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By Sam Gillette
Updated October 03, 2016 05:25 PM
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In her new memoir, Around The Way Girl, Taraji P. Henson reveals that she broke off her relationship with the love of her life, William LaMarr Johnson, after he allegedly hit her – only to have him die violently at the all-too-young age of 34. Now, thirteen years later, Henson is a single mother of their 22-year-old son – proving she is just as strong as Cookie Lyons, the character she plays in FOX’s popular show, Empire.

According to Around The Way Girl, which releases on Oct. 11, Henson first met Johnson (who she calls Mark) when she was 17 years old. She details their romance in a chapter called “My One and Only Love Story.” From the beginning it was a passionate, but turbulent relationship. Henson explains that Johnson struggled to find steady work.
“You’re better than me,” she recalls him saying to her, while she rested in his arms. “You need to leave me alone.”

They broke up a couple of times. Once Henson tried to win him back by wearing “my cutest, shortest dress and my highest heels,” she writes. They eventually got back together a year later, despite the fact that Johnson had fathered two children by separate women. At the time, Henson was a junior at Howard University where she studied theater. When she got pregnant with their son, Marcell, Johnson was supportive – at first. In contrast, her college classmates ostracized her. Despite their antagonism, she continued to take all of her classes. It was only after Marcell was born that the trouble for Henson really began.

In her memoir, Henson writes that the stress of a new baby, working and Johnson’s disappearances late at night resulted in a huge fight. One night she confronted him.

“The next thing I knew, Mark’s balled-up fist was coming straight for my face. I fell onto the bed crying and holding my mouth; blood seeped off my lips and across my teeth,” Henson writes. “Droplets splashed across my shoes… slowly creeping into the fibers of my suede boots.”

After she saw the blood, Henson writes that she screamed at him: “This is over! Get your s*** and get out!”

Though her father encouraged them to reconcile, Henson ended the relationship – for the wellbeing of herself and her baby.

“With that separation, my forever man, my first love, was no more,” she writes.

While Henson raised their child on her own, Johnson wasn’t completely out of the picture. She remembers the last time Johnson was with his son. It was Christmas and Marcell was upset. In response, Johnson “put his hand on his shoulder and schooled him,” writes Henson. Johnson told their son: “Use your head, black man.”

Three weeks later, Henson got a call from Johnson’s mother. In the memoir Henson remembers picking up the phone. She was told five words that would forever alter her and her son’s life: “Mark was killed last night.”

Though Henson doesn’t share the details, it’s reported that Johnson was violently beaten and stabbed after a confrontation over slashed tires.

While Henson was devastated by Johnson’s death, she continued to fight for success for herself and Marcell.

“I’m not some fantasy. I’m tangible,” said Henson in a press release when reflecting on her role as Cookie. “And I bring that realness not only to the screen, where it deserves to be, but also out into the world.”