The untold truth of Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson was a struggling actress and a single mom during the early days of her career. Though she wasn't lacking in talent, she was delegated to starring in small roles and making guest appearances on television shows and movies. 

She received recognition for playing the role of a pregnant prostitute when she starred alongside actor Terrence Howard in 2005's Hustle & Flow, but she wouldn't receive the recognition she rightfully deserved until she teamed back up with Howard to play the sassy, animal print-wearing ex-con Cookie Lyons on Fox's Empire.

Now that an infinite amount of doors have opened up for the Howard University graduate, including a starring role in 2016's Hidden Figures, we've learned that the Golden Globe-winning actress' real life had more twists and turns than an episode of her hit series, including tragic violence and alleged abuse. But, thankfully, there have been more than a few highlights, as well. Let's discover more about the Proud Mary star as we explore the untold truth of Taraji P. Henson.

Finding comfort in Carol Burnett

Growing up in a gritty area of Washington D.C. meant that Henson was put in many situations that no child should ever have to witness. During one terrifying moment, her mom was held up at gunpoint as a 6-year-old Henson stood by in complete shock, as she shared in her memoir, Around the Way Girl (via New York Post).

Because her living conditions were less than ideal, Henson found that watching television was the perfect way to escape her everyday life. In an Instagram post celebrating her 2016 Fox variety show, Taraji's White Hot Holidays, the actress wrote, in part, "Variety comedy style shows were always my safe haven!!! I always dreamed of being on the Carol Burnette [sic] Show or a show like that."

Though her dream of starring on Burnett's show never came to fruition, Henson said she just decided to create her own show instead! #BossMove

No one could stop this single mom

After graduating high school, Henson attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with plans on becoming an electrical engineer. But she later transferred to Howard University, where she studied theater, according to Vogue magazine.

As an undergrad, Henson got pregnant, and many people thought motherhood would bring all of her dreams to a screeching halt. "When I got pregnant in college, people said, 'This is it for her.' But I did not stop. I never missed a class. I was in the school musical when I was six months pregnant — we just made the character pregnant," she told Glamour magazine.

After giving birth, she decided to move to Los Angeles, and her father encouraged her to leave her son behind with her family, but Henson wasn't about to let that happen. In retrospect, she said her son actually helped her succeed. "I didn't have time to go to the club to 'network.' That's B.S. No business deals go down at the club. So I didn't get caught up in that. I had a mission. I had to make my dream come true. If I didn't, what was I proving to my son?" she said.

Mission accomplished!

Alleged abuse and a tragic ending

During her junior year of college, Taraji P. Henson became pregnant by her boyfriend William LaMarr "Mark" Johnson and gave birth to their son, Marcell Johnson, in 1994 (via People). While she embraced motherhood, her relationship with Mark quickly deteriorated.

Just months after giving birth, the actress kicked Mark out of the house, with People magazine claiming he had allegedly been abusive towards her during a heated argument. Though the former couple went their separate ways, and Henson moved to Los Angeles with their infant son and only $700 in her pocket in pursuit of an acting career, Mark remained present in his son's life ... up until tragedy struck.

"Mark was killed last night," Henson wrote in her memoir (via People). Though she didn't go into details about his untimely death, Star Magazine reported that Mark was stabbed to death during a physical altercation in 2003.

She's 'learning how to eat all over again'

At the height of her primetime television career playing the boss-mom Cookie Lyons, a health scare landed Henson in the hospital. She was later diagnosed with gastritis — an inflammation of the stomach lining, according to The Cut. To alleviate the symptoms, her diet went through a major overhaul to cut down on the amount of sweets and dairy products she consumed and to "re-alkaline" her body. No more cookies for Cookie!

Looking back on her ailment, Henson told the publication that, prior to ending up in the hospital, she didn't always treat her body with care. "I was very bad to my stomach for a very long time, and I didn't know!" she said.

Changing her diet meant she had to start making healthier choices. "I'm learning how to eat all over again. It's like introducing a baby to solid foods," she said.

It's all about the zen

Aside from the changes to her diet, Henson also makes a point to recharge her body from the inside out. She gave The Cut a rundown on her daily routine, which sometimes begins as early as four o'clock in the morning.

"The first thing I do when I wake is meditate. I try to set my mind right. I try to tell myself that no matter what, today is going to be a good day, so when those curve balls come, I'm not taken by surprise," the Baby Boy actress explained.

Her new daily routine obviously works for her because on the days she doesn't meditate, Henson told the publication, she has the tendency to "pop off." She added that "things aggravate [her]" when she doesn't start her day off right.

But she's not just meditating in the morning. She told The Cut, "I find myself being in a meditative state all the time. I'll be in my house doing things in total silence, but even though I'm doing things, my thoughts aren't running through my mind. That's a meditative state!" 

Cooking for the stars

It's likely Henson could ever spend every day of the week chowing down at a Michelin-star restaurant. But, during her down time, Henson whips up all of her favorite dishes herself. "I love to cook and look for recipes all the time. I make lasagna, great collard greens, and I do an amazing Thanksgiving turkey," she told Glamour magazine. Dang. Can we get a to-go plate?!

As for her signature dish, she said her red chili and white-bean chicken chili bring all the stars to the yard. "Every time Mary J. Blige comes to town, she requests it. She'll say, 'Taraji, are you going to make that chili?' And when she's out of town, she'll ask me to freeze a bag and her assistant will come pick it up!" the actress said.

Henson loves food so much, she even told Friday Talks Food that, if she weren't an actress, she would "travel the world, eat and blog about food whenever I felt like it."

Could a cooking show be in her future? We can see it already: Taraji's Taste Test! Food Network, let's make it happen!

A wow-worthy wardrobe

Taraji P. Henson admitted to Glamour magazine, "I have a bit of a shoe problem," before sharing the details of her custom-built footwear closet. "I just had it made and am so happy with it. There are pictures of all the shoes and there's even a ladder in there so I can reach everything!" she said. Someone, pass us a tissue. We're drooling.

Come to find out, the actress just might be as fashion-obsessed as the character she portrays on Empire, but they have their style differences, as well. She told the publication, "When I'm walking around in the city, I don't wear heels, but Cookie would. She does a lot of things that we wouldn't do. Trust me, she's my hero!"

During a separate interview with Glamour, it appeared that Henson's shopping may have spiraled out of control. "I have clothes in every closet of my house. The only closet I haven't taken over yet is my son's, but give it time," she said. Poor guy.

Her happily ever after

In a heartfelt Instagram post shared on May 14, 2018, Taraji P. Henson revealed that her boyfriend, former professional football player Kelvin Hayden, had proposed. "I said yes y'all!!! He started with the Cartier love bracelet BUT that was my #Mothersday gift and then he dropped to his knee and I almost passed out!!!" her Instagram caption read, in part.

In an interview with Extra, Henson gushed about her groom-to-be. "We're just really good for each other," she said before revealing all the details about their nuptials."[The wedding is] probably gonna be home, somewhere with his family and my family, a nice meeting ground where everyone can get to... We'll find some mutual ground," she said.

She told Us Weekly her "small, intimate" wedding was planned for the "end of June, early July [2019]," and we'll be keeping an eye out for her wedding photos. We already know the beautiful, fashion-forward actress will look stunning on her big day!