Kerry Washington spent six years on primetime TV fixing issues as crisis manager Olivia Pope, but the secret issues she faced in her real life are finally coming to light—and they’re as shocking as they are tragic.
1. Things Looked Good
From the outside looking in, Kerry Washington’s childhood seemed like a picture-perfect existence. Her mother, a professor, and her father, a real estate broker, raised her in New York City in the 1980s. The family lived a reasonably well-off, middle-class existence, but behind the house’s walls? Washington had her fair share of struggles.
2. She Didn’t Feel Safe
Washington experienced terrible panic attacks in her early years. She heard her parents argue a lot, which partly explains the mental stress she endured. Her parents' arguments turned out to be merely the symptom of deeper problems, though. Her father found himself caught up in vices that affected his decision-making.
3. Her Dad Drank Too Much
Although reports don’t go into too much detail, Washington alleges her father had a problem with drinking during her youth. There’s no report of physical violence or anything of the sort, but the very mention of it indicated it affected Washington negatively. Her father wasn't the only one dragging his baggage into the family, though.
4. Her Mom Messed Up
Her parents’ marriage wasn’t her mother’s first ride at the rodeo. Before Washington’s birth, she actually married another man. Furthermore, she struggled to have children and even lost a child in birth. Still, Washington feels her parents did the best they could. Unfortunately, even their best couldn’t alway protect her.
5. She Got Hurt
A close community surrounded Washington throughout her early life in the Bronx. For the most part, she considered it a good thing. But frequent sleepovers became dangerous when a boy near her age started abusing her whenever no parents were present. Sadly, her response to these incidents show just how alone she felt.
6. She Kept Her Secrets
She didn’t stay totally silent. When Washington accused the boy of violating her, he called her “crazy”. He didn’t stop until she threatened to expose him. She didn’t tell her parents about the painful experience until her adulthood, though. It became just the first of many times Washington decided to keep the whole truth to herself.
7. She Experimented
During her teenage years, Washington engaged in a romantic relationship with another girl. That’s no shocker in our modern times, but relationships between women were still taboo then. Perhaps that’s the reason she kept it from her parents, figuring they’d prefer the illusion over the truth. That ideology soon turned dangerous.
8. She Wanted To Be Perfect
A high achiever from her youth, Washington attended a rigorous all-girl’s private highschool. She also grew interested in the arts when her mother enrolled her in children's theatre to help her expend her extra energy. She fell in love with it right away. But her interest in another art form put her within arms length of a star-to-be.
9. She Had Famous Teachers
Washington learned dance from instructor Larry Maldonado in the Bronx. You likely haven’t heard of Maldonado, but you’ve probably heard of one of his teaching assistants—actress, singer, and dancer Jennifer Lopez. It made for a good set up. But despite her productive hobbies, she continued to struggle behind the scenes.
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10. Her Mind Tormented Her
Throughout highschool, Washington continued to fight her inner demons. She couldn’t subdue the recurring feeling that she didn’t know who she was. She found herself mired in depression, and struggling to eat in a healthy way. Still, like she learned to do in her childhood, she pushed it down and looked forward—or tried to anyway.
11. It Caught Up With Her
Washington went on to attend George Washington University. She continued to study both acting and dancing throughout her college years, even doing a few commercials. Although she excelled academically, life in Hollywood kept calling to her. Perhaps this potential of a life with all eyes on her pushed her to extreme measures.
12. She Used Food To Feel Better
During the trials of her college years, Washington used food to comfort herself. Things got so bad that she’d go on food binges, eating whole pizzas and pints of ice cream. After over-indulging, she’d feel so guilty that she overworked herself with exercise. She tried, but she couldn’t hide the dangerous habit for long.
13. She Got Caught
Luckily, Washington’s dance teacher noticed something was wrong. She persuaded Washington to get help, leading her to therapy and yoga. According to her own reports, therapy played a crucial role in helping her create a healthy relationship with her body. However, her body turned out not to be the only serious problem to come up.
14. She Had Daddy Issues
Washington talked about her father in therapy often. She deeply lamented their lack of connection. Worse than that, she felt her own self to be the problem. While Wahington learned to cope in therapy, she didn’t at all give up on her work of being “perfect”. In fact, you might say she tried harder, making the very idea of failure even scarier.
15. She Did Her Thing
Her mental struggles mostly under control, Washington went on to graduate with degrees in both anthropology and sociology, as well as to pledge a sorority. Academics aside, though, she never totally gave up on her dreams of performing for the masses. Her studies complete, she set her sights on something much more flashy (and risky).
16. She Went Big Time (Almost)
Washington made a play for the bright lights of Hollywood in the late 90’s and early 2000s. She played minor roles in a few films, including a spot in the very successful film Save The Last Dance, and a noticeable though small role alongside Chris Rock in Bad Company. Unfortunately, things just didn’t take off like she hoped.
