The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Lady Gaga

When it comes to women in pop music, the multi-talented Lady Gaga is in a league all her own. Per Britannica, her career took flight in 2008 with the release of her debut album "The Fame" and its immediate follow-up, 2009's "The Fame Monster." The world quickly fell in love with the quirky wonder of Lady Gaga — whose career is a tribute to David Bowie and is named after the Queen song "Radio Ga Ga" — and her disco-inspired electronic dance hits like "Just Dance," "Poker Face," and "Bad Romance." She's friends with musical icons like Elton John and Tony Bennett, and, as of 2022, she has released six albums, taken home 13 Grammys, and generated a devoted following of Little Monsters who refer to her as their Mother Monster (per Diggit Magazine).

And music is only part of her story. As Vogue notes, the songstress is also a fashion icon, regularly shocking the world with her meat dresses, armadillo heels, and bizarre stunts like emerging from a giant egg on stage. More recently, she has also demonstrated her acting skills in movies like 2018's "A Star Is Born" and 2021's "House of Gucci" (per Britannica). But beneath the larger-than-life personality of sequins, fake blood, and lace is a real woman with very real struggles. By age 36, the pop star had already had quite a turbulent life. From bullying to sexual abuse to the endless trappings of fame, here is the tragic real-life story of Lady Gaga.

She was bullied in school

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the Italian-American youth who would become Lady Gaga spent her formative years attending an all-girls Catholic school in New York City (per Britannica). As she notes in "Channel Kindness" — a book published by her charity, the Born This Way Foundation — the experience was far from constructive. Germanotta describes an instance when her high school bully interrupted her diligently prepared presentation to ask her why she was still talking, causing her to burst into tears in front of her entire class. She also claims that a group of boys — encouraged by girls from her school — once picked her up and threw her into a trash can, telling her that was where she belonged. Older girls also pinched her and called her a slut.

Unfortunately, her torment did not end with high school. As former classmate Lauren Bohn wrote on Facebook (via Upworthy), Germanotta experienced difficulties while attending New York University as well. Bohn claims that a group of students created a Facebook group called "Stefani Germanotta, you will never be famous" that was purely devoted to slamming the future Lady Gaga, whom Bohn described as "a pretty Norah Jones-esque young 18-year-old ... who sang and played piano at local bars." While the joke is now on them, Lady Gaga claims the effects of bullying never went away. In a 2011 Google interview, she said, "I was never the winner. I was always the loser. And that still stays with me."

Lady Gaga made music in an attempt to heal her father

Stefani Germanotta showed musical promise at a young age. Per Biography, she began playing the piano when she was just four years old, and by age 13, she had written her first piano ballad. But tragically, her musical development was largely driven by her father's suffering. In a 2020 interview with Zane Lowe, Lady Gaga said she initially wrote songs on the piano to cheer her father up and hoped her music would heal his pain. As she explained in a 2017 interview with V Magazine, her father's sister, Joanne, died at age 19 due to complications from lupus, causing her family lasting sadness.

In 2010, Lady Gaga told MTV that she felt deeply connected to her Aunt Joanne, though they had never met. Joanne was a poet and a painter but died before publishing her works. So, as a gift to her father, Lady Gaga printed her aunt's poetry in the liner notes of her 2008 debut album "The Fame." Later, she released her 2016 album "Joanne" as a tribute to her late aunt — and as a further attempt to heal her father's trauma (per Zane Lowe). The experience left her depressed, and in 2020, she told Zane Lowe: "I realized that no matter what I make, no matter how big I become, no matter how many sold-out stadiums I have, I can't fix my dad."

Eating disorders have been a lifelong struggle for her

Growing up in an Italian home, Stefani Germanotta struggled to keep her figure while eating the food her family served. At the 2012 "It's Our Turn" conference hosted by Maria Shriver at a California school (via Radar Online), Lady Gaga told students that she used to throw up all the time in an attempt to stay thin, explaining, "I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina, but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night." She later said she stopped making herself vomit after eating when she realized how damaging it was to her vocal cords and cautioned the students against believing the inaccurate images of women portrayed in the media.

Still, Lady Gaga continued to struggle with her body image and fame only complicated matters. In a 2010 interview with New York Magazine, she said "pop stars should not eat," suggesting that she stayed thin by starving herself. Later, in an essay in her charity the Born This Way Foundation's book "Channel Kindness," she admitted as much by stating that she had previously suffered from both anorexia and bulimia. She also explained how seeing news stories about her weight gain — however trivial — still causes her to have panic attacks.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

She was raped and held captive by a producer

In 2014, Lady Gaga shocked the world by revealing that she was raped by a record producer on the Howard Stern Show. She elaborated further in a 2015 interview with The New York Times, stating that she did not tell anyone about the incident for seven years because she blamed herself for it. In 2021, Lady Gaga fully opened up about her experience on Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry's series "The Me You Can't See" (via The Guardian), claiming that she was raped repeatedly and held captive by a record producer when she was 19. The producer insisted that she undress or he would destroy her music. Her assault ended months later when her abuser dropped her off on a street corner sick and vomiting. As it turned out, she was pregnant.

