Terrence Howard, Star of ‘The Butler,’ Is an Actor With a Dark Past

The Butler star, accused of domestic abuse, has a history of violence.


On a winter’s night just a few years ago, the actor Terrence Howard invited an actress up to his hotel room with the promise of an evening filled with fun, drinks, and music, according to the woman.

The actress accepted the invite and then made her way up to Howard’s room, where he quickly excused himself to the restroom. Several minutes later, Howard reemerged, naked, with a guitar in hand. For the next 30 minutes, the Oscar-nominated star of such films as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Iron Man, and the upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic Winnie proceeded to play tunes from his alternative music album, Shine Through It.

He strummed the guitar as “if he were fully clothed and in front of a crowd of thousands,” remembered the actress. After the performance, Howard gave her a hug and politely bid her goodnight.

“Everything was dangling—him and the guitar—so I didn’t know if I should stay or run out of the room screaming when he first came out butt-naked,” said the actress. “I didn’t want to upset him because you just never know with Terrence. He can go cray cray real quickly.”

You never know with Terrence is the most common sentiment offered when the 44-year-old actor’s name comes up in Tinseltown conversation. He’s known as much for his charismatic personality and soulful portrayals as for his violent temper and frequent arrests, and some wonder how much longer Hollywood will support the troubled star.

Various police records show that, starting in 2001, Howard began an ongoing relationship with law enforcement, with frequent arrests for alleged domestic abuse, assault, and terrorist threats. In 2001, Howard was arrested for allegedly attacking estranged wife Lori McCommas, whom he later divorced and remarried. According to the police report, Howard forced entry into McCommas’s house after an argument and chased her to the backyard, whereupon he punched her in the face twice with a closed fist. He pleaded guilty in 2002 to disorderly conduct.

Howard’s second wife, Michelle Ghent, also has accused Howard of regular domestic abuse during their short marriage and obtained a restraining order against him last week, according to E!. If that weren’t enough, Philadelphia magazine also reported last week that in 2005, Howard punched a woman he didn’t know as he waited to be seated at a local diner. He again pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Now he’s being sued for unpaid back rent after being evicted from his SoHo apartment, according to TMZ.

Representatives for Howard did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

“Terrence is an amazing actor with some real anger issues that he finds a way to use in a constructive way in his craft,” said an insider who’s worked with the star. “I know I’m going to get a really good performance with elements I hadn’t expected when I get Terrence. I also know I’m going to get a certain amount of unneeded drama as well.”

Howard’s career began wholesomely enough when, as Terrence Dashon Howard, he portrayed Jackie Jackson in the 1992 ABC miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream. With his sly wit and charming ease in front of the camera, he quickly began to land film and stages roles opposite the likes of Richard Dreyfus and James Earl Jones.

But steady success on stage and in film did little to erase the memories of the traumatic experiences Howard faced as a young boy growing up in Cleveland. He was born to biracial parents, with his mother, Anita, commonly referred to as black, while his father, Tyrone, had more European features. In early interviews, he recalled being ridiculed for his mixed heritage, which included green eyes and light skin. “My father was an insurance salesman at the time and we lived in the suburbs, but when my father went to prison, we were forced to move into the projects, which subjected us to more racism because here I am, this light-skinned, green-eyed kid in the middle of the projects,” Howard recalled.

The incident in question occurred back in 1971, in what Cleveland police officials later called the “Santa Line Slaying.” Howard, then 2, and his family were standing in line at a large department store to see Santa Claus when Howard’s father, Tyrone, got into an argument with Jack Fitzpatrick, who accused the family of cutting in line, according to the Cleveland police report.

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While witness reports conflict about whether Fitzpatrick called the Howard family the N word, there is no argument that two men fought and the elder Howard stabbed Fitzpatrick with a sharp object several times in the thigh and neck. Howard fled the scene and landed at his mother’s house before turning himself in to the police later that day. Fitzpatrick would later die from his wounds.

Tyrone Howard was convicted of manslaughter, and his family was forced to leave their home and move into an inner-city housing project as a result.

His son usually declines to discuss that incident in detail these days, but those in Hollywood say they forever keep that tragic set of events in mind when dealing with the actor.

“How can you not feel bad for a guy with all that in his history,” said another Hollywood insider who did not want to identified. “That’s a lot of anger that probably never got dealt with, given the limited resources I think his family had. I’m not excusing him, but I do feel for the guy.”

While Howard works regularly in mainstream productions, it is black Hollywood that fully embraces the actor, temper, nudity, and all. Lee Daniels hired him to play a neighbor in this weekend’s box-office winner, Lee Daniels' The Butler, while Malcolm Lee rehired the actor for his Christmas sequel, The Best Man 2.

Acccording to a fellow actor, Hollywood legends Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington have both shown their concern for the actor by reaching out to him over the last few years as well. In 2006, when Howard was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as a rapper and pimp in the film Hustle & Flow, he was slated to perform a song from the film, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” at the ceremony. Both Poitier and Washington called the actor and asked him to respect his heritage and his career by not performing the song on stage at such a prestigious event.

“Those men really worried he’d be hurting himself and his career long-term,” said the fellow actor. “They cared enough to reach out to him and make their concerns known. They think he has big talent and don’t want to see him waste it.”

The fellow actor wasn’t sure if either man spoke to Howard about his anger-management issues in detail.

“They did tell him to always consider his actions and the long-term circumstances of them at all times,” said the actor. “Not sure if he really got that part of it.”