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Michael Miller
September 29, 2015 06:00 PM

The apparent suicide of Jim Carrey’s on and off again girlfriend, Cathriona White, shocked him like a “lightning bolt.”

Sadly, this is not the first time that the actor, best known for his lighthearted, screwball comedy, has dealt with trauma and turmoil in his personal life.

Like that of many comedians, Carey’s humor grew from darker places. What began as a ordinary, middle class childhood in Newmarket, Canada changed dramatically when his father lost his job and his mother became sick.

When asked where he discovered his sense of humor, Carrey told CBS in a rare and candid interview in 2004, “Depression. I had a sick mom, man. I wanted to make her feel better.”

Carrey’s father, a saxophone player who worked as an accountant to pay the bills, lost his job when Carrey was 12. The day he turned 16 he dropped out of high school to start chipping in with the family finances.

“We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors,” he told James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio. Working “an eight hour day in a factory” after school left him wanting to “bash somebody’s head in.” He soon went from a “straight-A student to not wanting to know anybody’s name, and not wanting to make a friend.”

But Carrey found a way to channel his depression into something constructive with his stand-up comedy. His uncanny celebrity impressions and rubber facial expressions brought him immediate notoriety. At 21 he made his first appearance on The Tonight Show.

“I don’t think human beings learn anything without desperation,” Carrey told CBS of his early success. “Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain’t desperate at some point, you ain’t interesting.”

At the same time his stand-up career was picking up steam, Carrey was also taking acting classes. Now, 58 films later, Carrey has raked in over a billion dollars at the box office and earned critical acclaim for a wide range of roles.

He won his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor with his dramatic performance in The Truman Show in 1999. He again won overwhelming praise for his serious role in 2004 s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film dealt with lost love and difficult relationships, a theme that resonated with Carrey’s personal life.

“I was trying to speak to my ex, and all this stuff, and say these things, and I mean, artistically you do that, you know,” Carrey told CBS of the part. When asked which girlfriend he was referring to, he said laughing, “I don’t want to say. There are many. There are many that I’ve felt that way about, you know?”

Carrey married actress Melissa Womer in 1987. They divorced after seven years together and have a daughter, Jane, now 28. He then married Lauren Holly, his Dumb and Dumber costar in 1996. The marriage lasted barely eight months. After the divorce, he dated actresses Laurie Holden, January Jones, and model Anine Bing.

His next serious relationship came with his Me, Myself and Irene costar Renée Zellweger, who he was engaged to from 1999 to 2000 before calling things off. Carrey later met Jenny McCarthy in 2005. The two dated for nearly five years before breaking up in 2010.

Carrey can be “a hard guy to date,” a source close to the couple told PEOPLE at the time. Adds the source: “Jim can run hot and he can run cold. He is someone who desperately needs to be with someone, then just as desperately needs to be alone. But at the same time, he can be a very loving, very compassionate guy.”

Throughout the turbulent relationships, the depression he battled since childhood lingered on in the background. “I was on Prozac for a long time. It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realized that, you know, everything’s just okay,” Carrey told CBS.

“There are peaks, there are valleys,” he added. “But they’re all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you’re not getting any answers, but you’re living okay. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it’s a low level of despair. You know?”

Carrey began dating White, a stylist, in 2012. The relationship was characteristically rocky, with the couple dating on and off for three years. They were last spotted together hand-in-hand in N.Y.C. in May, after rekindling their romance following a breakup.

After White was found dead of an apparent suicide on Monday, Carrey issued a statement saying he’s “deeply saddened by the passing of my sweet Cathriona.”

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