Terrence Howard’s star turn as Lucious Lyon on Fox’s hit series Empire has re-launched the actor's career. But no amount of guest stars or number of distractingly lustrous Cookie Lyon mink coats can distract viewers from Howard’s troubled past and bouts of barely concealed insanity.
In 2013, an actress told The Daily Beast that Howard once invited her up to his hotel room, then immediately got butt-naked and played a half-hour guitar set from his own alternative music album, Shine Through It. In a new Rolling Stone profile, Howard plays for a reporter an audio recording of his ex-wife threatening to sell tabloids some “shitty tapes” of the star having phone sex and dancing naked. Unfortunately, a penchant for nude self-expression is actually one of the least alarming behavioral threads woven throughout Howard’s Hollywood story.
In 2001, Howard was arrested for allegedly assaulting his first wife, Lori McCommas, whom he later divorced then remarried. In Rolling Stone, Howard explains away the assault, saying, “She was talking to me real strong, and I lost my mind and slapped her in front of the kids…Her lawyer said it was a closed fist, but even slapping her was wrong.”
But Howard was charged with assault (and pleaded guilty to harassment) again in 2005 after getting into an altercation with a couple at a diner and punching the woman. And in 2011, his second wife, Michelle Ghent, took out a restraining order and accused Howard of beating her, grabbing her by the neck, and threatening to kill her during a family vacation to Costa Rica. Howard remains mum on that incident but explains another time that Ghent was photographed with a black eye: “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.”
Despite the public allegations against Howard, Fox CEO Dana Walden defended her decision to cast him in Empire, claiming that “with Terrence we didn’t really become aware of any of the [domestic violence allegations] until December,” one month before the show premiered.
While Walden clearly favors implausible deniability, Howard doesn’t seem to be in the business of disguising his own demons. Despite three ex-wives, one very public alimony case (which turned a sex tape and STD rumors into tabloid fodder), apartment evictions and accusations of an unpredictable and demanding on-set persona, Howard loves Howard more than Cookie loves Lucious.
In his whirlwind Rolling Stone profile, Howard jumps from his acting career to his current obsession: handcrafted, plastic creations that, in tandem with proofs written out in a secret language called “Terryology,” are meant to prove that one times one equals two. According to the nation’s leading (only) Terryologist, Terrence Howard, “This is the last century that our children will ever have been taught that one times one is one…I have created the pieces that make up the motion of the universe.”
“I figured it out,” Howard insists. “If Pythagoras was here to see it, he would lose his mind. Einstein, too! Tesla!”
In addition to dismantling universal mathematical principles (and writing backwards with his left hand), Howard may also be the world's most under-recognized pickup artist. In what may be the low-key greatest anecdote in this entire article, ex-wife Mira Pak describes when she first met Howard, after he marched up to the table where she was eating lunch with an old boss and declared, “I don't know if she’s your wife or girlfriend, but she’s absolutely stunning.”
“That’s very bold of you,” Pak said. Howard replied, “Well, only a tiger can approach a tiger.” They were married three weeks later.
As is expected when two tigers cohabitate, Howard and Pak separated last year. But despite living separately since August 2014, Howard and Pak presented themselves to Rolling Stone as a happily married couple (the truth leaked a few weeks after the interview). Howard insisted that he’s “got a good wife,” while Pak maintained that soon they were going to buy a house in the suburbs, “in Winnetka.” Pak cited an “amazing connection” between her and Howard, before revealing that “in our two years together, I’ve only gone to restaurants with him two or three times. We've never been to the supermarket together. We've never been to the movies. I've never gotten a gift from him. Never, never...And then every minute that he has free, it’s to do this [work on his huge collection of plastic creations].”
To hear Howard tell it, his childhood was a violent crash of hardship, illness, tragedy, luck, and triumph. He insists that his 15-year-old mother was on the way to the abortion clinic when she suddenly decided to continue her pregnancy. In 1971, a 2-year-old Howard witnessed his father stab a stranger multiple times in a department store, over accusations of line cutting. That stranger eventually died from his wounds, and Tyrone Howard was convicted of manslaughter for a crime that's now referred to as the “Santa Line Slaying.” In high school, he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, which temporarily paralyzed the right side of his face. Howard swears that “every day for five months” he administered self-prescribed electrical shocks to his face by re-appropriating the wires from his dad's electric razor and funneling energy from the basement fuse box. As a chemical engineering student at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Howard claims that he argued with a professor because of his certainty that one times one equals two; he eventually left the school due to ideological differences.
Terrence Howard’s truths are not universal. While he says that Robert Downey Jr. only landed a part in Iron Man because of Howard’s insistence, Marvel Studios maintains that he played no role in Downey’s casting. After Howard refused a salary cut and was replaced in the sequel, he says he pestered Downey Jr., “leaving messages with his assistants, called him at least 17 times that day and 21 the next and finally left a message saying, ‘Look, man, I need the help that I gave you.’ Never heard from him. And guess who got the millions I was supposed to get? He got the whole franchise, so I’ve actually given him $100 million, which ends up being a $100 million loss for me from me trying to look after somebody.”
But Terrence Howard is looking forward, not back. He’s only visited a shrink once, in the ’90s, where he was diagnosed with sex addiction. Oprah once told him, “Your crown is waiting right there. Pick it up and put it on.”
Howard has also had quite a head start on the mindfulness trend—in fact, he's been fully alert since “being in the womb,” an experience he says he remembers. “I have been aware since that moment...I’m on my own path, and I like the pebbles of my cobblestones.” At this point, Howard’s path includes less Empire screen time on account of his abusive past and troubled personal life. But hey, enjoy those cobblestones.