If there is such a thing as rock bottom, I was there,” says singer Eric Benét, who since 2001 has been best known as the husband and now ex-husband of Oscar winner Halle Berry. He sees Hurricane, his first album in six years, as a musical comeback—but even as such it’s something of a refresher course in his emotional history, with songs written before, during and after the marriage that began to derail in 2002. Admitting to infidelities, Benét checked into a 35-day sex-addict rehab program. Despite an attempted reconciliation, Berry announced they were splitting in 2003. The divorce was finalized this January, and the couple, he says, haven’t spoken in more than a year. (“I have no further comment on this matter as I have moved on with my life. I do wish Eric well,” Berry says.) As he prepares to go on tour, Benét, 38, who lives in L.A. with India, 13, his daughter with the late Tami Stauff, talked to PEOPLE’S Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna about his efforts to get back to being just Eric Benét.
There seems to be a lot on your album about your relationship with Berry. Anything else you want to set straight?
We all know I cheated. It was out there. It’s a betrayal. But I never did have sexual intercourse with anyone while I was with Halle. Going into rehab was presented to me by her mother that in order for the marriage to have a shot, this is what you need to do…. But I’m not a sex addict. I wanted to save my marriage and do anything necessary to do that. I went and heard other people’s stories and realized this is really not my struggle.
We did get back together after that. We tried to rediscover this groove of feeling comfortable and safe and trustworthy in the relationship. I was very much in love with my wife. But I personally could only contribute 50 percent. Ultimately what was the end of us was she just couldn’t trust me anymore. You can’t blame her for that.
And what about her 50 percent?
Halle came into the relationship with her issues and I came into the relationship definitely with my issues. It was the perfect situation for it to be completely non-conducive to working this out. It was like the Titanic going down.
Marriage is a challenge in itself, but when you have a marriage that is dealing with this fishbowl onstage for the whole world to see what’s going on—it’s like, you know, it’s really hard to adjust to that. Yeah, we both read the tabloid stories. It was an incredible, tremendous strain. It was like throwing gasoline on this fire that was already pretty hard to control.
Your daughter India seemed close to Halle even when you were splitting up. Do they still keep in touch?
I really don’t want to get too much into detail about India and Halle’s relationship or what they went through together or individually. But it’s very safe to say that it was extremely traumatic for everybody involved.
How did you cope with the breakup of your marriage?
I did a lot of therapy. And it’s like, what does someone scream right before they die? “God!” I really felt like I had to find God. And he really needed to find me. So it was through God—and my family, my mom and my sisters and brother. Not just them, but I have a lot of cousins and aunties and uncles. They helped me to dig deep.
I think many will be able to relate to that lost helpless feeling when something devastating happens and reality as you’ve known it has been swept away…and from this point on your life will never be the same. That for me was a staggeringly fearful place to recover from. It felt like every morning I had to do emotional pushups just to face another day. There were times I felt I could not imagine when I’m gonna smile again. But I couldn’t face my daughter and break down in tears. I had to take India to school every morning, so I had to have that brave face on. No matter how dark things had gotten for me, I’d wake up, look at her and think: What a perfect reason to be happy. That little girl just keeps on saving my life.
Are you dating now?
When you go through this kind of drama, I’m not in a rush to jump back into a serious relationship. I’m going on dates here and there. Whatever woman I end up with is going to have a very evolved man.
Would you ever date a famous actress again?
Hmmm. (Laughs.) That’s not going to be the high priority of potential mates for Eric. I’ll say this: Every individual is an individual, but I’m a little spooked. It’s all about who you are emotionally compatible with. I doubt that will be another actress.