A conversation with Eminem's mom

Debbie Mathers talks about love, rejection, lawsuits and her own CD.

Published February 21, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Marshall Mathers II (aka Eminem) has lashed out at a lot of people, but his treatment of his mother, Debbie Mathers, has been particularly harsh. He has accused her of drug abuse, has rapped about raping and murdering her and recently said that if he could go back in time, "I'd probably go back to the day I was born and kill my mother as soon as she had me." What do you do with a son like that?

If you're Debbie Mathers, you file a multimillion-dollar defamation suit against him (though she has recently said she's "considering" dropping it) and release your own rap CD to "set the record straight" (and perhaps make a little cash in the process).

Then you give interviews and tell the world how much you love your son. Recently, she did just that in this conversation with Salon's Amy Reiter.

What prompted you to put out a CD?

So they can't change my words, and to kind of let everybody know that I'm not this evil, horrible monster that my son has portrayed. The media has been very cruel. And I have to say, I really feel sorry for Marshall. I really do. He's going through too much right now. He's under so much stress. I have to just sit and try to listen. If I try to say anything, he starts screaming and self-destructs.

I'm trying to figure him out, because he's like, "You only loved me until I was 8 years old." He's got all these different personalities I'm trying to deal with right now. It's very hard for me because I'm thinking, "Well, is it alcohol? Is it drugs? Plus, the stress -- what is he really going through?"

You mean you two are in touch?

I was there, hon, for the gun charges, when he went to court. Nobody even knew I was there. He called me and said, "Mom, I need you here. I'm scared. I don't want this to get out, but please come up, bring Nathan [Eminem's younger brother], and I'll put you in a hotel, just to be there for moral support if I need to talk."

I'm very proud of both my boys. And of course, with me being with the older one for 14 years, just me and him, he was the apple of my eye. Everybody was saying, "That child is out of control, he needs to be spanked, he's not minding, he's a monster" and so on. I didn't believe in spanking. I never raised my voice to him. I never allowed anybody to raise their voice to him.

Do you think that has anything to do with how Marshall is now?

Yeah. He was too spoiled. Anything he wanted, I would just buy it, and I'd go without. The CD kind of says a lot of that. It was a letter that I wrote to him. It took me about four or five times to get through it in the studio, because I kept breakin' down crying. It was pretty hard, tryin' to let him know, because he's always sayin', "Nobody loves me." And that kills me to my heart. It's like, "I do love you, and I don't know what has happened here in the past two years."

I think it was because when I moved, he felt abandoned. He was two months away from his 26th birthday. And he's like, "Mom, I'm just getting started. I've signed with a big record label and you're gonna move to Missouri? You're not gonna see Hailie [Mathers' granddaughter]?" He took it really hard.

Why do you think he has said the things he has said about you?

It was because he was hurt when I left, because Marshall really had no responsibilities. He never had to pay rent or anything. He tried to go out on his own a few times. It didn't work ... He's very stubborn.

Does he get that from you?

I think a little bit of that comes from me. But he's a workaholic. He's in the studio 24/7 almost. And I would never, ever say one bad thing about him.

Yet you're suing him.

I don't know how to even explain that. The lawyer that I went to see had files. He was supposed to be sending Marshall letters. When Marshall got angry at me, I didn't even pick up half the magazines and read them. And people were sending in, like, articles cut from the newspapers and magazines and no return addresses to my P.O. box, and I'm looking at these and I'm going, "What is this? I never worked a day in my life? We never had a house to live in? We lived on welfare?" I mean, everything he was saying was, like, I mean, I almost went into shock. I'm like, "This is not true. Why are you doing this?"

Has it gotten harder for you now, with all the stories about you that are circulating?

A little bit because, actually, what I was going to say on that lawsuit -- I had no idea. The attorney told me that was a wake-up call, to wake Marshall up to tell him, "Hey, you need to stop demeaning your mom." When he filed that [suit] for $10 million, I almost had a heart attack. And Marshall called and said, "Mom, I got hit for $10 million." I'm like, "What?" I didn't even know it.

You didn't?

No. The lawyer told me, "I know what I'm doing." And then he said, "No, we dropped it down to $2 million." And I was totally confused. I'm like, "Well, Marshall doesn't have that kind of money." And he said, "Don't question anything I'm doing." Half the things that were going on I have not had a clue about -- [such as] any court dates. I'm not kept informed. But I think everything will become settled between me and Marshall.

It sounds like you two are talking fairly regularly.

Right now, I'm letting him vent a lot of his frustrations, a lot of anger, his hurt, his fear, everything he's going through right now with his court case. And he's got so much going on in his life.

