Skip to main content

Actor Taraji P. Henson will always be known for making Cookie Lyon’s feisty one-liners and fierce outfits memorable on Empire. Henson is also good at making everyone laugh — from fans to Hollywood A-listers.

She brought cookies to the Golden Globe Awards in 2016, ENews reported, passing them out as she walked to the stage to accept her award for Best Actress for a TV Drama.

Taraji P. Henson smiling
Taraji P. Henson | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

But Henson’s real life isn’t always all glamour and fun. She overcame lots of heartache and tragedy to become the person she is today, and she’s not shy about sharing every detail to help others deal with issues. Henson had to struggle for years to pursue her career goals — and she once said that choosing to be a single mom was a decision that saved her life.  

Henson’s son gave her the strength to change her life — and pursue acting

Henson has only one child, and he’s all grown—28-year-old Marcell Johnson. He followed in his mom’s footsteps and racked up several acting credits from 2017 through 2019, including the role of “Marcel” on 16 episodes of Empire, according to IMDb.

Henson has said it was challenging for her when she got pregnant as a junior in college. While working toward getting her degree, she held several part-time jobs to pay for school while also taking acting classes. She has always said that her son gave her the strength and determination to never give up on her goals.

So who is Marcell’s dad?  William LaMarr Johnson, who Henson began dating in high school. She gave birth during her senior year, on May 10th, 1994 — but by October, Henson left Johnson to raise Marcell on her own. 

Hanson moved to Los Angeles without any help, as a single mom. She told Glamour that her family thought she was crazy to take an infant along on her quest to pursue her acting career. But, she said, “I had a mission. I had to make my dream come true. If I didn’t, what was I proving to my son?”

The decision may have saved her life.

Henson reveals she was a victim of abuse

Henson revealed in her memoir, Around the Way Girl, published by Simon & Schuster in 2016, that her relationship with Marcell’s dad was allegedly abusive. “The next thing I knew, [Johnson’s] balled-up fist was coming straight for my face,” Henson wrote, as reported by Heavy. “I pulled my hand from my mouth and looked at the blood on my trembling finger. I said, ‘You know what? I don’t have to do this — and I don’t have to hate you for it.'”

Henson explained more in her book about the moment when she decided to take her son and leave. “Like my mother before me, I made the difficult decision to cut off that romantic relationship with the father of my child, not just for my sake, but also for that of my baby boy,” she wrote, according to BuzzFeed

“With that separation, my forever man, my first love was no more, and my dream of building a family with him was over. In so many judgmental eyes, I’d become another statistic: a baby mama. But my becoming a single mother was about making a sound parenting decision that would ultimately save our lives.”

Henson never prevented Marcell from having a relationship with his father—and then something unimaginable happened. When Marcell was nine years old, his father was murdered. The Washington Post reported on the crime in 2003.

Henson has dated but hasn’t found her true love—yet


Taraji P. Henson Gets a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Even after experiencing heartache and helping her son deal with his dad’s tragic death, Henson never gave up on her dreams. She was determined to have a successful career‚ which she can now check off her list—and find true love. 

Over the years, Henson has been linked to so many celebrity partners. Bustle even compiled a list of all the men she dated from 2002 through 2020. It includes actor Hill Harper, rapper and actor Common, and basketball player Lamar Odom. 

It seems that the only man Henson was serious about was NFL player Kelvin Hayden. She announced her engagement in 2018 and planned the wedding for June 2020—before knowing that the pandemic would put the entire world’s plans on hold. 

Quarantine may have been too much for the relationship, and it also took a toll on Henson’s mental health, which she spoke about on The Late Late Show with James Corden. By October 2020, she announced that her engagement was over. If Henson is dating anyone now, she’s keeping it private. 

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.