Few Hollywood actors have a legacy as enviable. The road here, however, was no mean feat. From overcoming adversity as a child to systemic biases, the actor’s journey in film history is extraordinary.
Berry Is Born
She was born in 1971 as Maria Halle Berry in Cleveland, Ohio. Her Caucasian mother, Judith Ann (nee Hawkins), worked as a psychiatric nurse, while her African-American father was a hospital attendant in the same ward where her mother worked. Her parents named her after the Halle Building in Cleveland – a grand old structure once home to the Halle Brothers department store.
It is now an office building. You may recognize it as the fictional Winfred-Louder department store on "The Drew Carey Show" (1995).
A Troubled Childhood
Berry shared a tumultuous relationship with her father. She spent most of her childhood dealing with his addiction. That addiction prevented the father and daughter from having any relationship.
The parents divorced when Berry was four, but her father ducked in and out of their lives at will. Things at home never improved, with her father increasingly becoming violent towards her mother and sister. Given her childhood, she would make it her lifelong mission to support charities that work with victims of domestic violence.
Early Makings of a Queen
After graduating from Bedford High School, Berry began working at Higbee’s Department store in the children’s section. Later, she joined Cuyahoga Community College and also dabbled in modeling on the side. Beauty pageants were the rage in the ‘80s, and Berry, with her unconventional good looks, was a shoo-in. She won Miss Teen All-American in 1985 and Miss Ohio USA the year after.
In 1986, Berry won the first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant, where the judges awarded her interview the highest score. She made history as the first African-American Miss World contestant in 1986.
Her First Television Appearance
Berry’s first credited role was on the weekly TV series “Living Dolls” (1989). Even though the series was short-lived, Berry stood out in her role as Emily Franklin, one of the models on the show. Berry, on the set of “Living Dolls,” became famous for her gritty acting talent.
She gained a reputation for fierce tenacity. The budding actor got under the skin of her character and lived the role long after the cameras stopped rolling.
She Falls Into a Coma While Filming
Berry fell seriously ill while taping one of the episodes for “Living Dolls.” The cast and crew had been filming non-stop, and an exhausted Berry desperately needed a breather. She couldn’t even find a minute for a candy bar break. The grind continued. Berry grew more tired until, one day, she passed out and didn’t wake up for seven days.
The actor had fallen into a deep coma. When she finally regained consciousness, the doctors told her she had diabetes mellitus type 1. Since then, the actor has had to test her blood sugar levels twice daily and take insulin shots.
Her Big Hollywood Break
Berry's first breakthrough role came in Spike Lee’s critically-acclaimed film “Jungle Fever” (1991). Berry played Samuel L. Jackson's addict girlfriend, Vivian. She was stellar in her role.
Her preference for method acting became visible for all to see. To embody Vivian’s character, Berry stopped bathing for several days before filming. “Jungle Fever” became her big-screen break, signaling the actor's arrival in Hollywood. That same year, she also landed her first co-starring role in the film “Strictly Business.”
An On-Screen Pairing for the Ages
In 1992, a young Berry starred opposite Eddie Murphy in a vastly underrated romantic comedy, “Boomerang.” Although people don’t talk about it enough, the film was a big part of the 90s' entertainment legacy. It was the only top 20 movie of the year with a predominantly African-American cast.
The film’s triple-platinum soundtrack catapulted the career of a young artist named Toni Braxton. Above all, the show-stealing Eddie Murphy finally found his match in Halle Berry. Her performance was memorable and (dare we say) better than Murphy’s!
She Makes Headlines for “Queen: The Story of an American Family”
Soon after her success on “Boomerang,” Berry floored audiences with her performance in the TV adaptation of “Queen: The Story of an American Family” (1993). Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Berry plays a headstrong biracial woman named Queen, the love child of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman, Easter.
Berry played the role of Queen to perfection – her struggles as a woman who is neither white nor black in post-Civil War America. The actor received praise for her nuanced performance from audiences and critics alike.
Her Relationship and Marriage to David Justice
Berry’s personal life was far from smooth sailing, unlike her career. The actor went through numerous ups and downs, from her violent childhood to a string of turbulent marriages. Her first marriage was to former baseball player David Justice in 1993 — a love story never meant to last.
Sources close to the couple cited conflicting work schedules and incompatibility issues. The couple divorced in 1997. An emotionally distraught Berry later shared that she considered taking her own life after her first marriage ended.
