryl Underwood's tragic real-life story.  

She was abused at just three years old

The co-hosts of The Talk frequently discuss hot topics — many of which are related to tragic, appalling acts. Based on the events of her own life story, Underwood is sadly able to relate to many of the show's talking points like the time the panel reacted to Josh Duggar's molestation scandal

The story of the former 19 Kids and Counting star allegedly abusing members of his family struck a chord with Underwood, who also suffered from childhood sexual abuse. "I went through that [at] 3, 4, 5 years old," she shared during a taping of the show (via Us Weekly). "I didn't sleep. I learned how to stay up as long as I could ... I may sleep at school, because nobody is going to protect me. So I had to protect myself."

In yet another heart-wrenching moment, Underwood told People (via Inside Edition) that her mother blamed her after walking in on her and her abuser during one of the attacks.

She had a sketchy job to pay for school

Before she was making major dough as a daytime talk show host, Underwood worked a rather odd job to make ends meet as a lingerie model in the city of Chicago. She told the Los Angeles Times, "What it really was was you put on the lingerie and model and the guys would buy the lingerie and you'd take it off."

Underwood wasn't really down with the whole nudity part of the gig, so she leaned on her comedic prowess to help her through those awkward moments, telling the newspaper, "I was so horrible at it that I would crack jokes and do silly things like Fred Sanford impersonations to make them laugh because I really wasn't a stripper."

Her customers wound up "laughing so hard" they would order Underwood to put her clothes back on —  but not without leaving her a $20 tip. Cha-ching!

It may not have been the most ideal job, but she isn't ashamed about her life journey and the road that has led her to success.  

She was brutally raped as a young woman

Years ago, Sheryl Underwood joined the Air Force Reserves in an attempt "to get away from her family," according to Inside Edition. But she unfortunately didn't escape to the Air Force base unscathed. On her way to the Air Force station, she was brutally raped. While recalling the incident during a taping of The Talk (via People), Underwood said she kept thinking to herself, "'This ain't it. I am not going to die today. I refuse to die today. It's not going down like this.' So the only thing I thought was: 'What do I do to survive? What do I do to survive?'"

She recalled how she began "negotiating" with her attacker, pleading for her life. "And I start talking to the guy and I said, 'Don't do this this way. Whatever you're going to do, finish what you're doing — don't kill me. And don't take my ID. They'll find you.'"

After fighting back tears while telling her story, Underwood dished out some sage advice. "I really want women to understand: Don't ever let anybody take your power away from you," she said.

Her husband died tragically

Underwood and her husband, Michael, were happily in love and enjoying married life when tragedy struck. During an interview with Inside Edition, it was revealed that Michael had been suffering from clinical depression, which prompted him to commit suicide in 1990. When asked, "When you lost your husband, did you ask yourself questions, 'Was it me?'" Underwood answered, "I asked all those questions."

While filming her very first episode of The Talk (via Essence), the co-hosts were discussing the 2011 suicide of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Russell Armstrong. At the time, Underwood took the opportunity to open up and discuss her husband's suicide in a place where she felt safe and supported. But in true Underwood fashion, she turned the devastating situation into an opportunity to put a smile on everyone's faces. She jokingly told the audience not to worry because she had been acquitted of all charges. 

She saw her mother stab her father

Growing up in a dysfunctional home meant Underwood witnessed some things that no child should ever be exposed to. As we now know, the painful incidents shaped her into the funny comedienne that she is today, but, still, her life struggles are unfortunate and heartbreaking nonetheless.

Describing one of the most harrowing experiences, she told The Talk viewers (via Us Weekly), "I saw my mother stab my father."

Before the attack, Underwood's relationship with her dad had been strained based on Underwood's belief that he was responsible for her twin's death (more on that in a moment). However, after witnessing the terrifying act of violence, it was at that moment that their relationship was repaired. Underwood noted that she "did not get very close to him" until that very day.  

