Natalie Cole Shares Unforgettable Life

ByABC News
July 20, 2001, 11:48 AM

July 20 -- With more than 20 million albums sold and multiple Grammy awards to show for it, Natalie Cole, the daughter of legendary singer Nat King Cole, has made a name for herself.

But her amazing success has been accompanied by years of desperation in a world of drugs, crime, prostitution and failed marriages.

"I have been to hell and back," she says. "I have seen the edge. I have seen the dark side of life."

In her brutally honest autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder, Cole looks at the often self-destructive path she has taken and how she has lived to share her inspiring recovery and comeback.

She says she is finally at peace with her past and looking forward to October, when she will wed Nashville pastor Kenneth H. Dupree.

"Where I'm at now helps me to look back on my life and realize that I've really had quite a colorful and rich life," she says. "I really could have turned out to be a different person. I'm so grateful for the way my life has turned out It almost seems miraculous that I would come to the station that I'm at now."

Her Father's Daughter

As the second daughter of Maria and Nat King Cole, Cole had as normal a childhood as was possible for a little girl whose father spent much of his time away from home.

With hopes of one day becoming a doctor, she left her family in Los Angeles to attend boarding school on the East Coast. When she was 14, she came to the shock of her life: Her father had been deathly ill with lung cancer.

Less than two months later in 1965, Nat King Cole was dead at the age of 47.

"I don't think that any of us really realized how much it would fragment us afterwards," says Cole. "It unraveled my mom and trickled down to us. And we never healed again."

During her college years at Amherst, Cole began to experiment with drugs.

"Doing acid or downers or uppers or whatever all that stuff was, Yellow Sunshine, Orange Sunshine that was part of what everybody did," she says.

The drugs didn't keep her from the lure of music. She had joined a band and played in small clubs on the East Coast, but also entertained hopes of becoming a child psychologist.