Throughout her decades-long career, Halle Berry has graced the silver screen with sex appeal, raw talent, and a good sense of humor. At the same time, time in Hollywood is rarely smooth sailing, and Berry has grappled with some unfortunate accidents, “interesting” script choices (Catwoman, anyone?), and devastating tragedies in her personal life. It hasn’t always been an easy path, but through it all, this American superstar has become an iconic screen presence and made history as the first woman of color to ever win Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Tune in and take a bow to these 42 award-winning facts about Halle Berry.
1. A Very Exclusive Club
To this day, Halle Berry is the only African-American woman to ever have won Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Berry is also just the sixth Black woman to be ever nominated in that particular category at the Oscars (after Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, and Angela Bassett).
Since her victory, though, several more Black women have been recognized with nominations for their stellar performances.
2. Stuck in the Middle with You
Berry’s first and middle names did a switcheroo when she was a young girl. She was born “Maria Halle” on August 14, 1966. However, at the age of five, Berry would take on her middle moniker as her first. This was not long after her parents’ distressing split…
3. Named in Honor of the Savings
Berry’s first name (then middle name) was derived from a local department store in her birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio. I speak, of course, of Halle’s Department Store.
4. All Greats Begin Here
Berry was born in the same hospital as her hero, Dorothy Dandridge. She discovered this fact while researching her role as Dandridge in an HBO biopic.
5. What’s Fame Got to Do With It?
Before she was an Oscar-winner, Berry was a contender for several Oscar-winning roles. Her name was in the running to play Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993). Unfortunately, for her at least, she lost the part to Angela Bassett, who would go on to be nominated for Best Actress for the role.
6. Renaissance Queen
The teenaged Halle Berry worked hard and excelled in high school. While attending Bedford High School in Oakwood, Ohio, Berry was a cheerleader and the prom queen. She also had brains to match that popularity and beauty, becoming an honors student and the editor of the school newspaper.
7. Remember Your Roots
Well, they all start somewhere: one of Berry’s pre-fame jobs took place in Higbee’s Department Store, where she worked in the children’s department. Not unexpected for a girl named after a department store.
8. Long Live the Queen
Berry’s public career began in beauty pageants. Throughout the 1980s, Berry amassed several impressive crowns, including the 1985 Miss Teen All American and the 1986 Miss Ohio USA. (Of course, she wasn’t always a winner; Berry had to settle for “just” runner-up in the 1986 Miss USA competition).
9. Beauty Has No Color
Halle Berry was the first African-American participant in the international Miss World competition, where she represented the United States in 1986.
10. The High Cost of Fame
Modeling seems like the natural next step between beauty pageant glory and acting stardom…right? Well, it’s easier said than done. During Halle Berry’s first weeks as a New York City model, she struggled to pay her bills. Berry recalls being practically homeless and having nowhere to sleep. In the end, the would-be model napped in the YMCA.
11. Power Nap
Berry’s first years as model-actress in New York were hardly a fairy tale…unless you count the part of the story where the beautiful princess falls unconscious. During one of her first jobs—in the short-lived ABC series Living Dolls—Berry started to feel unwell and fell into a week-long coma. This was how Berry discovered that she had Type 1 diabetes.
12. Work with Who You Know
The early 1990s saw Berry hit her stride by choosing roles in emerging African-American films. One of her earliest movie roles was as a drug addict, Vivian, in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). In 1992, she played Eddie Murphy’s love interest in Boomerang before playing a biracial slave in the TV miniseries adaptation of Queen: The Story of an American Family.
13. The Face to Match the Talent
As Berry continued to amass serious film credits in the 1990s, she also managed to keep modelling. In 1996, she signed on to be the face of Revlon for the next seven years. She renewed this contract in 2004, several years into her acting success.
14. Learning from History
In a great stroke of foreshadowing, Berry played classic actress Dorothy Dandridge in the 1999 TV movie, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first African-American actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars—an honor that Berry would be the first African-American to win for her performance in Monster’s Ball (2001).
15. Small Screen, Big Dreams
In addition to starring in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Berry was also the TV biopic’s co-producer and a fervent advocate of its creation. In Berry’s own words, “Dorothy had been so forgotten [even though] her contribution was so great and so meaningful—not only to me, but to an entire community of people.” For her efforts, she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and even a Golden Globe.
16. First but Not Only
Ever the Dandridge fangirl, Halle Berry partly dedicated her Oscar win to the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Actress. In her emotional and stirring speech, she named Dandridge, alongside other Black women who have inspired her throughout her career.
