The murderous true crime story of Charlize Theron’s childhood.

Video by CNN

 

“My dad was a big guy, tall, skinny legs, big belly,” Charlize Theron told Diane Sawyer in 2004.

“[He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic.”

In an industry where press junkets are common, and your private life fodder for public consumption, Charlize Theron is suitably careful about the things she says about her family and in particular, her father.

“It’s not just about me,” she told Sawyer in that same interview. “If it was just about me, I think I could talk about it.”

On the night of June 21, 1991, Theron was 15 and had just returned home from boarding school. Her parents, she once said, had a troubled marriage, though divorce wasn’t a done thing in South Africa at the time.

On that night her father, alongside his brother, returned home after a long night of drinking. Before they arrived, her aunt had called her mother to warn her of their arrival.

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“Nature gives you instinct. And I knew something bad was going to happen,” Theron said in 2004.

Charles arrived home with a gun in his hand, and he began shooting without rhyme nor reason. First he shot the gate, then through the kitchen door. Eventually, he made his way to Theron’s bedroom door.

“Tonight I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun,” he said, according to her mother’s testimony.

Image: Getty.

He fired through her bedroom door.

Her mother, Gerda, then grabbed her own handgun and shot the two men, killing her husband and wounding his brother.

"I know what happened," she said to Sawyer. "And I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing."

In 1998, as Theron's career was climbing and her name gaining traction, police reports emerged detailing how her mother shot and killed her husband. Prior to the story being made public, Theron had a story she told. It was one of how her father died in a car accident.

In an interview with Howard Stern last year - one of the few times she has opted to comment on that night in 1991 - she explains:

“I just pretended like it didn’t happen. I didn’t tell anybody — I didn’t want to tell anybody. Whenever anybody asked me, I said my dad died in a car accident. Who wants to tell that story? Nobody wants to tell that story.

“I have an incredible mother… She’s a huge inspiration in my life. She’s never really had therapy. So a mother who never really had therapy dealing with something like that — trying to get your child out of that. Her philosophy was ‘This is horrible. Acknowledge that this is horrible. Now make a choice. Will this define you? Are you going to sink or are you going to swim?’ That was it.”

Image: Getty.

Of the few conclusions you can come to from the few quotes from Theron on the tragedy, an overriding one is her realism about the impact it's had on her life.

“It was the great tragedy of my life, I think what follows is ... you have to find where you want yourself to be, and how you want people to see you in this world, I had a parent who led me through the grief, shock and anger going through all of the emotional things that you do when you — when something like this happens to you,” she told Piers Morgan in 2015.

“But really kind of guided me towards not being a victim and not going through my life feeling victimized. You know, I’m incredibly saddened by that night and saddened by the event ... [but] no, it doesn’t haunt me. No, it doesn’t haunt me at all. I’m completely at peace.”

While there's little doubt a tragedy like this one would have an impact on the person you become, Theron - rightly, too - carries a certain resentment for the way others have projected on her the meaning she may have taken from that June night.

It comes up in every profile, she says. Journalists sometimes seek to draw parallels between the roles she takes and the real life events of her adolescence. When she makes a decision, people link it to 1991. When she doesn't make a decision, people link it to 1991.

She is, she once said, far more than the sum of the tragedy, and her decisions are about far more than the death of her father.

“It always ends up in articles," she told Esquire recently.

"Monster was the instant connection — ‘Oooh, ahhh, I’m connecting the dots.’ No, f*cker, you’re not connecting any dots. Please. My mum didn’t ask for any of this stuff to ever be. I hate that every article she has to read, that’s the thing — a life is full of colour and depth and highs and lows, and it really feels like the easy shot, the easy presumption of where somebody’s depth comes from.”

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