Fortunately, after undergoing such a traumatic experience, Underwood was able to find comfort in the idea that she was not alone as a survivor of domestic violence. She also said that it was at this time that she recognized that she had a "guardian angel" looking out for her, which brings us back to yet another tragedy in Underwood's life: the loss of her twin sister. 

Her twin sister died mysteriously

In a September 2013 episode of The Talk, the show's co-hosts took the time to reveal their deep dark secrets (via Us Weekly). It soon became clear that the show saved the worst secret for last when Underwood revealed, "You know, people ask comedians, 'Where does the funny come from?' and for me, it comes from my desire to never have anyone feel what I felt through my childhood and certain periods of my life." She painfully continued, "I was born a twin, and we were premature," adding, 'We were both in the incubator. What you don't know is I carry her birth certificate around because she did not live."

That's when Underwood reportedly pulled out the birth document, which included the tiny imprint of her deceased sister's footprints.

During the segment, Underwood stated that her twin's early death haunted her and even caused some friction between her and her dad.

Her fractured relationship with her dad

Remember when we mentioned that the death of Underwood's twin sister caused major turmoil between her and her father? Well, according to the television personality, it was her own mother who was the driving force behind all of the tension. "My birth mother did not want me and my father to be close to each other, so she would tell me that my father killed my sister," she revealed during a September 2013 taping of The Talk (via Us Weekly). 

Underwood claimed that her mom had suggested to her that her dad had "propped a bottle up for [her twin] to take" and that the baby had subsequently died of asphyxiation.

The troubling allegation caused Underwood to become withdrawn from her dad — and understandably so. The two would later grow closer, but, unfortunately, it would take a traumatic event to push them to repair their relationship.

She had major surgery

In a piece written for Essence magazine, Underwood revealed she suffered from uterine fibroids when she was in her 30s and underwent a procedure to "reconstruct" her uterus and "clean it out" so she would be able to conceive a baby. 

However, when the uterine fibroids returned when she was in her 40s, she made the decision to have a partial hysterectomy. Underwood described what happened following the surgery by writing, " bladder dropped and that was when I started suffering from bladder leakage." She continued, "Here I was taping Laughapalooza doing political humor; campaigning for President Obama. And my bladder is leaking."

The medical issue caused the television personality to wear adult, disposable undergarments to combat the issue — something she has absolutely no shame in. Always able to see the silver lining in all situations, Underwood turned her ailment into a business opportunity by becoming a spokeswoman for Depends' "Underawareness" campaign.

It wasn't easy for her to love herself

Being blamed for her childhood abuse did a number on her self-esteem, and it's no surprise that Underwood struggled to come to grips with the traumatic incidents. Speaking to Us Weekly, she said that for years she was unable to accept "the beauty of a great relationship with someone who loved me back because I didn't love myself."

Since her mom never came to her defense, Underwood stressed the importance of families protecting each other and also made it clear that it was never right to "rationalize violence."

Her mom may have allegedly failed her in that regard, but thankfully, the television personality had other people in her corner who were willing to help her heal from the trauma. "I thank God that I had people intercede in my life so I didn't destroy my life and end up incarcerated. But when that pain is happening to you every day and you know this is your life every day, there is violence in you," she said during a taping of The Talk.

She's stronger than ever

Despite the tragic events of her life, Sheryl Underwood admitted in an interview with People magazine, "Everything I went through made me stronger." She added, "You may never forget it, but in remembering it you should make it better for the next person."

According to Inside Edition revealed, Underwood now wants to focus on telling her story in attempt to help others, something she has done frequently on episodes of The Talk. And even though her co-hosts never seem to have a dry eye when Underwood opens up about her past, the entertainer isn't about to let her experiences define her. "I've been through a lot," she told People magazine. "But it's not all woe is me. This is a journey."

In claiming her past, Underwood is able to shed the title of "victim," and instead become the epitome of a survivor. She has managed to cope with the trauma, awakening each day more empowered than ever.