17. She Wanted To Give Up
By 2004, the glamour of acting lost its appeal to her. Washington switched gears, deciding to focus on another hobby—yoga. She set herself up to become a yoga instructor, until the script for the biographical film Ray came across her radar. She decided to give the world of acting another try, and it’s ridiculously lucky that she did.
18. She Hit Her Stride
Audiences received Ray and Washington’s portrayal of his first wife with rave reviews. She began to turn into quite the hot commodity, appearing in several more films and guest starring on popular television shows like Boston Legal. While her life onscreen blossomed, however, she discovered fame didn’t feel as great as it looked.
19. She Couldn’t Get Away
After her success with Ray, people started noticing Washington. Fans came up to her, often talking to her in ways that made her feel exposed and uncomfortable. In her own words, the realization that she no longer had anonymity made her feel “trapped and powerless”. Tragedy in her own life made it even harder to celebrate her wins.
20. She Almost Lost Her
Around this time, she received devastating news. Doctors diagnosed her mother with cancer. With that and her new entrance into fame, Washington found herself reacquainted with an old friend (or enemy!)—depression. Perhaps another loss, one she didn’t reveal to the world until just this year, pushed her deeper into the darkness.
21. She Wasn’t Ready
Sometime during this early career success, Washington got hit with something she didn’t at all expect, a pregnancy. The identity of the father remains under wraps, as does the exact time she found out. Either way, she decided that she couldn’t take care of a child with her career on the rise. That didn’t make the next steps any easier, though.
22. She Stayed Hidden
Washington decided to terminate her pregnancy, but did so under a fake name. She claims she used the false moniker to hide her shame, but she likely also hoped to keep the story out of the gossip columns with her newly growing fame. She didn’t keep everything private, though, as a steamy romance soon appeared on the scene.
23. She Fell Hard...
Actor David Moscow met Washington at a charity event in her hometown, New York City, early in 2004. The details surrounding the actual events of their first meeting aren’t public knowledge, but it must have been something special. Not only did the two start seeing each other regularly, but they also made a surprising decision not too long after.
24. ...And She Fell Fast
Before the years end, they got engaged and moved in together. Their relationship played out very publicly, but mostly without a hitch. A bit of a Hollywood “It” couple, they even appeared together on an InStyle Weddings magazine cover. Like many couples do, they soon took off on a private vacation, one that nearly became a nightmare.
25. She Got Lucky
Moscow and Washington took off to Thailand shortly after their engagement, and visited her extended relatives there. One evening, they decided to stay with her family instead of going back to their hotel. That very night, tragedy struck the country—a tsunami entirely wiped out the hotel they booked. It changed Washington forever.
26. She Trusted Herself
Just barely missing the loss of her own life made Washington look at her life with new eyes. Despite her struggles, she felt encouraged to take charge of her personal narrative and truly start trusting her own instincts. The new shift in perspective came at just the right time, considering the judgment she faced about her relationship.
27. They Didn’t Like It
Although the two seemingly made a well matched pair, everyone didn’t necessarily agree. One major difference between them couldn’t be hidden—Moscow was white and Washington was Black. Several naysayers criticized their relationship, but the couple continued on unbothered for several years, until other factors stopped them in their tracks.
28. She Chose Herself
Washington and Moscow stayed together for five years, until they found their progress beginning to slow as they planned the wedding. By Washington’s account, she just didn’t feel excited about it anymore. They broke off the engagement, with Washington emphasizing her need to focus on herself. She might have been right, considering what happened next.
29. She Almost Missed Her Moment
Critically acclaimed producer Shonda Rhimes’ political drama, Scandal, headed into pre-production in the early 2010s. Already set to be a success, the network originally considered Friday Night Lights star, Connie Britton, for the lead. Rhymes, however, insisted the lead be played by a black woman. The rest is television history.
30. She Did It First
Scandal aired for seven seasons, turning Washington and her character, Olivia Pope, into household names. Not only did she win several awards and nominations, but she also served as the first black woman to head a drama since the 1970s. While Washington’s face graced screens weekly, though, she kept her own life completely buried.
31. She Did It On Purpose
Perhaps it went unnoticed because she didn’t disappear completely. Washington continued to do interviews, magazine covers, and even social media. However, she intentionally kept her own life to herself, refusing to reveal information about her dating life, or anything else for that matter. Didn’t mean life changing things weren’t happening, though.
32. She Fell Again
Washington met NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha sometime in 2012. In another super speedy romance, the two fell in love and decided to get married the very next year. The Scandal star’s marriage definitely should have made headlines, but she refused to let the public in. In fact, she went to some unusual measures to keep her engagement secret.
33. She Snuck Around
Not in technical sense, but she certainly did whatever she needed to do to keep her fiancé to herself. Reportedly, rather than wearing her engagement ring on her hand, she kept it pinned in her clothing when she went out. With the engagement on the low, they kept the wedding small to preserve the secret—and preserve it they did.
