The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard is no stranger to movie and TV viewers. According to the impressive roster of screen credits he's racked up on IMDb, Howard received his big break when he was cast as Jackie Jackson of The Jackson 5 in the 1992 made-for-TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream. A breakout performance opposite Martin Lawrence in 2000's Big Momma's House followed, leading to bigger projects, such as the ensemble drama Crash, winner of the Best Picture Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards.

A few years later, Howard landed the starring role in the rap drama Hustle & Flow, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. Further projects included Iron Man, Disney's The Princess and the Frog, the lead role in short-lived spinoff Law & Order: LA, and a small part in director Lee Daniels' The Butler. When Daniels was casting his TV series Empire, he hired Howard for the starring role of rapper/mogul Lucious Lyon in what turned out to be a hit series that ran from 2015 until 2020.

Yet despite his onscreen triumphs, Howard's personal life has been marred by scandal, rife with shocking allegations and courtroom drama that played out publicly. Read on to learn more about the tragic real-life story of Terrence Howard. 

A violent incident shaped Terrence Howard's childhood

When Terrence Howard was just two years old, his father, Tyrone Howard, took his three children and pregnant wife to see Santa Claus at a Cleveland, Ohio department store. While waiting, the youngsters' father exchanged words with another man, who accused him of cutting in front of him in the line. According to a report about the incident in The New York Times, accounts of what happened next were varied, but culminated with Tyrone stabbing the other man to death with a nail file. 

The incident came to be known as "the Santa Line Slaying," and sent Tyrone to prison for 11 months. In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Terrence Howard looked back on that horrific childhood trauma. "I was standing next to my father, watching," he said. "Then stuff happened so quickly — blood was on the coats, on our jackets — and then my dad's on a table and then my dad is gone to prison."

Bullying led to more violence in Terrence Howard's upbringing

As Terrence Howard told Rolling Stone, his mother was just 15 when he was born. After the delivery, his skin appeared so yellow that doctors feared he had jaundice and placed him in an incubator, where the newborn spent the next three days. 

As he grew older, the yellow tinge of his skin remained. This, he said, led him to be given the nickname "High Yellow" in what he called his "ghetto" neighborhood, where he was regularly bullied and beaten for it. "Let's smack him and see how long it takes him to turn red," Howard recalled kids saying about him. When his uncle watched him get beaten up at age 13, he took the youngster under his wing and "taught him how to box, Rocky-style." 

After Howard became skilled in fisticuffs, the tables were turned on the bullies who had made his childhood miserable. "I was the pretty boy, so people didn't think I could defend myself," he told the mag, adding, "It didn't end up being a good day for them."

Did Terrence Howard actually cure his Bell's palsy?

When it came time to pursue a career, Terrence Howard had a lot of irons in the fire. In a 2005 interview with The Boston Globe, he recalled being interested, at alternate times, in becoming a neurosurgeon, a veterinarian, and a songwriter. It was his aunt, New York stage actress Minnie Gentry, who inspired him to consider becoming an actor. However, he feared his acting career was over before it even started when, at age 18, he was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, leaving half of his face paralyzed for about a year.

According to Howard, a doctor told him there was just a five percent chance that he would regain feeling in the part of his face afflicted by paralysis. He had an idea, and took some wires from a radio transformer (in a similar telling of this story, he told Rolling Stone the wires came from "his dad's electric razor") and attempted to jolt his paralyzed face with electric shocks in order to "rejuvenate" the nerves. ”I got scar burn marks all over my face, but about eight months later I had most of the movement back," he told The Boston Globe, adding, ”Still, my lip won't go all the way up, and one side of my face is stronger, so I'm conscious of it when I watch my movies."

Terrence Howard was arrested for spousal abuse

In 2001, Terrence Howard was arrested after an allegedly violent altercation with his then-wife, Lori McCommas. According to the police report obtained by The Smoking Gun, McCommas and Howard (who were then separated) were reportedly arguing over the phone. McCommas claimed that Howard told her if she hung up on him he'd "come over and hurt [her]." She hung up and called 911. While she was on the phone with a police dispatcher, Howard allegedly arrived, breaking down the locked door. When he caught up with her, she alleged he grabbed her by the arm "and punched her twice with a closed fist in the left side of the face." When an officer arrived on the scene, Howard confessed, "I broke the door down and hit my wife."

Howard was arrested and charged with simple assault, terroristic threats and other charges. As The Smoking Gun reported, in 2002 he entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.

Howard looked back at the incident in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone. "She was talking to me real strong, and I lost my mind and slapped her in front of the kids," he admitted. "Her lawyer said it was a closed fist, but even slapping her was wrong."

A violent altercation with a different ex-wife

Terrence Howard's relationship with his second wife, Michelle Ghent, was also tumultuous, to say the least. In 2011, she filed for divorce after less than a year of marriage. According to TMZ, Ghent later made some shocking claims in a court filing requesting "a restraining order," including that Howard once "slugged [her] across the face and neck," and threatened to hurl her from a balcony. The outlet also summarized Ghent's claims that Howard "[hit] her in the face and chip[ped] her tooth with his wedding ring," and allegedly told her, "I'll hit a woman quicker than I'd hit a man."

