Thanks to LauraRM at RM:UK
Mail on Sunday, Night & Day magazine (UK) exclusive interview 28th August, 2005
'I thought I'd gone insane. It was time to stop'
Five years ago, Ricky Martin had sold more than 50 million albums and was the world's biggest star. Then one day he realised he could not go on. Here, he talks for the first time about his breakdown, his therapy and how he finally saved himself.
By Rebecca Hardy photos by Steven Klein
Five years ago Ricky Martin, the hip-thrusting, testosterone-fuelled sensation from Puerto Rico, was so hot he flirted with Madonna and bumped hips with Kylie. He had sold 50 million albums across the world, performed in stadiums sold out within hours to 25,000 screaming fans. La Copa de la Vida (Cup or Life) was chosen as the anthem for the 1998 World Cup. It's follow-up, Livin' la Vida Loca, became the biggest-selling single in the history of Columbia Records.
Then...Silence. Following a concert in Sydney, Martin just disappeared. Speaking about what happened for the first time, in a deeply confessional interview, he finally explains why.
"I was so tired, so burnt out. I don't know if it was a breakdown, but I probably would have had one if I hadn't stopped that day," he says. "I was on stage in front of 25,000 people and I wasn't enjoying it. The applause wasn't bringing me a rush. As a matter of fact, it disgusted me. I was completely disorientated. This is what I'd lived for - the applause, it's what inspired me. Suddenly, I was on tour and wasn't happy. It got worse and worse. When I walked on stage I was in a bad mood, I was angry to be there. You can't get much lower than that-being on stage, with the applause of 25,000 people, and having no sense of gratitude.
"Something was wrong. I needed to stop. That day in Sydney I said, 'This is my last show today. After this, everyone goes home.' We were supposed to be going to Argentina and Brazil. The dancers and musicians were booked. I knew it would cost me a lot to cancel, but I didn't care. A lot of people told me, 'This is your moment. You've sold 50 million records around the world. if you stop now, this is the end of your career. If you stop now you're insane.' I thought, 'I probably am insane, which is why I need to stop.'
Martin, now 33, retreated to his home in Puerto Rico, spending six months there alone. In some sort of cathartic process, he bleached his black hair blond, before shaving his head and embarking on a programme of good works and a journey of self-discovery.
Today his hair has grown back black and is gelled. There is also a faint goatee on his chin. The first thing about him that overwhelms is his astonishing handsomeness. He is the ultimate female fantasy in terms of cover-boy looks, pure girlbait with the sort of liquid brown eyes and thick eyelashes that a cosmetic company's manufactured dreams are bult upon. We meet in Sony's Madison Avenue offices in New York. Sitting in one of the marble-panelled meeting rooms 30-odd floors up, Martin, all 6ft of him, is prawled easily on a sofa, legs splayed out before him.
We're here to talk about his new single I Don't Care, which will be released in the UK next month. His first English-speaking album since 1999, Life, follows in October. He hs written much of it himself. It is a defiant departure from his Latino salsa music of five years ago and songs such as La Copa de la Vida. I Don't Care is less exuberant and more revealing than before, rather like the man himself.
Martin didn't need to stage a comeback. He is already fabulously wealthy, with homes in Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles and New York. He is currently buying a property in Italy. Buying and selling houses is something of a hobby, although he insists he is not motivated by money.
As well as soeaking eloquently aobut his near breakdown, he also touches upon other normally taboo subjects: love, his experiences on the fringes of the New York gay scene, drugs, the truth about a damaging childhood, the desensitising nature of early fame.
Martin has had therapy on and off since he was 18 and falls easily back into the candour of the psychiatrist's couch. "What do I feel when I talk about love?" he says when I ask if he has ever been in love. "OK, this is therapy. What do I feel? Uncertainty?" He closes his eyes. "What do I feel? Come on, open yourself...I guess I don't feel." He opens his eyes at the revelation.
He claims he desperately wants to feel, wants to experience intense emotion. "There's love and there's love - and then there's love," he says. "The first was a beautiful girl called Michelle. We shared the most beautiful kiss I've ever had in my life. It was heaven. i was 13. (He lost his virginity at 14). "The middle love was with this married woman in Mexico. I was 19 and it was a beautiful, physical relationship.
"Then I had this relationship with this amazing woman called Rebecca (the Spanish TV star Rebecca de Alba). I met her when I was 16 or 17, then we broke up at 19. Two eyars went by, then I met her again. We dated for another two years, broke up and it was like that four times. I broke up with her four months ago. You change one thing for the other. If I really look at whether I've ever really been in love, I guess I've been in love only with my career."
This is the most Martin has ever said about his love life and, in the absence of accurate information, gossip and innuendo have tended to flourish. In America, newspapers have openly speculated that he is gay. I ask him if he's ever been in love with a man, "No," he says, before adding, "I believe if I was in love with a man and had a relationship and it gave me joy, peace and satisfaction, it would be impossible to keep it within.
"For many years I was doing my best to be in control, but I wasn't in touch with my feelings," he says, returning to his theme of living a desensitised life. "I was more of a watcher. I would perhaps get turned on watching. From the age of 17 to 19 I partied like crazy. I spent most of the time in New York and had friends who were bartenders who would sneak me into clubs. I saw things that were intense. I'd go to a club like Limelight, which used to be a church. It became really dark. They had cages hanging from the roof with people dancing inside. You'd see a man dancing, or someone who had the body of a man and a beard, but when he got naked it seemed he was actually a woman. That would be one scene going on in the cage, then you'd look somewhere else and there would be group sex. I think I've seen it all - maybe not all, but certainly a lot."