She Plays an Addict
Berry’s next big project was a starring role in the drama “Losing Isaiah” (1995) opposite Jessica Lange. Inspired by several real-life adoption cases, the film tells the story of Khaila Richards (Berry), who abandons her son in a cardboard box after a wild night. The next day, a sober Khaila realizes what she’s done, but by the time she goes back to the place, the boy has disappeared.
The film received mixed reviews. Some called it powerful while others believed the writers were too careful not to offend. Despite the general criticism, Berry’s acting was on point, and she continued her journey to super-stardom.
Finding and Losing Love Again
In 1997, Berry met musician Eric Benét, who was the loving, safe space she needed. Love blossomed quickly, and the couple married on a beach in Santa Barbara in 2001. During this time, Berry developed a close bond with Benét’s daughter, India, and eventually adopted her. Sadly, the good times did not last long.
Berry and Benét separated in 2003. Their divorce came through in 2005. After the divorce, Berry stated that she longed for love and hoped to find it.
A Love Story That Became a Nightmare
Berry and Benét’s marriage seemed rock-solid and almost idyllic for a while. Many people were shocked to learn about their separation and subsequent divorce. What went wrong? Berry discovered that her husband was a serial cheater.
After denying the allegations for a while, Benét later admitted he had a problem and underwent treatment for addiction. Her ex-husband would not take the entire blame for their marriage falling apart. He wrote that it was time for Berry to take responsibility for some of her flaws instead of constantly playing the victim.
Benét’s Side of the Story
Among the strongest criticisms, Benét leveled at his ex-wife was how she did not maintain a relationship with his daughter, India. Berry and India had shared a great rapport during better days. She had even adopted India to prove her commitment to father and daughter. Things steadily deteriorated after the divorce, with Berry ceasing all communication with India for years.
Benét claimed he never stopped the two from interacting and having a relationship.
The Offers and Accolades Keep Rolling In
In 1998, Berry stunned audiences again with her flawless portrayal of Nina in “Bulworth.” Nina is a stunning woman raised by activist parents who give a new lease on life to a jaded politician (Warren Beatty).
Berry received widespread praise and acclaim for her role. That same year, she also starred in the biopic “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” where she played Zola Taylor – one of the three wives of the famous pop singer Frankie Lymon.
Playing an Icon and Becoming One
The following year Berry shone as Dorothy Dandridge in the HBO biopic “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999). The biopic was a tremendous success, its cast and storytelling were flawless. But there was no doubt that the movie was all about Halle.
She brilliantly portrayed the greatness and trials of the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. In a beautiful twist of fate, Berry herself would later become the first African-American woman to win the prestigious award. She won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the role.
Her Run-in With the Law
In 2000, the actor received three-year probation and a fine of $13,500 for her involvement in a car crash. The other driver, Hetal Raythatha, alleged that Berry’s rented Chevrolet Blazer ran a red light and plowed into her car, after which the actor fled the scene.
The actor pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge. Raythatha broke her wrist, while Berry had gashes on her forehead that required 20 stitches. The court also ordered Berry to perform 200 hours of community service.
Box Office Success
Playing Dorothy Dandridge paved the way for more opportunities. In 2002, the multi-award-winning star added another feather to her cap when she portrayed the iconic mutant Storm in the X-Men franchise. It is arguably one of her most badass roles to date.
Berry played the role of the weather-controlling, lightning-striking mutant to perfection. She came back as Storm in the film’s sequels: “X-Men United” (2003) and “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006).
On Digging Deep to Play Dorothy Dandridge
Playing the role of Dorothy Dandridge meant everything to Berry. She initially faced stiff competition to buy the rights to the biography “Dorothy Dandridge” by Earl Mills. Big names like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston wanted it too. In an exclusive interview with the journalists of the HFPA, Berry revealed that she would not have been able to portray the role the way she did if it was not for her divorce.
She said dealing with her divorce took her to the dark spaces she needed to understand a character as layered and complex as Dandrige.
Very Risqué Business
Critics panned the mystery thriller “Swordfish” (2001) for its shoot-‘em-up entertainment with improbable storylines. It also famously became the film where Berry went topless for the first time.
It was 2001, and there was a general dislike of on-screen nudity. Understandably, Berry was at first reluctant to go topless. She agreed when Warner Brothers offered her a substantial $500,000 pay raise for a brief flash of her breasts – taking her total salary to a whopping $2.5 million.
The Role That Made Her
Halle Berry bagged the role of a lifetime as Leticia Musgrove in “Monster’s Ball” (2002). The actor stated during interviews that she instantly connected with her character — a broken wife of an executed murderer. Many people advised her against taking the role. They said it was a low-budget film with several racial and sexual components. Why risk a thriving career for the endeavor of first-time screenwriters and a relatively inexperienced director?