In 2013, Ghent and Howard were together, discussing possible reconciliation when an argument broke out. Things escalated, reported TMZ, with Ghent allegedly blasting Howard and two of his family members with "mace." She claimed he then struck her repeatedly. TMZ also reported separately that Ghent was sporting a black eye when she went to court to seek another restraining order against Howard, which was granted. 

Howard slightly elaborated on the altercation in 2015, telling Rolling Stone, "She was trying to Mace me, and you can't see anything so all you can do is try to bat somebody away, and I think that something caught her. But I wasn't trying to hit her."

Terrence Howard has had altercations with complete strangers as well

Back in 2000, Terrence Howard spent the night in jail when he was arrested after an incident on a flight. As ABC News reported, Howard allegedly grabbed a flight attendant by the wrist, and yelled at her when she asked him to take his seat because the "fasten seatbelts" sign was on. He was arrested when the plane landed in Cleveland, Ohio, but released the next day when the prosecutor didn't have the proper jurisdiction to pursue charges.

A few years later, Howard had an altercation with a couple in a Philadelphia, Pa. diner. According to Philadelphia magazine, Howard reportedly became perturbed when the hostess began to bring Danielle DiStefano and Kevin Saffell to their table, so he "stepp[ed] in front of them and asked why he wasn't being seated first." When DiStefano told him they were ahead of him in line, he allegedly told her, "F**k you, I wasn't talking to you." Saffell demanded Howard apologize, but the actor assaulted them both instead, punching Saffell "in the face" and "DiStefano in the chest." With Saffell on the floor, Howard supposedly "continued hitting him, causing him to lose consciousness," according to court documents and police reports. Howard then fled and attempted to disguise himself. 

When the police tracked him down, Howard copped to the assaults, but insisted he was acting in self-defense. After initially being "charged with simple assault and harassment," Howard eventually "pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct." 

His Empire paychecks were garnished

Terrence Howard's contentious divorce from his second wife, Michelle Ghent, led to years of legal battles over spousal support. In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed the divorce had left him "broke as can be" and that "because of [his] ex" his Empire paychecks were "being held for garnishment." He lamented, "There's nothing worse than being a broke movie star." 

In 2019, the Daily News reported that a judge set the exes' legal dispute to rest, declaring Howard had to pay Ghent $263,137 in unpaid spousal support and an additional $1,055,970.

The same outlet later reported that Howard was additionally ordered to pay Ghent's legal fees, amounting to $909,222. Once the full amount in arrears was determined, the judge planned to issue an "assignment order" that would, in effect, garnish his wages, a response to the fact that Empire was about to conclude its sixth and final season and he would no longer be receiving that regular paycheck. "We need to have the monies held. He's in the last year of his contract. This is the last bulk of money we can reasonably get before it disappears," Ghent's divorce lawyer, Karen Donahoe, told the court.

Terrence Howard knows he can be difficult to work with

Certain actors have earned reputations for being "difficult," and it's a label that has been applied to Terrance Howard. "Terrence has this reputation for being a hothead," an unnamed television executive told the New York Post. "I don't think 'anger issues' quite covers it," said "a former associate," adding that when Howard "doesn't get his way, he loses his s ** t very easily."

What others may view as difficult, Howard sees as principled. In an interview with The New York Times, he recalled one of his earliest acting roles, when he landed a bit part on hit TV sitcom The Cosby Show when he was just 19. When he later learned that he'd been cut out of the show, he became furious. ”I banged on [Bill] Cosby's dressing-room door, and amazingly, he answered," Howard recalled, adding, "I told him, 'I'm a man just like you.' He didn't like it, and the casting agent never took my calls again.”

That incident, he explained, set the template for "the rest of my professional life. I say the hell with it, and I suffer the consequences."

Did Terrence Howard's ego cost him a fortune?

Terrence Howard appeared in arguably his biggest movie ever when he was hired to play Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes (a.k.a. War Machine) in 2008's Iron Man. Not only was Howard the first actor hired, he was also the highest-paid, with Rolling Stone reporting he earned $3.5 million with the promise of $5 million more if a sequel was produced. Such was his clout, he told the magazine, that he offered to cut his salary by $1 million if they hired Robert Downey Jr., as the studio was skittish due to RDJ's well-documented issues with substance abuse (Marvel Studios, however, claimed Howard had nothing to do with Downey being cast as Tony Stark).

When Iron Man 2 was officially green-lit, Howard claims he received word that his role was being reduced, as was the salary promised. He said his agent told studio representatives, "F**k you," and hung up the phone on them. The next day, Howard's role went to Don Cheadle

Howard said Downey wouldn't return his calls, until he "finally left a message saying, 'Look, man, I need the help that I gave you.'" Supposedly, Downey never replied. The way Howard sees it, Downey "got the millions I was supposed to get." In an apparent reference to RDJ's extremely lucrative subsequent Marvel film salaries and backend deals, Howard added, "I've actually given him $100 million."

