Charlize Theron's Family Tragedy

ByABC News
January 8, 2004, 7:47 PM

Jan. 8 -- For nearly a decade, Charlize Theron has been one of Hollywood's certified goddesses, 5 feet 10 inches of traffic-stopping, red carpet-strutting, designer-clad glamour.

Roles in movies such as The Italian Job, Sweet November, Reindeer Games and The Cider House Rules put the actress on the A-list. She is getting rave reviews and a lot of Oscar buzz and has even been nominated for a Golden Globe for her bold, risk-taking performance as serial killer Aileen Wournos in her latest film, Monster.

That bravery also extends beyond her career. Theron spoke out in a public service announcement about the rarely talked-about rape crisis in her native South Africa. When the South African government got cold feet and pulled it, she went to court and fought to get it back on the air.

Theron says she got that kind of confidence from one person: her mother, Gerda. But the story is not one of a simple mother-daughter relationship.

Up until now, Theron has never told the story on television. "It's not just about me," she said. "If it was just about me, I think I could talk about it." She says her mother "has never asked to be in the spotlight, and she's never asked for any of this."

But on Primetime Thursday, Theron told the story to ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer.

Fear of Firearms

It happened one night when Theron was 15 years old and had just returned home from boarding school. Her parents had a troubled marriage, but divorce was simply not an option among their friends in South Africa at that time.

"My dad was a big guy, tall, skinny legs, big belly," Theron told Sawyer. "[He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic."

Theron says her father never physically abused her, but concedes "he was a verbal abuser."

On the night of June 21, 1991, Theron's father and his brother were returning home after a bout of drinking. An aunt called to warn of his agitation. "Nature gives you instinct. And I knew something bad was going to happen," Theron said.