By Mary Margaret
October 27, 2008 12:00 PM

Abortions, cocaine, depression, a syphilitic mom: Enter the dark secret world of … Marcia Brady? In her new memoir Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice, Maureen McCormick, who played the infuriatingly ideal ’70s teen, reveals her offscreen life was a living hell. Why share and shatter America’s illusions? “People have been asking me to write a book for years, but I was scared to death about what people would think,” says McCormick, 52. “Once I started writing, though, I couldn’t stop. Everything had been bottled up forever and it exploded.” Most worrisome to the actress, recently returned to the spotlight as the weight-loss winner of VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, was how it all would play with Natalie, her 19-year-old daughter with actor Michael Cummings. “I’d say, ‘Okay, this is going to be in the book and you need to know this,'” McCormick told PEOPLE’s Mary Margaret in a frank interview. “When I told her I had two abortions, her mouth dropped open. But then she looked at me and said, ‘I know you’re telling me this so I don’t have to go through the same misery you went through.'” Those heart-to-hearts “were the best moments of our lives. We had tears in our eyes and would just hug and hug. She’d say, ‘Mom, I’m so proud of you.’ We have a bond beyond anything. When we look into each other’s eyes, it’s just so deep and incredible.”

A few years ago, a man approached my husband and me and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt. “What do you think?” he asked. His upper arm was covered by a tattoo of my face. Beneath it was the line, “I Love Marcia Brady.”

“It’s … it’s nice,” I said. There was nothing else to say.

For most of my life, I have been followed by Marcia Brady. Imagine always being shadowed by a younger, prettier, more popular you. I played Marcia for five years. She was perfect. I was anything but. So much was going on behind my fake smile.

On the first season of The Brady Bunch in 1968, when I was 12, the flirtations started right away. I was titillated by the fact that the boys were dressing right next door. I loved the familiarity of the set. It became a second home.

Eve Plumb (Jan) was my best friend. But when I noticed her that first season getting boobs, I had a minor girly fit. She was younger than me by two years. I thought it was unfair that she started to pop out before me. With three mothers standing by, I received plenty of consolation. Mine would come, they said.

I can’t say I was 100 percent happy about The Brady Bunch. I wished I could have been on a hipper show. But from the start I had a crush on Barry Williams (Greg). I always had a thing for older men, including Bob Reed (Mr. Brady). I had no idea he was secretly gay. I used to imagine running off with him.

At home, there was much she longed to escape. During the first Brady season Maureen learned that her father was having an affair, and that her mother had contracted syphilis from her own mother at birth—and had once had electroshock treatment after a nervous breakdown.

I convinced myself that I was also infected with syphilis. Like my mother and her mother, I was destined to go insane. Both of them ended up in mental institutions. I was filled with dread.

At work, Eve and I filled hours in the dressing room discussing fashion and music. Eve often paraded around without clothes. Suzy [Olsen] and I were floored. Eve also farted all the time. When we asked her not to do either one, she tossed back her hair and said, “Oh, get over it.”

In 1972 we went to Hawaii on location. Barry and I went for a walk on the beach and kissed. It was long, passionate and deep. But a part of me—admittedly a tiny part—said to myself, “Oh my God! I’m kissing my brother.”

Our romance carried back to the mainland. I felt the hair on my arms stand up every time we got close.

The two never slept together, and they were just friends by the time the series ended in ’73 and Maureen returned to Taft High in L.A. for her senior year.

Reentry was difficult. I didn’t have any interest in academics. To help me study, friends introduced me to white crosses, pills they said would help me stay up. The pills peeled away the disquietude that resurfaced after I no longer had my life as a Brady to keep it at bay. We also popped them to lose weight. I always seemed to be five pounds away from being happy with myself.

After graduation, the serious acting career she longed for didn’t materialize. She tried to stay thin—and feel more in control—through bulimic episodes and eventually sought solace in cocaine.

Coke quieted the voices in my head. The concerns I had about going insane vanished. I could do more coke than anyone, it seemed. It earned me the nickname Hoover. I got in the habit of taking quaaludes to come back down. I wasn’t able to sleep without them.

She joined former castmates for a Brady Bunch variety special in 1976.

One day Florence Henderson passed on word from Chevy Chase, whom she knew, that his friend Steve Martin wanted my phone number. I was flattered. After dinner, we went to Steve’s apartment, where we talked and made out. I remember him being a very good kisser. But I was insecure and high or spaced out (most likely both) and I didn’t laugh at his jokes. We never spoke again. I’ve always regretted my behavior. I used to think if the circumstances had been different we could’ve hit it off.

In 1980 a boyfriend and I graduated to freebasing coke. It was extremely dangerous, but I was hooked. All I wanted to do afterward was have sex. Coming down caused me to hallucinate. I convinced myself the cops were watching every move I made. Sometimes I crawled on the floor so they wouldn’t see me. I was crazed—and about to crash.

Finally, while filming The Brady Brides in ’81 and missing rehearsals because of her habit, she sought help. But after a stint in rehab, she fell back on old ways.

Then one afternoon two girlfriends and I were walking down Westwood Boulevard when suddenly I was thrown to the ground. Literally thrown. The next thing I knew I was on my knees and my arms were lifted toward the sky. I saw two hands reaching down. It was Jesus. As crazy as it sounds, I knew it was Him. I burst into tears. People stared and whispered, “Isn’t that Marcia Brady?” I didn’t care.

Finding religion did what rehab hadn’t: She got clean. In 1982 she met Michael Cummings, an actor and fellow born-again Christian. After a stormy courtship, they wed in ’85. But Maureen was still plagued by demons.

In some ways there is no hell greater than a once-popular child star trying to figure out direction. Why didn’t the right people in Hollywood love me? I cried myself to sleep most nights.

I was terribly depressed.

One day I stripped off my clothes, walked onto the balcony and screamed that I was going to jump. Michael grabbed me and hauled me inside. Thank God he didn’t let go for the longest time.

Why did Michael stay? As he explained, he’d made a lifelong commitment. He also sensed we were dealing with a mental illness.

After the birth of their daughter in 1989, Maureen’s unhappiness deepened. She now believes she was suffering from post-partum depression.

Some days I was unable to get out of bed. Other days I was a shrew. Michael constantly pleaded with me to find a therapist, but I refused. I was afraid. I didn’t want to be told that I was insane.

Landing a role she felt proud of—in Get to the Heart, a ’97 TV movie about Barbara Mandrell—helped ease her despair, as did Prozac.

It was like a plane breaking through the clouds. I told Michael the chatter in my head was gone. My marriage changed for the better. Michael said he was glad that he had waited.

Is everything perfect now? No. Lately I have struggled again with food. Despite my success on Celebrity Fit Club, my weight has continued to fluctuate. Michael, the sweetest man in the world, has dropped hints that I might want to lose a few pounds. I will try.

I wish I had confronted my problems earlier. I wish I could land that special role that makes all of Hollywood say, “What an actress!”

But then I catch myself. I may not be the grooviest girl on campus, but I am a lot stronger than I ever thought. And now when people say they wanted to be me or date me when they were little, when they say, “Who didn’t have a crush on Marcia Brady,” I feel blessed.