Natalie Cole adored her famous dad, but rarely saw the man who sang his way into people’s hearts. JAMES HASTINGS reports
He had a voice that was unforgettable and a charm that could bring a smile to the Mona Lisa. Nat King Cole’s smoothing velvet vocals made him one of the most popular singers in the world.
But while his music brought him close to the fans, his daughter Natalie always felt distant from the father she adored. She loved him dearly but hardly ever saw him as he toured the world’s concert halls and television studios.
To make matters worse, her mother Maria would join her husband on tour so Natalie was sent to boarding school. It was a separation which led Natalie, now a much admired singer herself, into a downward spiral of despair, emptiness and a troubled life.
When her father died of cancer, the pain she felt at not being with him, devastated the young Natalie.
“The last time I saw my dad relaxed and healthy was in September 1964 when he took me to register for my freshman year at a school in Massachusetts,” she explains.
“My last memory when we arrived at school was him giving me a big hug and kiss and saying ‘Bye, sweetie, see you at Christmas.’
Natalie was looking forward to a happy Christmas reunion, but when she returned home, she was horrified at what she saw. Her once strong, handsome father was in the final stages of lung cancer. Reduced to little more than bones, he had an endless cough and was very weak.
When he died a few months later, Natalie was already back at boarding school.
“It was devastating,” she says.
“What I remember most about the funeral was my deep sadness at not having had the chance to tell my daddy goodbye and how much I loved him.”
The Cole family did not lack any material possession. But it all meant nothing to Natalie. She had a hunger in her heart for her father’s love and nothing could fill it.
As the 1960s progressed, she began drinking heavily, became a drug addict and had numerous meaningless relationships.
“My father’s death was a trigger. I was still grieving over his absence but did not understand why he had died,” she explains.
Amazingly, this was also the period when her own career was taking off. Her first single, This Will Be, topped the charts, winning two Grammy Awards.
But first heroin and then cocaine began to ruin her life. By the 1980s, Natalie was almost broke when she finally checked herself into an addiction clinic.
The six months she took to dry out also gave her the opportunity to talk with the Jesus she had been introduced to as a child.
“The two main spiritual examples in my life were my husband Marvin and my Aunt Evelyn with whom I lived for a short time in my teens,” she adds.
“She taught me how to have a living relationship with God by the way she lived herself. I saw the power of God move in my aunt’s life through her answered prayer. I learned about crying out to God from her.”
It was a long, painful road to recovery for Natalie as she grew in her faith. She stresses it did not happen overnight but in measured steps. She is still making that climb on a daily basis.
“I now realise that after my father’s premature death I was looking for love and affection in all the wrong places. My advice is, never stop working on your relationship with the Lord. He is the great provider. He is waiting for us to respond to him.”
She adds: “I have come a very long way, and I’m still a work in progress”.
James Hastings is a journalist based in Taunton
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