Radio Sandwell Music

Chaka Khan: 'I've battled addiction my entire life'

2014-10-25 12:53:43

Chaka Khan
'Life has not been easy and I am very lucky
to have made it this far,' said Chaka Khan

She survived alcoholic parents and drug addiction, and married the quick-thinking neighbour who called an ambulance when she walked into his house and collapsed... no wonder the Queen of Funk thinks her greatest achievement is staying alive.

What is your earliest memory?

I was just a baby and I was on a train looking up at a light-green curved ceiling. I remember someone bending over me in a white jacket. My mother said it must have been when we were travelling from our home in Chicago to visit my father in Texas, where he was stationed in the air force. My dad and I were very close.

What sort of child were you?

I was a really quiet kid, a loner. When our house was joyful, it was ever so joyful, but when it was awful, it was ever so awful. My dad got dishonourably discharged. He was a very bright man, but he was addicted to heroin. Both my parents drank and they divorced when I was about 12. Before that, though, I loved to sing with them. I didn't think I was special because I thought everyone could do it. My mother could sing, my father could sing. 

What is the closest you've come to death?

I was in my 20s, and I was singing with the band Rufus. We were taking cocaine all day and working 12, 13, 14 hours in the studio. I was having trouble getting any sleep and I was very depressed. I came back home one morning and took a heavy-duty sleeping pill. It didn't work so I took another one. The next thing I know, I'm in an ambulance, getting my stomach pumped, and they told me that I nearly died. That's how I met my second husband, Richard Holland. He saved my life. He lived next door to me in Laurel Canyon. He said I walked into his house, walked up to his bed, knelt on the floor and collapsed. He didn't feel a pulse, and called 911.

What or who do you dream about?

I used to have a recurring dream: I would be sitting at a table, floating in outer space with about 20 women from other planets. We would fight evil with our minds. I recall asking the woman in charge, 'Why can’t I stay here?' She said, 'It's not time, yet.' I told someone about that dream years ago and haven't had it since.

What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

When I was in my 30s a manager once told me I was worth more money dead than alive. It was probably the truth. I was using drugs and I was getting pretty high all the time. I think he even had an insurance policy out on me. His bet was that I wasn't going to make it.

Rufus and Chaka Khan
What is the closest you've come to death? 'I was in my 20s, and I was singing with the band Rufus. We were taking cocaine all day and working 12, 13, 14 hours in the studio,' said Chaka

What has been your biggest achievement?

Just staying alive - I have battled addiction my entire life. Life has not been easy and I am very lucky to have made it this far. Music is a very lonely calling. You travel anonymously, you check in to an anonymous hotel and you stay there until it's time to turn yourself on and bare your soul on stage. Then you come back to the anonymous hotel and leave in the morning.

And your biggest disappointment?

That I wasn't able to provide for my children the security they may have needed. I could be wrong but I think they're still a little angry because I wasn't around when they were young, like I would have been if I hadn't chosen this life. I think women shouldn't have kids until they're 40 because I don't think we're ready until then.

Chaka Khan
'I didn't think I was special because I thought
everyone could do it,' said Chaka on singing

What is your biggest fear?

Being in a relationship, because it renders one so helpless. You're so vulnerable. I don't know if I'm ready for that to happen again. Being in a couple is a lot of work. No man in his right mind would want to be married to someone like me. I can understand that. I've tried it a couple of times, and I get it. I can't even have a pet.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?

I was at a big stadium in New York, singing Through the Fire. They had the stage blacked out, with just a small white spotlight on my face. I stepped back, tripped over one of the speakers and fell on my ass - luckily I'm well padded back there so it didn't hurt. To the audience, it must have looked incredibly comical, because one second my face was there, then it was gone, and then I popped back up.

Tell us a secret about yourself

I've been known to suck my thumb. Freud would have a ball with that one!

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess it would be a toss-up between the bed, the telly and my Bible. My bed is my boyfriend, the telly is my husband (I can turn it on and off), and the Bible is my salvation.

Who would your dream dinner date be?

The actor Idris Elba. I think he's adorable. I loved him in the film Mandela. You glean certain things from people on screen. Actors have to be great liars to do their job. But I can glean from Idris that he is a very good human being and a lovely looking man.

Describe the best night of your life

Getting sober last June. I had already been sober for nine years. But I got addicted to painkillers I had been taking after knee surgery. It never dawned on me that every day people walk around with a little bit of pain and that I could just learn to live with it, instead of continuing to take the painkillers.

What is your favourite word and why?

Sphinx. Anything with an X in it is fun.

Who's the biggest star in your phone contacts?

Joni Mitchell. We've been friends a long, long time. She is wonderful to me. She's an amazing philosopher. I could just sit at her feet and listen to her all day.


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