Donny Osmond on How His Wife of 44 Years Helped Him Recover After His 'Horrible' Battle with Anxiety

"It's like you're standing in the middle of an intersection, and here comes a massive semi right at you at 90 miles an hour, and you can't do anything about it," the entertainer says of his anxiety

From crippling anxiety to career setbacks and near-bankruptcy, Donny Osmond has weathered it all through his six decades in show business — and, with a successful new solo residency in Las Vegas, come out on the other side.

But, the legendary entertainer says in this week's issue of PEOPLE, he wouldn't be here without the enduring support of his wife of 44 years, Debbie.

"Debbie has given my life stability," Osmond says. "She keeps my feet on the ground."

Osmond, 64, and Debbie, 63, first met in 1970, when he was then a 16-year-old teen superstar and she a "sweet" 15-year-old cheerleader.

"There was something simple about her, and I lived a very complicated life," he says.

Donny Osmond
Donny and Debbie Osmond. Adam Scull/PHOTOlink/Everett

One of nine children, Osmond was born in Utah to mom Olive, a secretary, and dad George, a real estate agent who taught his kids to sing barbershop harmony. At the age of 5, Osmond made his debut on The Andy Williams Show with four of his brothers then known as the Osmond Brothers (his sister Marie, now 62, later made appearances with the group).

Just before he turned 13, Osmond was approached to record solo music in tandem with the Osmonds' hit albums. The success of his singles "Puppy Love" — which turns 50 on Saturday — and "Go Away Little Girl" made him a fixture on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine and earned him the adoration of teen girls around the globe.

"I remember being chased a lot, mostly in England," Osmond says. "It was Osmondmania over there. Once we had to hide under a table in a restaurant because there were so many screaming fans rushing after us."

Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond. Lee Cherry

Though he wasn't lacking in attention, Osmond still felt that there was something missing from his life. After one show in Hawaii, he says he went to his family's condo, curled up into a ball and bawled his eyes out.

"My brother Jay walked in and said, 'Donny, what's wrong?' I said, 'I'm lonely,'" he recalls. "He said, 'You just had thousands of girls screaming your name. Why are you lonely?' I said, 'I don't know. I just need someone.'"

While Osmond found exactly what he needed in Debbie shortly after, he also knew that his career would be "over" once his relationship became public.

RELATED VIDEO: Becoming a Teen Heartthrob at Same Age, Donny Osmond 'Relates' to Justin Bieber's Song Lonely

The young couple managed to keep their romance a secret for almost three years. Then, in 1978, Osmond's fans were shocked when his engagement to Debbie was announced.

When his three-year run alongside his sister on the TV variety show Donny & Marie ended in January 1979, Osmond's screaming fans vanished, just as he predicted. At the time, the Osmonds were also struggling after losing much of their multi-million dollar fortune to bad investments.

"We crashed and burned financially," he says. "It was the typical Hollywood story of having it all and then losing it all. So we had to rebuild."

But rebuilding didn't come easy for Osmond, who struggled to move past his youthful image.

"It was very difficult to transition out of the 'Puppy Love' years," he says. "My bubblegum music wasn't considered legitimate."

Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond. Michael Putland/Getty

At one point, a publicity firm Osmond hired suggested he smuggle drugs into the U.S. after a flight to get arrested. But Osmond, who was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says he ultimately "couldn't be a sell out."

In 1982, Osmond took another hit when his Broadway show Little Johnny Jones opened and closed on the same night.

"That was one of my lowest points," he says.

The fear of failure haunted him a decade later when he played Joseph in a tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

"It's like you're standing in the middle of an intersection, and here comes a massive semi right at you at 90 miles an hour, and you can't do anything about it," he says of his struggles with anxiety. "I would walk on stage knowing I was going to die. It was horrible."

One particularly difficult night, he recalls, "Debbie said, 'Why don't you go out there tonight and do an average show?' It ended up being the best show I ever did because I gave myself an opportunity to make a mistake."

Joseph turned out to be a hit, with Osmond doing 2,000 performances over a span of six years.

"It started the foundation of me being a multifaceted entertainer," says Osmond, who later had a successful 11-year Vegas residency with Marie and competed on shows like Dancing With the Stars and The Masked Singer.

Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond and Nick Cannon. FOX/Getty

Now, he speaks openly about mental health in hopes of helping others.

"So many people fall into a trap of desperation and depression. I've been there, and you can't just brush it off," he says of seeking professional help. "There is light at the end of the tunnel."

While Osmond has much to be proud of professionally, including his recent 65th album Start Again, his rock is Debbie, with whom he's raised five sons and welcomed 12 grandchildren.

"My father puts his family first, and he has unique ways of expressing it — like his orchard where each tree is dedicated to each one of his grandchildren," says his eldest son, Donald Jr., 42. "Next to entertaining, my father's greatest gift is to show love, and he does that in a big way."

Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond and family. madirogers/Instagram

For Osmond, placing family ahead of work is a no-brainer.

"That's what balances my life out," he says. "Family is the most important thing, because the curtain will come down eventually, and then what do you have?"

For now, he has everything, since the thought of retiring makes him cringe and the applause shows no sign of dying down.

"I thought my career was going to be over at 20," he says, "so I'm so glad I'm going to be able to end it on my terms."

Tickets for Osmond's residency at Harrah's Las Vegas are available now.

For all the details on Donny Osmond's journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Related Articles