Following the sexual abuse, Lady Gaga claimed that she "was not the same girl," according to "The Me You Can't See" (via The Economic Times). To make matters worse, she told Oprah in a 2020 interview that no one in the music industry was willing to help her prosecute the producer. She has not named her abuser as she has chosen not to relive her trauma. She did, however, perform the song "Til It Happens to You" for "The Hunting Ground," a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on college campuses (per Billboard). Her 2013 song "Swine" is also about the experience (via Songfacts).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Her first record label dropped her

In 2006, after years of underground performing, Lady Gaga thought she had finally made it. According to Johnny Morgan in his book "Gaga," she and her producer had written several electronica songs incorporating a synthesizer, a beatbox, and a piano that were unlike anything currently being played in the New York club scene. The two started pitching the songs to music industry big wigs, and eventually gained the ear of Joshua Sarubin, the head of A&R at Island Def-Jam. Following an audition, Sarubin and his employer Antonio "L.A." Reid signed an artist development deal with her with the goal of releasing an album in nine months.

Lady Gaga was over the moon. But three months into the deal, Reid stopped meeting with her to discuss the album. Desperate, she sat outside of his office for days hoping for a chance to salvage things, but, despite her best efforts, the deal stalled out. As Lady Gaga told E! News in 2011, she was in the hospital when she found out that she had been dropped from the label — an event later recreated in her music video for "Marry the Night." Per Morgan, losing her first record deal devastated Lady Gaga, drove her to drug use, and strained her relationship with her parents.

She struggles with mental health issues

On a 2016 episode of "The Today Show," Lady Gaga revealed that she suffered from PTSD. Per Mayo Clinic, PTSD — short for post-traumatic stress disorder — is a mental health condition that is triggered by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms vary, and, in some cases, can take months or years to present. In a 2018 interview with Vogue, Lady Gaga said her PTSD symptoms mimic the feeling just before a roller coaster plunges. She also experiences difficulty breathing, a full-body spasm, and crying.

Later, in a 2021 episode of Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry's series "The Me You Can't See" (via BBC), Lady Gaga said she had a psychotic break as a result of her sexual abuse at 19. During the break, she experienced severe physical pain followed by full-body numbness and weeks of sickness. As she notes in a 2020 interview with Oprah, she was admitted to a hospital in a panicked state — completely broken from reality — following a triggering event years after the abuse and was referred to a psychiatrist. She claims not processing her trauma led to both PTSD and the break and she credits her team of doctors with teaching her how to manage her mental health and saving her life.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She has self-harmed in the past

In a 2020 interview with Oprah, Lady Gaga admitted that she used to cut herself and throw herself against walls during times of emotional distress. She claimed that the physical pain from self-harming offered a temporary reprieve from the psychological pain but ultimately made her feel more out of control and worsened her mental state. Cutting also allowed her to show others that she was in pain. In a 2020 interview with Zane Lowe, she elaborated on her self-harm, explaining that it allowed her to temporarily express feelings of shame and inadequacy but always left her feeling worse.

Cutting has left permanent scars on her wrists, and she claims that people have made hurtful comments about the marks, compounding her pain. In 2012, Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, started the Born This Way Foundation to assist young people with mental health struggles (per HuffPost). Partnering with universities and psychologists, the organization seeks to provide youths with relevant resources and "make the world a kinder and braver place." One of the teachings Lady Gaga imparts through the foundation is her personal philosophy on combating self-harm: "Tell me, don't show me."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Lady Gaga lives with trauma-induced chronic pain

In 2018, Lady Gaga was forced to cancel the last 10 dates of her European "Joanne" tour following a severe bout of chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia, which she was diagnosed with in 2016 (per ABC News). Per Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia is a trauma-induced disorder that causes widespread body pain, fatigue, and mood issues. In a 2020 interview with Oprah, Lady Gaga explained that the condition causes her to experience full-body pain as a trauma response — similar to what she felt after being sexually abused.

Lady Gaga lived and toured with constant pain for years, yet MRIs and medical tests revealed no physical cause for her agony. Prior to the diagnosis, she claims that the intense unexplained pain made her feel like she was going to die. Finally, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and received mental health therapy and non-narcotic medication that helped her manage the condition — though the chronic pain never went away entirely.

