What Really Happened To Barbra Streisand's Father?

Barbra Streisand thinks of her father, Emanuel Streisand, often. Whenever she is faced with a big resolution, the EGOT winner asks for his guidance. In fact, following George Floyd's murder in May 2020, Barbra sent Floyd's daughter, Gianna, a letter in which the actor advised her to think of her own father, per The New York Times Magazine. "I think our dads watch over us forever. When you get older and have a decision to make ... just close your eyes and ask him for help. And if you listen very carefully, he will lead you to the right choice. I promise!" Barbra wrote. 

Barbra always felt connected to her dad. "I read one of my father's two doctoral theses ... It was all about Ibsen and Shakespeare and Chekhov. When I was 16, I had devoured Chekhov and Ibsen — all the plays I wanted to act in," she told Oprah Winfrey. She even attributes her decision to direct her movie "Yentl" to that unwavering connection, she said. 

It happened when her brother sent her a photo of the cemetery where Emanuel is buried and Barbra noticed, for the first time, that the tombstone next to her father's bore the name Anchel. "That happens to be the name of the character I played in the movie 'Yentl.' This made my decision [to direct]," she said. Emanuel's tragic death affected Barbra in more ways than one, details of which she has been open about.

Barbra Streisand was a toddler when her father died

Barbra Streisand's father died when she was just over a year old, per The New York Times Magazine. Emanuel Streisand himself was very young — just 35. In 1943, the English teacher went to work at a high school in Brooklyn and didn't return at night, People detailed in 1983. The reasons behind Emanuel's death were unclear at the time, with some claiming he had died of heat stroke, the outlet detailed. Barbra's mother, Diana, told her children their father had died from working too much, a notion that haunted Barbra for a long time, she told People. "I thought I might die of overwork too," Barbra said.

Later, however, Diana shared that Emanuel had actually suffered an epileptic seizure, a condition that was veiled in misconceptions and shame at that time, and likely died from complications of the morphine administered in his neck to control it, as People explained. Some biographers have theorized that Emanuel's condition was triggered by a head injury he suffered while working as a counselor at a summer camp, per the 2001 book "Jews of Brooklyn." 

Barbra felt she lost both parents that day. "Emotionally, my mother left me at the same time — she was in her own trauma," Barbra told People. Diana also stopped mentioning Emanuel altogether. "Later in life, I said, 'Why didn't you ever tell me about my father?' She said, 'I didn't want you to miss him,'" Barbra told Oprah Winfrey.

Barbra Streisand's family fell on hard times

After the death of her father, Barbra Streisand's family lost the income they had counted on, according to People. To make ends meet, Barbra's mother, Diana, moved with her Barbra and her older child, Sheldon, to her parents' small apartment, also in Brooklyn. Diana's parents were "decent, hardworking people, but there was no love in that house," Sheldon told the magazine in 1983. 

The children also had to live with the stigma of being orphans. "When I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, the neighborhood girls would sit on the stoop and sing. I was known as the kid who had a good voice and no father," Barbra told Oprah Winfrey. Even though Barbra's talents were evident from a young age, her mother rarely ever praised her, according to The New York Times Magazine. To the contrary, Diana openly discouraged her to pursue a career as a singer, arguing Barbra "didn't look like the movie stars I read about in magazines," she said.

Through all the hardships, Barbra continued to hold onto her connection with her father and went as far as to attempt to communicate with him via a medium, she told Winfrey. In the session, the letters on the table spelled out the word "Sorry." "I'm sure he was sorry. He didn't see my life," she said.