*In his 54 years of living, Eric Benét has experienced many personal and professional ups and downs. Like anyone experiencing life, evolution results from each happening.
But none of Benét’s downs equal the pain he took on after the death of his longtime girlfriend Tami Stauff. Tragically, Stauff was only 24 when a car crash took her life. At the time, the couple was transitioning in to life as parents with the birth of their first child, India. The young daughter was just 16-months-old when she lost her mother.
Stauff’s death is one of a few things touched on by Benét, who opened up about his life and music career during an episode of the ALLBLK docu-series, A Closer Look. Looking back, the entertainer labeled Stauff’s demise as “horrible.”
“It was horrible. It was one of those moments in life where I was certain I wasn’t gonna be able to make it,” Benét shared with People. “It’s very hard to describe. When I was a 24 or 25-year-old kid when India was born, I was really about a 14-year-old guy.”
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For support while mourning Stauff, Benét credits his family, who was also said over Stauff’s death. “My family was mourning too, [but] they held my hand and cried with me. I was crying for a very, very long time, but never in front of India,” he said.
“The most important thing to me are my children. That’s the center of my life. My family, my wife and kids and my siblings and I, we have such a close knit connection.”
Although Benét fully embraces his role as a father, the opposite was apparent before Stauff’s death. According to the singer, his focus was more on being a star.
“I was a dad, but I was mainly a dad on the weekends,” Benét confessed to People. “I was trying to make music happen. Then faith said, ‘No, this is the deal. We’re gonna take India’s mom and you are now father.'”
“The amount of … I couldn’t wrap my head around the pain, mourning and tragedy of Tami leaving at such a young age when she was such a beautiful, loving person and devoted mother. I can’t begin to explain or try to even communicate the pain,” he added. “Having to grab India when she was a baby and act like happy daddy to help her get out of her infantile mourning stage … It was a horrible, horrible time.”
Stauff’s death wasn’t the only devastating loss for Benét. The singer’s father lost his battle with cancer, resulting in feelings of doubt.
“Even once I got my solo deal, I was gun-shy,” Benét said. “I was like, ‘I’ll stay positive. I’ll keep moving forward and making music the way I want to, but this rug could get pulled from under me at any moment.'”
“I had that mentality probably until my second album as a solo artist, A Day in the Life, after ‘Spend My Life with You’ went to No. 1 and stayed at No. 1 for like ever,” he continued. “That’s when I started to feel like, ‘Maybe I have a future. The way that I’ve experienced life is, I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t assume that, ‘Hey, I made it.””
The Tamia-assisted “Spend My Life With You,” which spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, is one of many hit songs that made Benét a vocalist to be reckoned with. On a personal note, Benét found love with the woman who would be his wife, Manuela Testolini,
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Remembering the beginning of their relationship, Benét stated he was practically asexual when he met Testolini, a factor that contributed how quickly the pair fell in love.
“I was very sexually attracted to her,” he says with a laugh. “That was secondary to having a real connection. We bonded without the steamy cloud of lust fooling us into thinking it was anything other than what it was, which was a genuine love for each other.”
A mutual attraction wasn’t the only thing shared. People reports that divorce was a something the pair had in common and bonded over. Benét divorced Halle Berry after four years of marriage, while Testolini and Prince finalized their divorce in 2007.
“It made us understand each other a little more,” Benét explains. “She got to know me for me and I got to know her for her. We’re both very confident people, so I never felt intimidated by a past relationship. I think she felt the same.”
Up next for Benét is filmmaking with his upcoming feature film, a project that finds him producing alongside his longtime director and creative partner Devin Hampton, who was nominated for best director at the Paris Film Festival.
“I’m so proud of him and excited for the things we’re gonna do,” Benét told People. “I feel like I’m entering my second act of my career. I was talking to David Foster and telling him about my movie stuff and he was like, ‘Hey man, sounds like this is your second act.'”
To discuss his private life is something that took time for Benet, who kept music as his main focus in the early stages of his career. The entertainer admits that with “maturity and wisdom,” he has no problem with discussing his “journey.”
“I spent a lot of time in my career keeping details of my life close to the vest to keep it about the music,” he tells PEOPLE. “But with this newfound maturity and wisdom, I look back at the mosaic of my life and I’m proud of the man I’ve evolved into. That is a product of my faith, victories and challenges. I feel really comfortable talking about my journey now.”