Terrence Howard alleged his ex-wife tried to blackmail him

In 2015, Terrence Howard went to court to have his 2012 divorce settlement with ex-wife Michelle Ghent overturned. As the Associate press reported (via The Hollywood Reporter), Howard asserted that he was coerced into agreeing to the original settlement because he was being blackmailed. According to Howard, his ex threatened to release "audio and video recordings" that would shine the spotlight on his sexual escapades. "I was terrified of her releasing the private tapes," he told the court of the material, which he said showcased him in "intimate settings." Howard's fear, he explained, was that the release of the material would ensure that he "would never be able to work again in this business."

Howard claimed he paid Ghent $40,000 when she threatened to release the recordings; when his attorney asked if he considered that to be hush money, Howard declared it was more like "blood money."

Ghent, in a deposition, denied Howard's claims of blackmail; her attorney reminded the court that she still had a restraining order in place against him due to her earlier allegations of domestic violence.

A secret divorce and a reconciliation

In 2013, Terrence Howard wed for the third time when he walked down the aisle with Miranda Pak. However, court documents obtained by Entertainment Tonight indicated that the couple had secretly separated in August 2014, with Pak filing for divorce in March 2015. The divorce was finalized that July, a month after the couple welcomed their first child together, son Qirin Love.

Fast-forward to December 2018, when Howard shared a video on Instagram in which he proposes to Pak — three years after their divorce. "It took me 45 years to find you," he tells his ex-wife/fiancée, adding, "But now that I have you in my 50th year, I will spend the rest of eternity at your side."

In a 2015 Rolling Stone interview that was conducted amid the secret divorce, Pak explained that she and Howard "have an amazing connection," but didn't exactly have a lot of praise to offer her husband. Describing Howard as "so selfish," she griped that he "doesn't lift a finger" around the house. "I probably leave him 30 times a month," she added, admitting, "We don't have a normal life."

Did Terrence Howard's divorce drama led to a reduction of his Empire role?

Terrence Howard's legal battle with his ex-wife Michelle Ghent dragged on for years, and very publicly. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight after a 2015 hearing, the actor complained about having his personal life "exposed" through the legal process. "Sad that this has to be in a public forum," he lamented. 

Meanwhile, Page Six reported that the actor's role on the Fox drama Empire was going to be reduced due to Howard's ongoing high-profile legal troubles with his ex, which led to her earlier allegations of domestic violence to resurface in the media. "What they are doing is two-fold," an anonymous source told the outlet. According to the source, Howard's character, music mogul Lucious Lyon, would be behind bars during the upcoming season, "so you won't be seeing him in as many scenes." The show's strategy, the source continued, was to bring in tons of guest stars and celebrity cameos, so "that the average viewer won't realize it because there is so much going on."

The network, however, denied the source's claims. "Rumors that Terrence's role in Empire will be scaled back are patently untrue," Fox declared in a statement to Page Six

Even the IRS came after Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard has had some issues with the IRS, and in 2019 became the subject of a criminal investigation for tax evasion. According to documents obtained by The Blast, he, wife Miranda Pak, and her company, Universal Bridges, were under federal investigation for "possible financial crimes." Howard had reportedly hired a criminal attorney, and had already had conversations with investigators. Contacted by People, the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania would "neither confirm nor deny" that an investigation was underway.

Previously, The Blast reported on "official records" indicating that Howard owed $143,538.61 for unpaid taxes for 2010, in addition to interest and penalties for late payment of those taxes. Those records, The Blast noted, stated that if Howard did not settle his debt, his property and assets could be seized by the government. In addition, The Blast recalled that Howard had some earlier troubles with the taxman; in 2010, he was hit with a lien for $1.1 million in unpaid taxes, and another lien in 2006 for more than $600,000. Both of those liens, however, had apparently been settled by the time the alleged criminal investigation was launched.

At one point, Terrence Howard apparently couldn't pay rent

In addition to conflicts with ex-wives and the Internal Revenue Service, Terrence Howard also had some issues with his landlord. In 2013, TMZ reported that he was sued "for back rent" after being evicted from an apartment in New York City. According to court documents obtained by the tab, Howard's lease ended in November 2012, but he never moved out, remaining in the place until he was "formally evicted" in May 2013.

The New York Post offered more detail, courtesy of Lawrence Wolf, the attorney representing the landlord who had rented the apartment to Howard. "He's just another deadbeat," Wolf told the outlet, claiming that Howard owes "about $55,000" in back rent. "It's a lot of money," said Wolf, adding, "There's no dispute. The issue is strictly the nonpayment."

In a subsequent report from TMZ, Howard was a no-show when the case went to court. Since he didn't appear for the court date, the judge in the case ruled in the landlord's favor by default. However, noted TMZ, the judge didn't accept the landlord's figure of how much Howard owed — $51,907.85 — and scheduled another hearing to determine precisely how much was owed.