But for Berry, it was a no-brainer. She was willing to take the risk and end her career doing something that inspired her.
The First African-American Woman to Win an Oscar
Despite naysayers and doomsday predictions, Berry followed her heart and worked on “Monster’s Ball.” The film and Berry were outstanding, proving every detractor wrong. Along with Berry, the film featured a stellar cast — Heath Ledger, Billy Bob Thornton, Sean' Diddy' Combs, and Peter Boyle.
Berry’s impeccable performance earned her the Best Actress Oscar — the first African-American woman to win the award. She also won the National Board of Review and Screen Actors Guild Prizes for her role in the film.
A Big Win for Diversity in Hollywood
Halle Berry’s 2002 Oscar win was a landmark moment for the African-American community and other people of color. She received recognition from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "Congratulations to Halle Berry and Denzel Washington for giving us hope and making us proud.
If this is a sign that Hollywood is finally ready to give opportunity and judge performance based on skill and not on skin color then it is a good thing," the civil rights organization stated.
On Shattering Color and Gender Barriers
In her Oscar acceptance speech, a visibly-overwhelmed Berry said the moment was much bigger than her. “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."
She added that she felt honored, and thanked the Academy for choosing her. Berry received a standing ovation.
Not Without Controversy
With great success comes great controversy. Halle Berry’s win may have been historic but she received her fair share of criticism. While most people in the African-American community praised the star for breaking color barriers, many were critical of her for playing the role.
Her graphic love scene with a racist character (played by Billy Bob Thornton) did not go down well with black audiences. For her part, Berry responded by saying that the pivotal scene needed to be there. It was integral to the script. She would only go that far for a story as extraordinary as "Monster's Ball."
A Woman Who Knows Her Worth
Berry had slowly but surely come into her own, with a solid body of work and numerous awards. She was also the face of Revlon for many years, but after winning the Academy Award, the actor asked Revlon for higher fees.
Revlon chief Ron Perleman congratulated her on the win, saying how thrilled he was that she modeled for the cosmetics company. Berry allegedly replied, "Of course, you'll have to pay me more." Perleman reportedly walked away in a rage.
Few movie franchises can compare to the iconic James Bond. And one of the star elements in it is the Bond girl. As Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson in “Die Another Day” (2002), Berry had the opportunity to present a fresh take on the Bond girl. Giacinta wasn’t just beautiful — she actively worked alongside Bond for perhaps the first time in the franchise’s history.
A new-generation Bond girl who wasn’t out to betray the hero, die, or eventually disappear. She was there to stay.
The Jaw-Dropping Bikini Scene
Most people love “Die Another Day” for many things. Among the film’s most iconic moments is Halle Berry’s bikini scene. The exciting scene was an homage to Ursula Andress, the first Bond girl who similarly stunned audiences in a bikini in the 1962 film.
Berry, as Jinx in an orange bikini, created waves and kept her winning long after the historic Oscars. News polls showed that audiences had voted Jinx the fourth toughest girl in film history.
An Infamous Oscar Moment
Berry’s acceptance speech at the Oscars created ripples and moved audiences everywhere. A year later, in 2003, the actor inadvertently became a part of Oscar history.
As she presented the award for Best Actor, winner Adrien Brody ran up on stage and forced a kiss on Berry’s mouth instead of the standard peck on the cheek. She did not see it coming, and neither did we. Brody became better known for this notorious moment instead of his Oscar win for “The Pianist.”
Berry Almost Turned Down “X2”
After winning the Academy Award, Berry considered not appearing on 2003's "X2." She said she won't do it unless they gave her character more presence. Berry shared during interviews that her character, so far, had little to no impact on the storyline. She believed the film adaptation gave Storm little presence and agency compared to the comics.
As a result, producers commissioned rewrites and discussed numerous contract re-negotiations to accommodate the changes. The result was a film closer in spirit to the comic book.
Robert Downey Jr. Broke Her Arm
Berry starred in the psychological thriller “Gothika” (2003) opposite Robert Downey Jr. While filming one of the scenes, Downey was supposed to grab her arm and twist it. He was a little too enthusiastic and broke her arm instead. The injury resulted in production shutting down for eight weeks.
Berry later shared how she was still miffed with Downey, saying he didn’t seem sorry enough. While speaking of the accident to others, Downey has downplayed how it was entirely his fault. Berry has reportedly avoided him around Hollywood since.
