Barbra Streisand was only 15 months old when her 35-year-old father passed away leaving her family in a terrible financial condition.
Barbra Streisand, 77, has immense success, wealth, and a happily married life with James Brolin for more than 20 years, but the millionaire performer has had one of the most difficult childhoods. She lost her father at an age so young that she doesn't have any memories of him at all.
Her father, Emmanuel Streisand, the son of an immigrant fishmonger, was a teacher at a Brooklyn high school. Strong, athletic, and scholarly, his energy would fill their apartment every night when he came home. But, when Barbra was only 15 months old, she lost him. He was only 35.
Emmanuel died due to a respiratory failure probably induced after morphine was injected in his neck when he had an epileptic fit. Her mother, Diana, who might have been ashamed that he had epilepsy, hid the cause of his death from her kids. She told them that he had a cerebral hemorrhage due to overwork, something Barbra believed for several years. "I thought I might die of overwork too," Barbra told PEOPLE.
Unable to understand that he had died, the Mirror Has Two Faces actress stayed by the front window every night for weeks and waited for him when she was a toddler. In some time, she forgot that he even existed. "I always felt I never had a father," she told PEOPLE. "There wasn’t even a picture of us together. Only his books down in the cellar, tied up with string," she added.
Losing him was one of the biggest blows to her family, that consisted of her mom, Diana Streisand, and her older brother, Sheldon. It left a vacuum in her life that was only filled by creativity. However, she didn't spare too much thought about the man. In fact, as a teenager, when she did think of him it was because she resented the fact that she was the "only kid on the block without a father."
The worse part about losing her dad was that her mother left her emotionally at the same time. The family had become destitute and Diana had to move in with her parents in a small three-room apartment on Pulaski Street in Brooklyn. "I slept in a bed with my mother," Barbra remembers. "I never had a bedroom to myself until I was 16." Diana worked all day and never had a kind word for her children since she was worried that her kids would have "blown up egos."
With an absent mother, the two siblings had hoped for their grandparents' love but even that was amiss. Sheldon said that his grandparents were "decent, hardworking people, but there was no love in that house. I remember there was a huge table in the dining room and Barbara and I would scuttle under it to avoid beatings."
Barbra was able to escape her childhood life when she enrolled in acting classes at 16 and then never looked back, which included not thinking of the man who was gone. Not until she was 35 did she visit her father's grave. "After 35 years it was a strange experience. But that night I had a much stranger experience. My brother invited a medium. We sat around a table with all the lights on and put our hands on it. And then it began. The table started to spell out letters with its legs. Pounding away. Bang, bang, bang!" she said.
The letters spelled "M-A-N-N-Y, my father’s name, and then B-A-R-B-R-A." The Funny Girl actress was scared and she locked herself in the bathroom. "Because I could feel the presence of my father in that room... When I finally came out, the medium asked, 'What message do you have?’ and the table spelled out S-O-R-R-Y. Then the medium asked, ‘What else do you want to tell her?’ And it spelled S-l-N-G and then P-R-O-U-D."
She knows it sounds unreal but is also sure that her father was telling her to be strong. "It was his answer to all that deep anger I had always felt about his dying," she added.
The consequences of his death on her family and not having a stable male figure in her life have made her who she is, she believes. It has also fuelled her creative projects. In 2019, talking about her 1983 film Yentl, she told FemaleFirst, "It just meant a lot to me to be able to make a story where I could create a father, a father I never had because he died when I was 15 months old. I was so intrigued by that relationship and also the great tradition in Judaism is knowledge, learning and my father was a teacher."
Her father's absence has shaped her throughout her life and given her an undefinable creative streak. "My husband thinks I’m like the wild child in Mad Max. There’s a part of me that’s still unformed. Having only one parent is not unique, but it’s a particular kind of vacuum that is created, and maybe in that vacuum one’s imagination has to flourish – maybe it leaves an opening for a creative spark. You have to make the world more what it could be, rather than what it is," she told Mirror UK.