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Melissa Etheridge became an icon of overcoming adversity. This week, she lost her 21-year-old son.

Over the past few weeks, rock legend Melissa Etheridge has been performing little concerts online, bringing moments of joy to fans sheltering in their homes from the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Wednesday, the music stopped.

The Grammy- and Oscar-winning musician released a statement via Twitter that her son, Beckett, had died at the age of 21.

“Today I joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction,” she wrote.

“My heart is broken. I am grateful for those who have reached out with condolences, and I feel their love and sincere grief.

“We struggle with what else we could have done to save him, and in the end, we know he is out of the pain now.”

With the loss of her beloved boy, Etheridge is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of her life. But this is someone who has endured plenty before, this is a woman who considers herself a survivor.

Breaking through and coming out.

Melissa grew up in Kansas, a conservative state in the midwest of the United States.

Hers was a tortured childhood. She wrote in her 2001 memoir, The Truth Is…, that she’d been sexually abused by her sister between the ages of six and 11; a revelation that fractured her family.

But music had been her comfort. When she was eight, her father brought home a guitar for her eldest sister.

“I was just in love with the Archies, the Beatles, and pop music generally,” Etheridge told Glam Adelaide. “I would pick up a badminton racket and pretend to play, so when a real guitar came along I was like, ‘Please, let me play!’ My father said my hands were too small, but I demanded they let me.”

High school bands followed, and years of performances in L.A. bars and nightclubs, some chaperoned by her father because she was still underage.

One of those performances saw Etheridge signed to a record label at the age of 27. Critical success followed quickly. Her debut album earned her a Grammy nomination, as did her second and third. But it was her fourth, ‘Yes I Am’ released in 1993, that saw her breakthrough to the mainstream, with hits like “Come To My Window,” “I’m The Only One” and “If I Wanted To”.

Just prior to its release, Etheridge spoke publicly about being gay for the first time at the Triangle Ball, a celebration of President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration.

“I was discovered in a lesbian bar. I was very out. I was just ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” she told Billboard. “The record company was not surprised at all. I remember calling them. It was the day after [President Bill Clinton’s] inauguration and I said, ‘Hey, guys. Well, I came out,’ and they said, ‘Alright. Well, here we go.'”

But the backlash was minimal. And Etheridge went on to become an icon and advocate among the queer community.

“I never really thought that when I came out it would be such a legacy story for me and for many. Thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people that have come up to me and just said, ‘Thank you.’ It’s huge.”

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A rockstar sperm donor and falling in love with her best friend.

Etheridge hit the headlines in 2000, after she announced she and her partner, Julie Cypher, had conceived their two young children — Bailey Jean and Beckett — courtesy of sperm donations from David Crosby. As in, David Crosby of the legendary 1970s rock band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“Was there any hesitation in my mind about trying to help them? No. None,” Crosby told 60 Minutes at the time. “The truth is, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I don’t even think it should be a big deal. I think it’s such a natural thing that a straight couple would do for a gay couple, if they were friends.”

Melissa and Tammy Lynn Michaels with David Crosby. Image: Getty.

Etheridge and Cypher split later that year.

In 2002, the singer started dating close friend, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels.

"Falling in love with your best friend is not easy," she told All Things Considered. "You're afraid of losing that friendship that you've always relied on. So when I did take that step it was very scary. And at first, I was like no, no, no... I said, 'I don't want to have an intimate relationship with you, but you can come live with me and help me raise my kids.'

"And then we fell in love because that's what you do."

Four years later, Michaels gave birth to twins conceived by an anonymous donor, but the pair split in 2010.

"My breakup from my longtime partner was in the news and I wish I didn't have to go through that in front of everyone. I wish I didn't have to answer to the tabloid questions," she told NPR program, Tell Me More shortly after.

"Yet our society is filled with these soundbites of, 'this is how the rich and famous are doing it.' It's a funny thing to live."

"I've been through hell but I am not dying".

One of the seminal moments in Etheridge's career came at the 2005 Grammy Awards, when she performed in the middle of her battle against breast cancer. Weak, without hair, she still managed to deliver a now-iconic tribute to rock legend Janis Joplin.

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Etheridge had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, after noticing a lump in her breast while showering. She was 43 at the time.

"I wanted to show people that no, I’ve been through hell, yeah, this is awful but I am not dying. I wanted to present myself as, 'I’m back, I’m not weak, this has made me stronger.' I just didn’t want anyone to make fun of me," she told EW in 2018.

"I swear, not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t mention that performance and how they’ve been touched by it."

Image: Getty.
In 2014, Etheridge sparked controversy via an interview in AARP Magazine in which she suggested poor diet was responsible for her diagnosis: "I have the BRCA2 gene but don't encourage women to get tested. Genes can be turned on and off. I turned my gene on with my very poor diet."

After backlash from the public and medical community over the "dangerously misleading" statement, Etheridge said she meant to simply highlight the importance of a healthy diet in cancer prevention. "I knew all along there would be people who disagreed. I never wanted that to stop me from saying anything," she told USA Today. "I can't control the way people understand something."

Finding love again, and enduring loss.

Etheridge is married to Linda Wallem, an actress, writer and producer who wrote for hit shows including Cybill and That 70s Show and is the co-creator of Nurse Jackie.

The couple wed on May 31, 2014, two days after they both turned 53.

She's still releasing music — her latest studio album, The Medicine Show, came out last year into a very different culture than her first.

"Over the last couple of years, we’ve definitely, the feminine, come to the forefront in great strength," she told Advocate last year. "I don’t look at my ageing as any hindrance. I look at it as, 'Oh, it’s my time. Here I go.'"

With the death of her son, she has laid down her guitar. But not for good.

"I will sing again, soon," she concluded her statement about Beckett's death. "It has always healed me.”

Feature image: Getty.

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