To quote the beginning of Berry’s speech: “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you.”
17. Speed Past the Podium
Berry was initially offered the lead role of bus-driver Annie in Speed (1994). After she declined, the part eventually went to fellow Best Actress Oscar-winner, Sandra Bullock. Berry may have missed out on a big hit in declining this role, but she made a wise call with another movie: the signed onto Gigli, one of the biggest flops in recent movie history, only to drop out because of scheduling conflicts with X2. Good call!
18. A Top Up to Top Down
According to industry lore, Berry only agreed to do her first-ever topless scene in Swordfish after Warner Bros topped Berry’s pay with another $500,000. Berry has since denied these rumors, but she does find them amusing as “great publicity for the movie.”
19. Don’t Censor Yourself
Berry’s second husband, Eric Benét, encouraged his wife to take risks. She was initially hesitant to do roles that required nudity, but she found the nerve with Benét’s support.
20. Is Representation Really Enough?
Berry may have made history as the first African-American Best Actress winner at the Oscars, but her win wasn’t universally taken as a “win” for the African-American community. In Monster’s Ball (2001), Berry had taken on the less-than-elegant role of a death row inmate’s unstable wife. The NAACP declared their pride for Berry’s achievement, but critics were also uneasy about Berry’s character…and her explicit sex scene with a racist prison guard played by Billy Bob Thornton.
Regarding the controversy, Berry has stated she doesn’t “really see a reason to ever go that far again.”
21. Is Now the Best Time to Negotiate?
Some people in the beauty business can’t take a joke. After winning her Oscar, Berry was approached by the Revlon cosmetic’s chief Ron Perelman, who expressed his happiness that she continued to model for the brand. Berry quipped, “Of course, you’ll have to pay me more.” Apparently, this offended the executive so deeply that he angrily stormed out of the room.
22. Updating an Iconic Moment
In 2002—hot off her Oscar-win—Berry joined the ranks of historic Bond Girls as 007’s love interest Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson in Die Another Day. The movie involved Berry in a now-iconic scene where Berry emerges from the surf—wearing a bikini and knife—to greet Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond. The shot references a scene with former Bond Girl Ursula Andress in Dr. No from 40 years before.
23. The Cold Price of Success
It isn’t easy being a Bond Girl. Berry survived some uncomfortable—and sometimes near fatal—shooting conditions on the set of Die Another Day. During one scene, a piece of debris from a smoke grenade flew into her eye! In an intimate scene, she almost choked on a fig. She also shot that iconic bikini scene on a windy day. There are pictures of Berry wrapping herself in thick towels between shots to keep warm.
Well, at least that’s an upgrade from the bomb and the choking?
24. Break a Leg, Not an Arm
Berry just can’t catch a break on these action sets. While filming the 2003 thriller Gothika, Berry injured herself during a scene with Robert Downey Jr. The latter actor had twisted Berry’s arm too hard, causing it to break, which, ironically, put the brakes on production for eight weeks. Reportedly, Berry has never fully forgiven Downey Jr. (And honestly, fair enough!)
25. And Crack a Rib While You’re at it
While training for the elaborate fight sequences in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Berry fractured three ribs—but graciously praised the stunt coordinators for the care they put into the work environment.
26. She’s Superbad
Halle Berry is one of the first movie super-heroines to lead her own movie…with mixed results. After starring as Storm in the X-Men movies, Berry seemed keen to upgrade from ensemble to lead. She took the title role of 2004’s Catwoman (and received a hefty, multi-million dollar paycheck). Despite the studio’s faith in the project, the movie was a huge box office bomb and received harsh critical reviews.
For critics, Catwoman has gone down in history as one of the worst movies ever made. For fans, it’s amassed a bit of a cult following. Berry has noted that when fans approach her on the street, many defend Catwoman, saying that they enjoyed the silliness of the movie.
27. The Best of the Worst
Halle Berry proudly accepted her award for Worst Actress at the Razzies, which she had “won” for her performance in Catwoman. Not only that: she accepted the “honor” with her Oscar for Monster’s Ball in her other hand. The actress declared, “I never in my life thought that I would be up here, winning a Razzie! It’s not like I ever aspired to be here but thank you. When I was a kid, my mother told me that if you could not be a good loser, then there’s no way you could be a good winner.”
