Shania Twain's tragic family life: How she came through heartbreak to become a music legend
26 July 2022, 14:18
Shania Twain became the biggest popstar on the planet in the late 1990s, but she had to fight to get there.
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The legendary country singer had a tough childhood to say the least, a subject she has spoken about at length in past interviews, her autobiography and her new Netflix documentary.
Her parents separated at a very young age, and she later suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather, who died in a car crash alongside her mother.
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After becoming her family's new matriarch, Shania Twain would go on to become a leading star of country pop, with one of the world's best-selling albums of all time.
Who were Shania Twain's parents and siblings?
Shania Twain was born Eilleen Regina Edwards in Windsor, Ontario, on August 28, 1965.
Her parents were Sharon (née Morrison) and Clarence Edwards. She also has two sisters, Jill and Carrie Ann.
However, her parents divorced when she was just two years old, and her mother moved to Timmins, Ontario, alongside her daughters.
Shania's birth father Clarence later spoke about missing his daughter, saying in 1996 that the last time he saw his daughter was when she was 15.
"Shania's my daughter, and I'm very proud of her. But it breaks my heart that, she's cut me off," Clarence was quoted as saying in the National Enquirer.
"I was married to Shania's mother for seven years, and I was there with Eilleen and her sister Carrie-Ann until they were 5 or 6. I had a very stressful job, being a railroad engineer. On top of that, Shania's mom was a very jealous, possessive person. She didn't like me to do normal things like go out for a beer with my friends.
"I had to be home all the time. There was a lot of stress. I had a nervous breakdown and wound up in the hospital for a time. Shortly after I got out, I just decided enough was enough. One day, I just left. My wife Sharon was already with her boyfriend, Jerry Twain."
Shania has spoken about having a difficult childhood. Her parents were poor, and food was often scarce in their house.
Who was Shania Twain's stepfather?
It was soon after Sharon married Jerry Twain, an Ojibwa from the nearby Mattagami First Nation. The couple also had a son named Mark together.
Jerry adopted Shania and her sisters, and legally changed their surname to Twain. When Mark was a toddler, Jerry and Sharon adopted Jerry's baby nephew Darryl when his mother died.
Due to Shania's connection to Jerry, it has previously been incorrectly reported that she is of Ojibwe descent.
When asked why she chose not to publicly speak about Edwards as her father for years, Shania said:
"My father [Jerry] went out of his way to raise three daughters that weren't even his. For me to acknowledge another man as my father, a man who was never there for me as a father, who wasn't the one who struggled every day to put food on our table, would have hurt him terribly.
"We were a family. Step-father, step-brothers, we never used that vocabulary in our home. To have referred to him as my step-father would have been the worst slap across the face to him."
However, Jerry subjected Shania and her mother to various forms of abuse during her childhood.
“He just had issues – and, at the time I was looking at this man as somebody who was not being himself,” Shania Twain told 60 Minutes. “It was like he was two people.”
Living in extreme poverty, Shania often witnessed violence between her parents.
“I would get physically involved sometimes with my parents’ fights,” she said. “I just thought that he would kill her. One of these times – he was gonna kill her.”
Shania has spoken about the physical and verbal abuse by her stepfather, as well as sexual abuse, as she has opened up about in her 2001 memoir, From This Moment On.
This included times when Shania would watch Jerry repeatedly beat her mother’s head into the toilet bowl, knocking her unconscious and nearly drowning her.
When did Shania Twain's parents die?
On November 1, 1987, when Shania was aged 22, Shania's mother and stepfather were killed in a tragic car accident.
This caused Shania to pause her singing career, and she moved back to Timmins to take care of her younger siblings.
She took them all to Huntsville, Ontario, where she supported them by earning money while performing at the nearby Deerhurst Resort.
At one stage, she almost quit music to look after her family, but she eventually revisited her biggest passion.
Several years later, when her siblings moved out on their own, she created a demo tape of her songs, and she caught the attention of several record labels, including Mercury Nashville Records, who signed her within a few months.
It was during this time that she changed her name to Shania, which is reportedly an Ojibwa word to mean "on my way."