Have you and Marshall talked about your CD?

His little brother tried to play it for him over the phone the other day. And from what he heard, he misinterpreted. He couldn't understand the words. In the beginning, it says, "Hey, kids, do you like violence? I'm gonna take and break Eminem's mother's silence." Marshall thought it said, "I'm gonna take and stab you in the eyelids." And Nathan and I, we couldn't help but laugh, because we're trying to tell him, "That's not what it says."

Marshall's not this tough guy, like he puts out there. It's all for show. I think once he did get with Dr. Dre and them ... He has been around a lot of different people and he carries guns, talked a lot of violence and did a lot of drugs and drinking. They say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I think Marshall wanted to act like he had been there and done that and the whole thing.

But the music itself --

Oh, I know. I've had a lot of people tell me to tell him to tone it down. And I think he will; I really do. I think that, as quiet as it has been kept, I see behind closed doors our relationship repairing but him wanting to carry on this tough-guy image. He'd have a fit if he thought, "Gee, well, you know, you're letting people know we're talking."

Do you still see your granddaughter?

No, I don't, hon. That's been one of the hardest things for me. Because any time that Marshall's wanted to see Nathan, I've always obliged. But it's not Marshall; it's Kim [Eminem's wife]. Marshall's gotta walk a fine line with her. Kim has said, "No, absolutely not." She's got Hailie believing that I'm the evil grandmother. She told me that. "That's the evil grandmother. That's the bad one." And that has broken my heart.

Does Nathan visit Marshall for extended periods of time?

Well, he went on tour with him for probably three or four weeks in the summer. I was kind of hesitant to send him because of all the guys he'd be around. But Marshall watched him pretty good. Marshall does preach to him about staying in school: "Don't do drugs; don't drink. If I ever catch you doing it, or smoking pot, I'm gonna go out and let you finish a joint and then I'm gonna bust ya upside your head." He's very protective of his brother.

Have you considered dropping your lawsuit?

Marshall and I kind of talked about a lot of different things. And he's admitted he's wronged me and stuff, but he's like, "Mom, if I go out there and say this to the public, do you realize what could happen to me?"

Meaning what?

That he could get hurt, seriously injured. And I don't want to see that happen.

If he says what?

That, yeah, I demeaned my mom and I'm sorry, and I said a lot of stuff that wasn't true. He's like, "You know what they're gonna do to me? You know how I'm gonna look?"

Like a nice son?

But he doesn't want to do that, see, because he's put on this whole thing. He said, "Mom, you should have just gone along with everything in the beginning and we would have never had these problems."

It sounds like you have your work cut out for you.

I do, but I am a good Christian, and prayer has kept me goin'. I do believe that my family will fall back into place someday. And I just hope it doesn't take my son going to jail to have to say, "Mom, you know, I need you."

What about all that stuff about you doing drugs and his rough childhood? Is any of that true?

No. And that's what hurt me so much. He said to me, "Mom, black people do not believe that there are poor white people out there, that we have to struggle too and work. They think that we're born with a silver spoon in our mouth. And I have to say something. I can't just say, 'Well, I was overprotected by my mom. And my mom tried to give me everything.' Because they already think that. They already think that white people have everything."

Do you think he sacrificed you for his own success?

Yes, I do. But I don't think he really meant to make it as bad as it turned out to be. It just kept getting worse. Then he would hear that I was supposed to have said something to the media. Like I said, the media's been pretty cruel. And there's been somebody that's been talking to 'em -- I don't know who it is -- that has claimed to be me and has said all these different things about Marshall. And it's broken my heart.

Is there a particular message you'd like people to take away from your CD?

That I do love my son and I'm not a bad person and it's really difficult. The song, the letter "Dear Marshall," was written for him to basically let him know, "Yes, I do love you." I know he's going through a very stressful time in his life. He has been for two years and I know everything kinda hit him at once with his fame and all that ... The message from me is that I love him and I'm not this evil beast that has been portrayed by the media. Like he said, "Mom, it's been the media doing the most harm." I know that. The CD basically is to set the record straight.

The letter I read on it is very emotional. I've had people call here that said, "We never have been touched by anything in our life as we have this. And you can tell the emotion in your voice ... It lets everybody know how much you do love him, and that you guys have had a problem over the past couple of years and that he needs to make it right with you and that you'll always be his mother no matter what."

And at the end I say, "Will the real Marshall Mathers please stand up and take responsibility for his own life?" And then I sign it "Sincerely, with love, your only mother."

By Amy Reiter

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