34. They Stayed Apart
Once the two tied the knot in a secret wedding at a friend’s home, they continued to keep their marriage extremely below the radar. They even went so far as to attend important events single. Seriously. They both attended the same events, but not together. And when they took another huge step as a couple, their antics only got sneakier.
35. She Hid Her Babies
Washington birthed two children within the first few years of her marriage. The children are barely ever seen, actually, on social media or otherwise. In many ways, even Washington’s pregnancies remained mostly secret. And perhaps she and Asomgha might’ve continued that way, if not for the shocking revelation on the horizon.
36. Her Friend Pushed Her
As Scandal drew to an end, Washington began to shift gears as she planned the rest of her future. Reportedly, Rhimes encouraged her to write a memoir. Washington hesitated at first, struggling with a continuing feeling that perhaps she didn’t know everything she needed to know. She ignored the feeling until she literally had no other choice.
37. She Found A Cop Out
Once Scandal officially ended, Washington signed a deal to write a book. She didn’t necessarily mean to write a memoir, though. She originally planned to write a book of lessons she learned from playing Olivia Pope on the award-winning drama. Then she received an invitation that changed not only the book, but her life as she knew it.
38. She Got A Chance
In 2018, Henry Louis Gate Jr invited Washington to do an episode of his show on PBS, Finding Your Roots. The show aimed at using DNA to do a deep dive into the backgrounds of various celebrities. Intrigued by the concept, Washington accepted. However, when she took the opportunity to her parents, things began to fall apart.
39. Her Parents Freaked
Washington needed DNA samples from both her parents to start the process, but neither seemed too keen on the idea. Her mother expressed that she didn’t realize she’d have to give a sample and didn’t desire to do so. Her father, on the other hand, began suffering with intense anxiety. As you probably agree at this point, their reaction seemed suspicious.
40. He Tried
Washington initially decided to withdraw from the program, but Gates offered to try his hand at persuading her parents. They agreed to speak with Gates, but without their daughter present. By the end of the conversation, they still refused to do the show, but did make a serious decision. With no other valid options, the truth finally came out.
41. They Lied
Washington’s parents admitted a secret they kept from her for her entire life. The man who raised her, the man she called dad, wasn’t actually her birth father. Her parents finally admitted that her mother conceived her via a sperm donor. The lifetime of lies hit hard, and her parents intent to keep the lie hit even harder.
42. They Made A Plan
Reportedly, Washington’s parents had no real plans to ever tell her the truth. Instead, her mother admitted to arranging to leave the information in a safety deposit box for her to find in the event anything happened to them. Like anyone would, Washington proceeded to question her parents' motives to keep up such a huge lie. Their response?
43. Her Beginning Was Taboo
Sperm donors aren’t an uncommon phenomenon nowadays. But back in the 80s, when Washington’s mother struggled to conceive, artificial insemination wasn’t nearly as common. The procedure was both new and untraditional. So they didn’t tell anyone. By this time, writing an Olivia Pope inspired book was the last thing on Washington’s mind.
44. She Couldn’t Do It
Floored by her parents’ news, Washington gave up on the book altogether... In fact, she even tired to pay her publishers back their advance. They refused, however, giving her time to think things over. When she really considered the secret and what it meant, she realized the new truth actually shone light on one of her greatest life struggles.
45. It Finally Made Sense
While Washington definitely felt mixed emotions about her parents huge secret, she also felt that things finally made sense. She grew up feeling like her life missed something, and her parents' revelation finally explained why. That didn’t make the revelation easy to deal with though—not for her or her parents.
46. They Didn’t Love It
Washington took the book in an entirely new direction. She wrote a memoir more centered on herself and her family, resulting in a book that revealed more than anyone ever knew about her and her background. All things considered, it won’t surprise you that the prospect of the book didn’t necessarily excite them, though.
47. They Needed Help
Washington and her parents made a point of pushing through these challenges to save their relationship. They all went to a therapist for help, along with Washington’s husband. By her own account, they continue to work through things, and have somehow managed to strengthen their bonds. Good thing, considering the huge difficulties to come.
48. Her Mother Suffered
In 2020, doctors diagnosed Washington’s mother with a relapse of cancer. She beat it before, but Washington found she struggled to connect with her mother during those times. But in the wake of the new truth between them, Washington felt closer to her mother than ever, able to stay tied to her on her road to recovery. All was not necessarily well, though.
49. She Still Searches
Although Washington indeed felt that knowing the truth about her origin helped settle many questions she struggled with, she allegedly still hopes to find her birth father. To this point, the case is a cold one with no leads. However, Washington continues to pursue her father in hopes of getting more of her life’s questions answered.
50. She Looks To The Future
Washington finally revealed all these secrets in her 2023 memoir, Thicker Than Water. While she continues to look for a lead on her father, Washington moves forward with work on various projects, and not only as an actress either. Reportedly, she has multiple projects in the pipeline, including an upcoming project with Netflix.