Halle Berry: A Household Name
Despite the debilitating injury and “Gothika” receiving lukewarm reviews, Berry continued being unstoppable. In 2003, the Academy-award-winning actress appeared in Limp Bizkit’s music video, “Behind Blue Eyes,” directed by Fred Durst.
The video for the iconic track featured several scenes from “Gothika.” She also ranked #1 in FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World listing that same year. The actor also placed fourth in Empire Magazine’s 100 Sexiest Film Stars of All Time poll in 2004.
She Falls in Love With Gabriel Aubry
Despite suffering heartbreak after heartbreak, Berry wasn’t one to stop trying. Her resilience paid off when she met French-Canadian supermodel Gabriel Aubry at a Versace photoshoot, where sparks began to fly. The two began dating in November 2005.
All eyes were on the attractive couple, especially since Aubry was ten years younger. Six months into the relationship, Berry shared how happy she was in her personal life, calling it “a novelty.”
The Fiasco That Was Catwoman
If Halle Berry was the kind to look back and regret a decision, starring in “Catwoman” (2005) would be it. The story may have worked in theory but turned out to be a glorious mess on screen.
It had a weak script and sloppy acting, strung together by Berry in a hot catsuit. Even the action sequences were bland. The $100 million movie grossed $17 million on its first weekend and continued plummeting after.
She Accepts the Razzie for “Worst Actress” and Sets “That Thing” on Fire
The Catwoman debacle continued following Berry around. In 2005, she was awarded a Razzie Award for “worst actress.” The actor took all of it in her stride and even appeared at the ceremony to accept the award. In her acceptance speech, Berry spoke of her mother’s most enduring lessons on the value of hitting rock bottom — good losers eventually became good winners again. Berry received the award in good humor.
She then went home and promptly set the award on fire! Berry is among the few stars to accept the infamous Razzie in person.
Halle Berry’s Activism
Berry has always remained vocal about her politics through numerous charities and causes she supports. In 2006, she actively campaigned against the proposed Cabrillo Port Liquefied Natural Gas facility off the Malibu coast.
She stated, "I care about the air we breathe. I care about the marine life and the ecosystem of the ocean." Berry joined hands with other stars like Cindy Crawford, Pierce Brosnan, Jane Seymour, Daryl Hannah, Tea Leoni, and Dick Van Dyke. A California Commission voted against the project, citing grave environmental concerns. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected the project proposal in 2007.
A Hollywood Star to Her Name
Halle Berry was everywhere in Hollywood during the 2000s. Her career saw numerous highs and lows, from winning Oscar glory to enduring Razzie humiliation. In April 2007, Berry cemented her achievements and contributions to the film industry and got a star to her name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Berry joined the illustrious list of Hollywood greats with a star in front of the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
The Journey to Motherhood
Berry had never considered having children until her experience playing a mother in “Things We Lost in the Fire.” She said the film opened her eyes to the possibility of motherhood. In September 2007, she confirmed she was three months pregnant after denying pregnancy rumors for a long time.
She and Gabriel welcomed a baby girl on March 16, 2008, at a hospital in Los Angeles. The couple named their angel Nahla Ariela Aubry.
The Scent of Success
As the face of Revlon cosmetics, Berry became synonymous with the brand for decades. She was also one of the brand ambassadors for Versace. In March 2008, the actor made her foray into the world of fragrances when Coty Inc. signed her to market her debut perfume line.
A delighted Berry spoke about how she created her fragrances at home by mixing and experimenting with scents. Berry received about $5 million and a 5% royalty as part of the collaboration.
Trouble in Paradise
Berry and Aubry never married. The couple believed their life was complete without the need for marriage. Berry did hope that she could have another child right away. Unfortunately, the couple decided to part ways in 2010.
In a joint statement, they said the split was amicable, and they remain friends and devoted parents to their daughter, Nahla. Aubry stated that Berry would always be one of the most beautiful people he had ever known.
A French Romance
The Oscar-winning actor found love again in 2010 when she met the dashing French actor Olivier Martinez. The two first connected while working on “Dark Tide” in Cape Town, South Africa. Shortly after, the actors were spotted holding hands and kissing in Paris.
Was it love at first sight? Berry said the chemistry was sizzling, but it grew into love gradually, which, for her, was even better. “It feels more real because of that,” she told InStyle Magazine in 2012.
Custody Battles, New Loves, and Everything in Between
While the Berry-Aubry relationship initially ended on good terms, the ex-couple soon became involved in an ugly custody battle for Nahla. Berry had met a new man – Oliver Martinez, her eventual third husband.