She has had two failed engagements

Lady Gaga's love life has been tumultuous. According to ELLE, she had a six-year on-again-off-again relationship with fellow musician Lüc Carl that started in New York before her big break and continued until 2011. She wrote the song "Yoü and I" about their final break-up. While shooting the music video for the song in 2011, she met actor Taylor Kinney, who played her paramour in the video. The couple dated for years and Kinney proposed in 2015. But in 2016, Lady Gaga announced their break-up on Instagram, citing their busy schedules. Many believe her sad ballad "Million Reasons" — released that same year — is about their relationship.

In 2017, Lady Gaga began spending a lot of time with her talent agent, Christian Carino (per ELLE). While she kept the details of their relationship private, she addressed him as her fiancé during her ELLE Women in Hollywood acceptance speech in 2018. According to Us Weekly, she called off the engagement in 2019 due to Carino's jealous and controlling behavior. Per Harper's Bazaar, she has been happily dating tech philanthropist Michael Polansky since 2020 so perhaps it was all for the best. 

Lady Gaga has struggled with substance abuse

In a 2011 interview with Howard Stern (via Billboard), Lady Gaga admitted to having used ecstasy and cocaine to cope with difficult times, noting cocaine made her feel like she had a "friend." Still, she stated that she regretted using it, referred to it as "the devil," and warned fans never to touch it. She shared a similar struggle on a 2013 episode of Elvis Duran and the Morning Show, saying she was once addicted to marijuana, smoked up to 20 joints a day, and regularly "lily-padded" from one substance to another as a form of self-medicating to cope with pain, anxiety, and depression.

Though she has worked on her mental health over the years and does not use narcotics or opioids, Lady Gaga admitted to Zane Lowe in a 2020 interview that she continues to self-medicate with alcohol. In fact, her hit song "Rain on Me" refers to her failed attempts at sobriety and is a metaphor for heavy drinking. As she sings in the song, "I'd rather be dry but at least I'm alive."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Her dogs were stolen in a violent attack

On February 24, 2021, Lady Gaga's dog walker, Ryan Fischer, was violently attacked and shot in the chest around 10 p.m. while walking her three French bulldogs in Hollywood (per The New York Post). After battling Fischer, who refused to surrender the dogs, the attackers fled with two of them — Koji and Gustav — leaving him bleeding in the street with the third dog, Miss Asia. Lady Gaga, who was in Italy filming a movie at the time, posted about the tragedy on Instagram, saying, "My heart is sick and I am praying my family will be whole again with an act of kindness." She offered a $500,000 reward for the safe return of her dogs, and also praised Fischer for his bravery.

According to NPR, Fischer lost part of a lung but recovered. Koji and Gustav were returned two days later by a woman who claimed she had found them tied to a pole. As ABC News notes, she has since been arrested in connection with the crime along with four others — all confirmed gang members. Police believe that Fischer was targeted due to the high value of French bulldogs and that the criminals did not know that the dogs belonged to Lady Gaga. Per NPR, one of the suspects was charged with second-degree robbery and sentenced to four years in prison.

Filming House of Gucci was difficult for her

Lady Gaga commits fully to her art, often to her own detriment. In a 2021 episode of Marc Malkin's podcast, "Just for Variety," she explained how she fully embraces the characters she portrays in films, becoming them full-time in a particularly extreme form of method acting. While playing murderess Patrizia Gucci in 2021's "House of Gucci," Lady Gaga lived her life as Patrizia, speaking with her heavy Italian accent around the clock and immersing herself in Patrizia's darkness.

Compared to Ally in "A Star Is Born," Patrizia is a duplicitous character with a tragic life, and playing the role began to take a toll on Lady Gaga's mental health. In fact, she needed an onset psychiatric nurse to accompany her to the set during the last few days of filming for her own safety. It didn't help that physical safety was also a very real concern while filming on location in Italy. Patrizia was more than a character, she was a real person. And since she was no longer in jail, the cast and crew had to be ready in the event that she showed up to the set and was less than enthused about her portrayal. Turns out, the real Gucci family did have some things to say about the "House of Gucci."

She nearly lost her identity to her persona

Stefani Germanotta originally invented her Lady Gaga persona as a superhero for herself. In a 2020 interview, she told Oprah that Gaga was everything Germanotta wanted to be: confident, self-compassionate, and full of love for others. But over time, the persona became her full identity and she started feeling like she no longer belonged to herself and belonged to the world instead. Therapy helped her work through the concept of objectification and get to know herself.

She elaborated on her struggles with objectification in a 2020 interview with Zane Lowe, claiming that celebrity culture had stripped her of her humanity and reduced her to a robot, which caused her to become depressed and afraid of the public. Despite her apparent bravado, being a woman in Hollywood has never been easy for Lady Gaga. Donning an oversized suit at her 2018 ELLE Women in Hollywood acceptance speech in lieu of a dress, she declared: "We are not just objects to entertain the world. We are not simply images to bring smiles or grimaces to peoples' faces ... We women in Hollywood, we are voices."