28. Laughing Her Way to the Bank
By the end of the early 2000’s, Halle Berry was one of the highest-paid actresses in the world. She took home about $10 million per picture. So, bring on the Razzies!
29. Love Shouldn’t Come with Interest
In 1993, Berry was sued by her ex-boyfriend, dentist John Ronan, for $80,000. Ronan alleged that the Academy Award winner had not paid him back for the loan she used to jumpstart her career. Berry, however, argued that the money was a gift. The case was dismissed as Ronan did not list Berry was a debtor in his 1992 bankruptcy claim. It pays to not be paid back.
30. From Drop Out to Success Story
After high school, Berry studied broadcast journalism at Cuyahoga Community College. She never completed the degree and instead opted for a career in entertainment. Clearly, that choice worked out.
31. Before the Clock Strikes Midnight…
Berry met her first husband, baseball player David Justice, via national TV. Justice had been playing an MTV celebrity basketball match in February 1992 when she first set eyes on her future beau. When she learned from a reporter that Justice was a fan of Berry’s, she passed along her phone number. The couple were married mere months later—on New Year’s Day 1993—via midnight ceremony.
32. The End is Not the Total End
Berry became suicidally depressed after the separation from her first husband, David Justice. They were officially divorced in 1997.
33. Three Is A Crowd
In 2008, Berry welcomed her first child, a daughter, with French Canadian model Gabriel Aubry. However, Berry and Aubry split up in 2010. A very ugly custody battle ensued…
34. Think of the Children!
Halle Berry’s custody battle for her daughter with Gabriel Aubry came to a violent head in 2012, when Aubry and Berry’s new boyfriend, actor, Olivier Martinez, duked it out at Berry’s home. Both men landed in the hospital, and both would have restraining orders filed against each other.
According to Aubry, the fight began after Martinez threatened to murder Aubry if the baby daddy failed to let Berry and her daughter move with Martinez to France.
35. Third Time Wasn’t the Charm
To date, Berry has been married and divorced three times. She shares a son with her third and most recent husband, actor Olivier Martinez, whom she married in 2013. Their divorce was finalized in 2016.
36. Stick Around Next Time
In 2000, Halle Berry pled “no contest” to leaving the scene of a traffic collision. The actress was involved with a hit-and-run in which she was alleged to have run a red light, crashed her car into another vehicle, and then fled the scene of the accident. The actress was sentenced to probation, community service, and fined $13,500.
37. It’s Not a Contest, Says the Winner
Halle Berry remains one of the most recognizable beauties of the 21st century. In 2003, she topped People’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World magazine after seven years of “simply” making the top ten.
38. You Can’t Choose Color
Berry has described her biracial background as “painful and confusing” at times. Her father is African-American and her mother is white. However, she made the decision to identity as a Black woman from a young age. That’s how the world would perceive her, like it or not.
39. Odd One Out
Berry and her sister were raised in the white suburbs of Bedford, Ohio where she attended schools of almost all-white students. Berry’s early experiences with discrimination fuelled her passion to succeed at everything from an early age.
40. Unhappily Ever After
Berry’s parents had a meet-cute backstory, engaging in a sweet workplace romance. Her mother worked as a nurse in the same psychiatric ward where her father was a hospital attendant (he would later go on to be a bus driver). Unfortunately, the couple was doomed to a tragic end. Berry’s father became brutally abusive, subjecting Berry’s mother to near-daily beatings.
41. Father Doesn’t Know Best
After the fallout of her father’s abuse and abandonment, Berry and her older sister were raised by their mother alone. In fact, Berry has had zero contact with her father since she was four years old. In 1992, the actress speculated, “Maybe he’s not alive.”
42. Enjoying Her Night
When asked about how she celebrated her Oscar win, Berry admitted that she “became inebriated” very soon after giving her triumphant speech and has no memory of attending parties or celebrating. When you make history, you party hard.
43. Love Shouldn’t Hurt
In 1991, Berry was physically abused by a boyfriend to the point of losing 80% of hearing in her left ear. Berry has not disclosed the identity of her abuser—but she has stated that he is an established name in Hollywood and that the incident occurred while she was filming The Last Boy Scout. Commentators have identified Wesley Snipes and Christopher Williams as dating Berry around the time of the incident.
44. Trouble in the Bedroom?
Halle Berry was married to singer-songwriter Eric Benét from 2001 to 2005. This second marriage was hardly smooth sailing. Benét underwent treatment for his sex addiction in 2002, and the couple separated by 2003.