Aubry was livid when Halle attempted to move her daughter to France, where Martinez lived. A judge stopped the move and later ordered Berry to pay Aubry $16,000 as monthly child support. Things got nasty when the actor tried to reduce the child support amount, alleging that her ex had no job and lived on the funds she sent him.
A Hopeless Romantic
Shortly after meeting Martinez, the press spotted Berry rocking an enormous diamond ring around town. Many whispers and speculation later, Berry confirmed that the couple was indeed engaged.
The couple tied the knot on July 13, 2013, at the Chateau des Conde in Vallery, France. She called herself a “hopeless romantic” who wouldn’t stop until she got things right. That same year, Berry announced she was pregnant with her second child at age 41. Their son, Maceo, arrived in the world in October 2013.
The Third Time Was Not a Charm
Reports about an unhappy marriage began brewing just a few months after the wedding. By early 2014, the whispering grew louder, and in August 2015, Berry stopped wearing her wedding ring.
Two months later, the couple filed for divorce due to “irreconcilable differences.” They finalized the divorce in 2017, agreeing to share joint custody of Maceo. “We move forward with love and respect for one another and the shared focus of what is best for our son,” Berry said in a statement to the press.
A Jilted First Ex-Husband Rants on Twitter
Following the news of Berry’s divorce from Martinez, her first husband took to ranting about her on Twitter. David Justice accused Berry of fuelling rumors that he hit her and caused her ear damage. She had long alluded to an abusive relationship without naming names.
He went on to diss her exes on Twitter while also fist-bumping the brotherhood wronged by Berry in solidarity. “Yup...Me, Eric, Gabriel and Olivier were all her ‘Knight in Shining Armor,’ until it ends. Then we all become the worst guys in history,” tweeted Justice.
Halle Berry’s Beef With Bryan Singer
Halle Berry is never one to mince words, even when it involves her co-stars. Among the people, she did not get along with was co-star Bryan Singer on “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” She was not a fan.
Berry publicly stated that he was not easy to work with. She criticized him for lacking focus and dedication while filming. Ouch! Seething anger, frustration, and cussing were common on set.
On Whether Things Had Changed After Her Oscar Win
Berry truly believed her historic Oscar win would open doors for more representation and diversity in Hollywood. But, since Berry’s win, only three African-American actresses were nominated for the award: Gabourey Sidibe for “Precious” (2009), Viola Davis for “The Help” (2011), and Quvenzhané Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012).
During the 2016 AOL Maker’s Conference, Berry described how it was heartbreaking to think that moment was for nothing, and maybe it wasn’t bigger than her.
Her Latest BAE
Three divorces and one long-term relationship later, Berry is in no rush to marry again. But the actor found yet another partner when she met singer Van Hunt. The two instantly hit it off but preferred to keep their relationship under wraps for a long time. In August 2020, Hunt finally posted a picture of them kissing.
As the world slowly limped back to normalcy, the couple began appearing at numerous red-carpet events in 2021, including the Academy Awards.
Taking Charge as a Director
Berry made her directorial debut in 2020 with “Bruised,” a gritty emancipation story of a washed-up, former MMA fighter whose career and personal life are in disarray. The film traces her journey as she attempts to bring her life back on track.
“Bruised” marked yet another milestone in Berry’s stellar three-decade career. On directing a movie: Berry said it was answering the call when destiny knocked and described the feeling as “surreal.” “Bruised” failed to achieve box office success, however. Critics panned the film’s cliched sport movie tropes, calling the film “unsurprising.”
Lessons on Privilege
The Oscar-winning actor received heavy criticism when she revealed she would play a transgender man in her next film. During a 2020 Instagram Live with Christin Brown, Berry shared how she wanted to “understand that world.” In doing so, she consistently used the wrong pronouns and hurt the sentiments of the transgender community.
Critics called her out for a complete lack of sensitivity or understanding. She later apologized and wrote the above post.
A Former UFC Fighter Sues Berry for Damages
“Bruised” bombed hard at the box office. If that weren’t enough, the actor received a double blow when former UFC fighter Cat Zingano sued Berry for dropping her from a movie contract after offering her the role.
Zingano claims she met Berry in 2019 to discuss starring in “Bruised.” Due to conflicting UFC and shooting schedules, Berry allegedly asked Zingano to choose between acting or fighting. She chose the movie, prompting UFC to release her from her contract. Shockingly, Berry refused to cast her after, saying the film would only work with a currently-active UFC fighter. Yikes!