Mariel Hemingway on Beating Family Demons

Actress Mariel Hemingway never knew her famous grandfather. But Stephen Crisman, Mariel's husband of 18 years, says she carries the family traits.

But along with those family traits came a legacy of family trauma. Ernest Hemingway, the hard-drinking, Nobel Prize-winning writer shot himself just months before Mariel was born in 1961. Her grandfather's death was just one in a string of tragedies that would haunt the legendary family.

In a Ketchum, Idaho cemetery Ernest is surrounded by other Hemingways who lost their lives to alcoholism, illness, and sadness. It's not a place where Mariel feels comfortable or visits often. While some may view these family tragedies as a sort of "Hemingway curse," Mariel doesn't view it that way.

"I don't think of it that way but I know that I'm gonna keep it at bay by taking care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally," she told 20/20's Deborah Roberts.

At 41, Mariel is clearly a survivor. She says yoga and meditation have saved her — bringing serenity to a life threatened by demons. Yoga is a key part of her new memoir called Finding My Balance.

"I use the yoga postures to say this is how I observe my pain from my past. I'm not gonna hold onto my past," she said.

It all started well enough in Sun Valley where her father Jack, Ernest's eldest son fell in love with a striking woman everyone called Puck. The couple soon had two daughters, but the love affair had soured. By the time Mariel came along she says it was clear that her parents were in a loveless marriage.

They were living in separate rooms and fighting a lot, she said. Alcohol played a big role in the couple's troubles. Mariel recalled, "My father and my mother drank every night. … They would call it wine time. … I know that after one glass of wine, they were smiles, after two, there were getting cranky. After three, stuff was happening. The bottle of wine and you know glasses were hitting the walls."

Those episodes had a lasting impact on Mariel, who now says she's "very frightened of alcohol personally" and doesn't drink.

Mariel's homelife spun out of control as her two rebellious sisters experimented with alcohol and drugs. Her sister Muffet's drug use, she says, led to mental illness.

"Muffet was so extraordinary. She was a tremendous free spirit as a kid, but then she would have just these flashes of like almost crazy behavior. Not almost crazy, it was quite nutty behavior," Mariel said.

Her parents would eventually learn that Muffet was suffering from manic depression, which was later diagnosed and treated. Then there was Mariel's sister Margaux, who was seven years older than Mariel. She was a beautiful fashion model, but she was also troubled and rebellious, Mariel recalled.

Her parents were vicious toward each other, but Mariel desperately loved them both, and was shattered when her father delivered some serious news.

When she was just 12 years old her father told her that her mother had cancer and was unlikely to live more than a few more months. Mariel said, "I became so religious, I prayed and prayed, would get on my hands and knees and I said I'll do anything to keep my mother alive. … Because as crazy as she was, she was my best friend. I mean I loved her."

Mariel became the primary care-giver, a big responsibility for a child, but she says it made her feel loved and close to her mother, who eventually grew stronger.

Mariel's Emerging Stardom

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