For his entire career, Eminem has reveled in his split personality, toggling between the more sensitive Marshall Mathers (his real name) and his mischievous alter egos, Eminem and Slim Shady. But in her upcoming memoir, “My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem,” Debbie Nelson says she regrets keeping quiet as Em cultivated his public persona of a trailer dweller with a crazy welfare mom.
In the book, due out in November, Nelson attempts to set the record straight on her troubled relationship with her eldest son and includes never-before-seen lyrics and poems he wrote before his rise to fame. (Find out the latest on Eminem’s new album here .)
Nelson writes that she encouraged Eminem every step of the way on his career, even when the “skinny white dude” (as he referred to himself) was laughed off the stage and mocked by the Detroit MCs and DJs he tried so hard to impress. And though she was troubled by the things he said about her and his upbringing in public, he told her that the fouler he was, the more the audience loved him. In interviews, including one with Kurt Loder in 1999 , Eminem called his mother unreliable and claimed he raised his little brother mostly on his own.
“At first I went along with it for Marshall’s sake — if I made one mistake as a mother, it was giving in to my eldest son’s every whim,” she says, noting that some relatives commented that mother and son were so close, it was as if the umbilical cord had never been cut. “He never knew his father, and I did all I could to make up for it. I wasn’t happy when he made up a whole new life for himself — what mother wants to be known as a pill-popping alcoholic who lives on welfare? To tell the truth, I was heartbroken. The lies started coming thick and fast — and not just from Marshall. … I think he’s forgotten the good times we had, and this book is my way of setting the record straight.”
Nelson depicts the young Marshall running around their house in a Batman cape, jumping off the sofa and crashing into her lap. Their home was full of music that the future MC would often mimic while watching himself in a mirror, and he filled notebooks with poetry and superhero sketches, she recalls. An entrepreneur by age 11, Marshall was charging other neighborhood kids a quarter to watch him breakdance.
She says he grew from a perfect baby who never cried to a troubled child with a temper who was terribly shy around strangers and other kids, preferring to play with his imaginary friend, Casper. People often referred to Em as a “monster,” she says, recalling when he destroyed a store display and lay spread-eagle across an aisle screaming and when he pulled an old lady’s hair and threw food around at a restaurant where his mother worked.
Because he was small, he was often bullied at school. When he was 9, he was beat so badly he lost consciousness and was hospitalized for four days for a cerebral hemorrhage and had to relearn how to tie his shoes and pour cereal in a bowl. When Em referred to the incident in the song “Brain Damage,” his tormentor DeAngelo Bailey tried to sue him for $1 million.
Nelson says Marshall clung to her when she dropped him off, often faking illnesses to get out of going to school and once smashing his arm through a glass door and cutting a main artery in his wrist in a panic when he thought she was leaving the house without him. He eventually made what she calls a miraculous recovery from his brain injury, but when doctors warned that another blow to the head could kill him, she made him wear a football helmet to play outside.
During his rise to fame with The Slim Shady LP in 1999, Eminem was so strung out on drugs and alcohol that he later confessed to his mother that he couldn’t recall much of anything about that year — not his hit singles, his concerts or even his first wedding to his on-and-off first love, Kim Scott .
“No one prepares you for the downside of celebrity,” she says. “There isn’t a school for would-be stars and their families where you can learn about the pitfalls. Marshall says fame brought a slew of problems he never expected. He no longer trusts anyone. Everyone wants a piece of Eminem the megastar, not Marshall Mathers the man. I call these people the circling vultures: They spot dollar signs and swoop in for the kill.”
It wasn’t just Eminem who suffered. Fans would spit at his mother in supermarkets and stick gum in her hair, and their parents would sneer at her. She says the abuse mirrored what she endured in her own sad childhood and adulthood, which included physical abuse from her stepfather and mother, who also attempted suicide several times. At 15, she married Em’s abusive, hard-drinking father and dropped out of school. She later suffered through three other marriages with abusive men, numerous acts of random violence against her and a car crash that left her vocal cords severely damaged and caused her weight to plummet below 80 pounds.
Nelson also chronicles the love-hate relationship between Eminem and twice ex-wife Kim, who came to live with the family when she was just 13 and quickly established an antagonistic relationship with Nelson. Constantly cursing at Nelson, Kim would frequently belittle Eminem’s writing talents, his mother says, and friends would tease him about the iron hold Kim had on his emotions.
As Em’s fame grew, with it came a barrage of lawsuits from the gnarled family tree. And though Eminem assured his mother that the image he painted of her as a drunk, pill-popping, lawsuit-happy woman was just a joke, eventually her lawyer filed an infamous $11 million defamation suit against him. Nelson says, however, that the lawyer filed the suit without her permission. (She eventually was awarded $25,000, and after legal fees went home with only $1,600.)
As his marriage to Kim crumbled and those he thought he could trust betrayed him, Nelson says Em receded into a haze of drug abuse and cut his mother out of his increasingly hectic life.
“It’s been said that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, would have a field day dissecting my son,” Nelson writes near the end of the book. “It’s true. Marshall is a mass of contradictions — he’s shy, suffers terrible stage fright, yet tours constantly and is among the most instantly recognizable people in the world. I believe he’d have been far happier writing lyrics and producing away from the spotlight. Sometimes I wish we hadn’t moved back to Michigan in 1987, where he got involved with hard-core rap. If we’d stayed in Missouri, he’d have maybe worked on a farm or in a factory. I don’t know if that would have made him happier, but I do know we would not be estranged.”
Cut off from her son’s life, Nelson says she worries he’s turning into a kind of hip-hop Elvis, sequestered behind the gates of his home, depressed and separated from those who love him.
“As a mother, of course, I worry,” she writes. “But I do truly believe that Marshall will be back. I’m sure he’s biding his time, waiting for the right moment, and when he does return, he will be bigger and stronger and more successful than ever. I know my son, and he just doesn’t give up that easily.”
Reps for Eminem’s label, Interscope, had no comment on the book.