Sept. 4, 2001 -- Actress Anne Heche says she spent the first 31 years of her life suffering from mental illness triggered by sexual abuse at the hands of her father.
Heche, who landed on gossip pages for her romantic relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, made the comments in an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters. The program airs on 20/20 Wednesday.
"I'm not crazy," Heche — who believed for years that she was two people, one of whom was from another planet — tells Walters. "But it's a crazy life. I was raised in a crazy family and it took 31 years to get the crazy out of me."
Heche, who has starred in such movies as the remake of Psycho and Six Days, Seven Nights and had a guest-starring role on television's Ally McBeal, has written an autobiography to be released this week.
Sexual Abuse By Her Father
"I had a fantasy world that I escaped to. I called my other personality Celestia," she explains. "I believed I was from that world. I believed I was from another planet. I think I was insane."
This escape to another world, she says, stemmed from being sexually abused by her father, Donald Heche, a seemingly devout Christian who she found out was gay as he lay dying of AIDS in 1983.
"He raped me, he stuck his dick in my mouth, he fondled me, he put me on all fours, and had sex with me," says Heche, qualifying that the abuse started when she was a toddler, years that she can't remember clearly.
"I think it's always hard for children to talk about abuse because it is only memory. I didn't carry around a tape recorder … I didn't chisel anything in stone … Anybody can look and say, 'Well how do you know for sure?' And that's one of the most painful things about it. You don't."
Heche says she had herpes as a young girl, but she does not know if her mother knew she was being molested by her father. "I had a rash, I had sores, I had welts on my nose and on my lips." When she found out her father had AIDS, she feared for her life.
With her father's double life exposed, and her family homeless, Heche would spend the next 20 years in a tortured search.
"I think everything I've done in all my insanity was to try to get my parents to love me. My father loved movie stars. I decided I needed to become famous to get his love. My mother loved Jesus. That was her thing. So I wanted to become Jesus Christ."
To get away from her painful upbringing, Heche says, "I drank. I smoked. I did drugs. I had sex with people. I did anything I could to get the shame out of my life."
She also used acting as a way to escape, playing twins on the soap opera Another World from 1988 to 1992.
But as Heche's career began to flourish, she was still haunted by her past. After years of therapy, she confronted her mother about her father's sexual abuse. "She hung up the phone on me," Heche recalls. "To have gone through so much work to heal myself and have my mother not acknowledge in any way that she was sorry for what had happened to me broke my heart. And in that moment, I split off from myself."
By the time she was 25, her personality had begun to fragment, shattering into moments of madness. Celestia, her other personality whom she believed was the reincarnation of God, spoke a different language and had special powers.
"You name it, I could do it. I could see into the future. I could heal people," Heche says. "I don't know where it came from. I was, in my mind, learning it from God."
Falling for Ellen
Heche says she was in the grip of voices and visions almost every waking moment for nearly seven years. As a child of abuse, she says, she also turned to others for love and sex. She thought she had found love with actor/comedian Steve Martin, her boyfriend of two years who is 30 years older.
"I wanted the love of an older man. I wanted comfort. I wanted humor. I wanted all of the things that he offered," she says. "Why did we break up? There's wasn't anything wrong with Steve. It was just that it was not what I wanted to commit my life to."
Then, in 1997 on Oscar night, she says, "I saw the most ravishing woman I had ever seen in my life standing across the room. Her name was Ellen DeGeneres. She was radiating. I think at certain times in people's lives you just radiate an energy and a glow of fabulousness. And that was her. I had never seen anybody so lit up."
It was just one week before DeGeneres' sitcom character would come out on national TV announcing her homosexuality. "Ellen represented everything that my father never was," says Heche. "She was free. She owned her sexuality. I had connected everything with my father and my abuse to the fact that he was not allowed to be the homosexual that he was. So here I met a dream, a person, who was changing the world with her openness about her sexuality and embracing it in herself. And that, to me, was stunning."
Heche, who says she had never been with a woman before, went home with DeGeneres that night. "Up until that point, that was the best sex I'd ever had," says Heche. "I felt cared for … I felt free to express a part of me that I had not been able to express with a man. I felt sensuous and sexual in a way I hadn't before."
Looking for a Spaceship
Reviled and revered, Heche and Degeneres became gay America's poster children. But behind the united front they presented to the world, there were difficulties. They broke up on August 19, 2000.
"How do you put into a sentence why you break up with somebody?" asks Heche. "We had gotten to the point where we were not happy together anymore. We had become isolated from the world, together. I am a person who loves people, who loves being in the world, who loves acting. All of these things that I didn't have, and I wanted them back. And I believe that threatened her. She had her right to have the relationship the way she wants a relationship. I had a right to say that I didn't want that kind of relationship anymore."
Heche says she was insane throughout her three-year relationship with DeGeneres. "Ellen knew everything," she says, including her identity as Celestia, and her belief that she could speak to the dead.
The day after the breakup, Heche was found was fiybd wander in Fresno, Calif., in a confused and shaken state, wandering door to door and ending up in a stranger's backyard.
"I was told to go to a place where I would meet a spaceship. I was told in order to get on the spaceship that I would have to take a hit of ecstasy," says Heche, who adds that she is not a consistent drug user. "Fresno was the culmination of a journey and a world that I thought I needed to escape to in order to find love."
Sexuality and Marriage
That day, she says, is when she regained her sanity. "I'm all here," says Heche, who has also since found love. Over the weekend, she married Coleman "Coley" Laffoon, a cameraman she met while working on a documentary about DeGeneres.
"He's an extraordinary guy," says Heche of Laffoon, insisting he had nothing to do with her breakup from DeGeneres. "He's one of the few people I've ever met who actually embraces the same notion about sexuality that I do … which is that you love who you love. You fall in love with a person, not a sex."
Heche says she does not label herself straight, gay or bisexual. "I would never limit myself to saying I would be with a man or a woman," she says.
"I'm here … I could not be more elated with my life," says Heche, who has a television comedy in the works and whose autobiography, Call Me Crazy is being released this week.
"I wrote this book to say goodbye, once and for all to my story of shame and embrace my life choice of love," she tells Walters. "The fact that there are people hearing my story is the icing on the most beautiful cake in the world, that I imagine says, 'Happy freedom Anne. You have made it to the other side."