Marlee Matlin: Baby sitter’s abuse led to life of drugs, violence

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin has captivated millions with her film roles over the years. And she’s now giving a new voice to an important issue.

Monday night on “Larry King Live,” the Academy Award winner opened up to guest host Joy Behar about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She says the abuse led to drug use. She also opened up about her volatile relationship with actor William Hurt. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity: Guest host Joy Behar: [Your] book is called “I’ll Scream Later.” Marlee, what does it mean, “I’ll Scream Later” Marlee Matlin (through her interpreter, Jack): It goes way back to when I was in rehab. … I got nominated for the Academy Awards while I was in rehab. And Jack asked me over the phone: “What do you want to say” The press wants an answer. … The counselors were looking at me. I couldn’t say anything. So I said, “I’ll scream later.” … Behar: This book tells a lot. Matlin: It tells a lot more than I anticipated I would. … After I did “Dancing With the Stars,” so many e-mails came, so many fan letters came saying how inspiring I was. And they saw me on TV dancing and they thought: Well, a deaf person can dance. Good for you. Wow! She can’t hear the music. She can dance. Wow! And that’s fine. But I wanted to pass along the message that there was much more to me than that. Behar: You were [molested] at age 11 by a 16-year-old female baby sitter Matlin: Unfortunately, yes. Behar: How did that impact your life Matlin: I masked it, and I covered it up. And I masked it with drugs. And I masked it at a very early age with drugs. … I never told anyone. I never told my parents. And yet, I never forgot it. Behar: Who was the first person you did tell Matlin: That’s a good question. It was probably my husband. Behar: Your husband that you have now, your present husband Matlin: Yes. (Laughter). I only have one husband. Behar: You’ve only been married once. And you’re married a long time, too, right … And he’s a policeman Matlin: He’s a policeman, and he’s hot. … Behar: OK. Now the other thing is you were then molested again, in high school, when you were 14, by a teacher. Matlin: It was a teacher who I looked up to and became friendly with. At the time … I wanted good grades, you know, and I wanted his approval. Behar: He sort of lured you into his apartment Matlin: Yes. Behar: But then you continued to see him Matlin: I did continue. And when I found out 10 years later, after graduating from high school, that other women in school had the same experience. Behar: Did you think it was molestation or did you think you were having a relationship with a teacher Matlin: I knew it was wrong. The reason why [was] because he was married. … And I didn’t think it was illegal. I mean that didn’t even pop in my mind. I was never told what was right and what was wrong about the situation. And at the time, I’m thinking it’s wrong because he’s married. Behar: Because you were a deaf young girl, do you think that played into all of the molestations Matlin: It could be. It’s possible. Behar: Did they see you as easy prey Matlin: The baby sitter wasn’t deaf, so it was possible. … But it’s all about taking advantage of a child, whether they’re deaf or hearing. Behar: I understand that. I’m just wondering if it happens even more often to a handicapped child. Matlin: I don’t know. Behar: All right, let’s talk about William Hurt. What’s the deal between the two of you Was it love Was it lust Matlin: You know what, actually, we started our relationship during the end of the screen test process for “Children of a Lesser God” before I even got the role. And it continued until I got the role. And it continued throughout the film. And it continued after. And I lived with him with for two years. Behar: And you said in the book that the sex with him was spectacular. Now you’ve piqued my interest. Can we have a few details here Matlin: You know, actually, we were in love. We were truly in love in a relationship, but part of that was love-hate. I mean I was battling my drug addiction at the time. Behar: What kind of drugs were you using Matlin: Pot, cocaine, and — Behar: Alcohol, too Matlin: No alcohol. Alcohol was never my thing. Behar: He was doing drugs, too Matlin: With me, yes. Behar: Tell me about the abusive part of the relationship with him. Was he physically abusive or verbally Matlin: It is not easy to talk about it. Behar: I know. Matlin: But it happened. … I was 19, and he was 35. I didn’t understand what this was about. … There was so much going on with the film, with him being older, me being younger, not seeing eye to eye on a lot of things, and being drunk and being high … Behar: Was there violence Matlin: There was violence. Behar: Sometimes Matlin: All the time. Behar: He’s a big fellow. He might have hurt you. You are a small girl. Matlin: But I kick butt. Behar: You kicked him back Matlin: Oh, yes. I had to. I had to. Behar: But you stayed. Why did you say Matlin: I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t have friends in New York. I didn’t know that you could ask for help. I didn’t know that you could call 911. I didn’t know. Now I know. And for anyone who’s in this kind of relationship, look, it’s hard. It’s hard to get out when you don’t know. Behar: Has he ever apologized to you Matlin: No. Behar: You’re very nice to him in the book. You have an acknowledgment in the book for William Hurt. Matlin: Look, he is a very good actor. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the work we had together. I was a fan of his before I met him. Behar: But if he hasn’t apologized and you still feel that he was very wrong in the way he behaved, why do you acknowledge … Matlin: If he apologized, I would forgive him, but I won’t forget. Behar: You won’t forget, no. But you’ve forgiven him in this book. it seems to me. Matlin: How else am I going to live How else am I going to live You have to try to find the heart to forgive. Behar: You are a strong, very talented actress. You are a role model for a lot of young people. … In this book, are you afraid this is going to change the way people see you Matlin: No. … I hope I can inspire many more people than just being the deaf person dancing on “Dancing With the Stars.” I’m not worried about losing fans. Or I’m not worried about all that kind of stuff. Behar: You were not born deaf. You lost your hearing. Matlin: I became deaf when I was 18 months old. And I learned to sign when I was 5 years old. I went to public mainstream schools [in Chicago] with a deaf program in it. And that’s what life was for me. It was a great childhood, actually. Despite what happened, I had a great childhood. Behar: You have a great life now. You’re married to a great guy. You have children. Matlin: I have four wonderful children, 13, 8, 6 and 5. Behar: I want to thank Marlee and Jack. We have this note, “Larry King Live” reached out to William Hurt seeking a response to Marlee’s memoir and the allegations she makes about him. His representatives declined to comment.