He says he used to worry desperately about what people thought of him, but doesn't give a damn anymore. "Control is something I've tried to let go of - it doesn't take you anywhere," he says. "you have to trust."
He is actually a gentle, tactile man who often reaches out a hand to make a point. There is, though, a certain fragility about him as if, at times, he fights to hold himself together. I suspect he's frightened tro death of cracking up again.
Born Enrique Jose Martin Morales in Puerto Rico on Christmas Eve, 1971, he has been famous since the age of 12. The only son of an accountant mother and psychologist father - they divourced when he was two - he performed with Menudo, a hugely successful Puerto Rican boy band, playing to audiences of up to 270,000. He's wanted to be in showbusiness since he was eight, but when he realised his dream, his home life began to fall apart as his parents rowed over him. Martin remembers a dreadfully unhappy time, culminating in a falling out with his father that lasted several years.
"I've never talked about this before," says Martin, who is now hapilly reconciled with his father and clearly adores both of his parents. "I was damaged because my mother and father loved me too much. Everything was perfect until my drea, came true to be a performer. Before joining the band I was happy, I could do what I wanted. If I woke up one day and sais, 'Tonight Mum, I'm staying at my father's house', I could, evern thought the court said I was supposed to live with my mum and spend every other weekend with my dad.
"But once I was in the band I'd be on the road six or seven months of the year. When I was at home in Puerto Rico they'd both want to spend time with me. So, if I went home for three days, if I didn't spend one-and-a-half days with my mother and one-and-a-half days with my father, it was chaos.
"It would be lie, 'Why are you spending three hours 35 seconds with your father and three hours and 34 seconds with me?' I'd come home wanting to relax and have fun and they were fighting over me. I'd try to please them both. I'd think, 'If I do this, then Mum will like me, and if I do that, then Dad will like me.'
"I needed them to be happy because, when they were unhappy, they wre angry with each other, and then they'd be angry with me. Pleasing my parents became a way of living. Then I began to need it. I became obsessed with the idea that people had to like me. It made me happy. I worked a lot to be on stage to get the applause and get the audience liking me."
Martin learnt to be semi-detached, to stand, watch and control responses. Control was safe, control didn't involve anger or unhappiness. He began to steer clear of anything that threatened chaos, including his father.
"It was easy to say goodbye because I wasn't attached to anything," he says. "From 12 to 17, I was dealing with an itinerary and discipline. We had these boundaries and the most important thing I had to learn was to divide friendship and business. It's what the managers were always reminding us. One moment they'd be playing with us, having fun, the next it would be, 'OK, game's over. Go to sleep. We're working tomorrow at 7am.' The next day you'd be on stage in front of 270,000 fans. And you'd be flying in private jets, but not any old private jet, you'd be on your own private 737. It's not normal, but it was normal for me because I didn't know anything else."
When Martin left the band at 17, he completed high school before leaving Puerto Rico for New York. "I was totally running away because my parents had issues and they wouldn't let me be,' he says. "I called a friend in New York and asked if I could stay. I brought my microwave and my pillow. I told my mum I was going for a week. When I landed at Kenney airport I called her and said, 'I'm not coming back, mama.' I broke her heart, but I needed to get away.
"When I went to New York I did nothing for seven months. I tried drugs, but it wasn't something that destoyed my life. I'd tried marijuana when I was young. When you're a kid travelling around and meeting people it's available. Now I don't touch drugs. Perhaps it's because I believe there would be too much to lose. I know I would love it and everything would go down the toilet - my life, my career, my friends."
After seven months he moved to Mexido City, where he began working again in musical theatre. He released two Spanish-language albums, played a singing bartender on the American soap opera General Hospital and spent a year on the stage in the Broadway production of Les Miserables.
By the mid-nineties, he was back singing, making his international breakthrough with Copa de la Vida. He made the cover of Time magazine and became the figurehead of the whole Latin explosion - then came Sydney and the day Martin stopped the merr-go-round of fame and got off.
"I spent six months alone in my house (in Puerto Rico) relaxing. I grew a beard, I bleached my hair, then I shaved my head. In a moment of silence in my house I thought, 'Are you missing it all?' I wasn't - I wasn't missing being on stage. I wanted to go back to basics to see what was bothering me.
"I grew up in Puerto Rico in a poor neighbourhood. I travelled all ove rthe world. I'm confortable, I can have anything I want. You thin, 'Why me? Why not Carlos, the neighbour's kid who I grew up with?'
Martin travelled to India, Egypt and Nepal. He practised yoga, began helping in a children's orphanage in Calcutta where, to the children, he was just 'Uncle Ricky'. He created a foundation called People for Children, which raises the awareness of child-trafficking. His most treasured possession is a Buddha that sits in the entrance of his house in Miami. it's decorated with scarves from the Dalai lama and he believes the statue is blessed and watches over him. He also started to write. "I started to dare to be vunerable enough to leave my emotions on a piece of paper." he says.
After a time he found himself drawn back to what he knew best: music. "At first, when friends of mine suggested it, i tried to run a way from it, but then the melodies showed up and then the harmonies. Automatically, you start to see yourself on stage. The thought of the audience kicks in and you want to go back."
Ricky's deeply personal album, which is heavily influenced by his travels in Brazil, Egypt and India, was first recorded in his native Spanish. It sold four million copies, despite the absence of a heavyweight promotional tour. He says he's now finally ready to start touring again and will pick up where he left off five years ago. His schedule is now booked through until 2007. The thought of an ordered itinerary no longer daunts him.
But, I ask, does he really not try to control his life anymore? What happens after 2007?
"Last year I thought by 2007 I was going to be a father at least," he says. "I don't know. That might happen, and it might not. The truth is I'm happy now. As far as what happens tomorrow is concerned, I don't care.