“Empire” star Taraji P. Henson became pregnant during her junior year of college, and gave birth in 1994 to her son, Marcell Johnson. His father, her high-school sweetheart William Lamar Johnson, was murdered in 2003 by a couple who served less than ten years in prison combined.
According to I Love Old School Music, on June 25, 2003, William went to confront husband and wife Russell and Charlotte Nickelson at their apartment regarding them allegedly slashing his friend’s tires. According to court docs, Russell beat William over the head with a lamp, while his wife stabbed him multiple times. The Nickelsons were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 months (for Charlotte) and 50 months (for Russell).
“His dad was murdered when Marcell was 9,” Taraji says of her son, according to Star. “He’s had to deal with life in a way that a lot of young kids haven’t yet.”
Although she and Johnson were no longer together when he was killed, “we would sit and weep about it,” Taraji reveals. “Do I mourn for him? Absolutely. I wish my son had his dad. But sometimes things line up and they have to happen and we don’t know why.”
In a 2015 interview with glamour.com, the Emmy-nominated actress explained how she was able to follow her Hollywood dreams as a young single mother.
“When I got pregnant in college, people said, “This is it for her.” But I did not stop. I never missed a class. I was in the school musical when I was six months pregnant—we just made the character pregnant. My mother swears Marcel came out doing the dance; he had learned the choreography. When I graduated, I carried my son across the stage. I wanted to be an actress; I moved out to L.A. with him. People were like, “Are you crazy, moving to California with your son?” My father was like, “Leave him home.” I said, “I can’t leave my son at home.” [And eventually] my father said, “That’s your baby. That’s your blessing. He’s going to be your strength.” And you know what? He was.”
She continued: “I didn’t have time to go to the club to “network.” That’s B.S. No business deals go down at the club. So I didn’t get caught up in that. I had a mission. I had to make my dream come true. If I didn’t, what was I proving to my son?”
Meanwhile, fans are anxious to watch the drama play out between Cookie Lyon and her new enemy Diana Dubois (Phylicia Rashad) on “Empire” Season 3 on Fox. New episodes kicked off this past Wednesday, September 21.