“The Sopranos” star Lorraine Bracco’s life is filled with ups and downs, mostly revolving around her career, mental health, and failed marriages.
Actress Lorraine Bracco made a name in Hollywood as the skillful therapist committed to saving Tony Soprano from his dark self on “The Sopranos.” But her real life took on the alternate role, which saw her seated on the other side of the desk.
However unlike the sociopath who her onscreen alter ego counseled for seven years, “The Sopranos,” star was seeing a therapist to battle the severe depression triggered by the happenings in her tumultuous personal life.
A Glimpse Into Bracco’s Life
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, the actress picked up the Brooklyn accent long before the world got to know her. She grew up with her parents Eileen and Salvatore Bracco before moving to France at twenty to pursue a modeling career.
Soon after, Lorraine Bracco took up acting, starring in movies like “Goodfellas,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “Medicine Man,” and “Hackers,” before eventually landing the part of Dr. Jennifer Melfi on “The Sopranos.”
While building her career, the star kept her personal life afloat. She tied the knot twice, first to Frenchman Daniel Guerard with whom she had a daughter, Margaux Guerard, in 1982. The two went their separate ways after barely three years together, finalizing the divorce in 1982.
Twelve Years Of Glee
Following her split from Guerard, Bracco hooked up with American actor Harvey Keitel. The pair met during the actress’ stay in Paris and began dating in 1982.
The duo sustained their relationship for twelve years, welcoming daughter Stella Keitel in 1985. Bracco and Keitel never legalized their union, but they made headlines for years as the ultimate power couple grooming their picture-perfect family of three in New York City.
However, things took a devastating turn as the icon reached the peak of her career. The star, who claimed Keitel seduced her into falling for him in the first place, began seeing his dark side.
He resumed his drug habits and started disappearing for days in a stretch without prior notice of his whereabouts. Her efforts to change him for the better proved abortive. Before long, it became evident their relationship of twelve years had hit rock bottom.
A Complicated Love Story
Eventually, Keitel’s neglect drove the mother of two into the arms of her “A Talent For the Game” co-star James Olmos.
The pair began an affair behind Keitel’s back, but as things got more serious, she decided it was time to let him know. So she confessed her secret affair to Keitel, who did not take the revelation facing down. She recalled:
“He hated me for it. I disgusted him. That was the beginning of the end. And I knew that. And maybe it was my way, my very immature un-Dr. Melfi-ish way to end that relationship.”
Her decision to unveil the truth dealt the final blow to their longtime relationship, and the pair called it quits in 1993.
Bracco picked herself up and moved on, determined to raise her two daughters into decent young girls, even at the expense of her career.
Barely a year later, she and Olmos said their “I dos,” in an intimate ceremony, but their happiness was short-lived.
Legal Feuds And Crippling Implications
Prior to her marriage to Olmos, the actor became caught up in allegations that raised questions of how qualified he was to become a dad figure to Lorraine Bracco’s young daughters.
The teenage daughter of one of Bracco’s friends claimed Olmos molested her. The allegations of child molestation surrounding him became a hot topic, but the actor managed to fend them off, strongly denying the charges.
Bracco believed him, hence their marriage. However, Keitel was unwilling to leave his daughter, Stella in the hands of someone with such a dark reputation, at least not without a fight.
Hence, he capitalized on those claims and filed for custody of their daughter. That marked the beginning of their bitter custody battle which lasted throughout the early nineties.
Bracco spent about $2 million in legal fees throughout that period. Her efforts paid off, as she ended up retaining Stella’s custody. But that came at a huge price.
Falling Into Depression
Spending millions in legal fees left Bracco penniless at the end of the line. She was forced to file for bankruptcy. Additionally, her marriage to Olmos hit rock bottom, with the duo pulling the plug for good in 2002.
At that point, the actress hit her lowest, descending into a sea of depression, which nearly caused her to reject what would become her most notable gig.
She once admitted that when she first got the script for “The Sopranos,” she rejected the role of Carmella Soprano without second thoughts, frustrated to be offered a role in another mob story.
Luckily, she became drawn to the smaller role of Dr.Melfi, and instantly knew she was cut out for that. She worked to get the part, successfully becoming the onscreen therapist, which invariably improved her financial state.
Bracco’s Battle With Depression
Coincidentally, landing the dream role opened Bracco up to the reality of what had really been going on in her life for almost a decade. She shared:
“I realized when I was on an upswing that I should be doing the happy dance, but I wasn’t. and I said, well, something is really wrong. This is not right.”
She sought professional help afterward with a little nudge from a friend, she took up therapy. Her continuous sessions, as well as the medication Zoloft which she publicized in a commercial, helped set her on the right track, restoring her mental health.
The Impact On Her Career
While beating depression has helped the star progress in her life and career with ease, she never shies away from discussing the impact it had on her. She once divulged:
“Depression is a vortex. You don’t have it. It has you. I’m not afraid to talk about it. It made me stronger. It made me a better person.”
Despite the empowering effect of the experience, outing her decade-long struggle with mental health also left a stain in her life and career in the guise of stigma.
In 2014, Bracco joined a host of celebrities calling for the de-stigmatization of people with mental health conditions. According to her, the stigma only encouraged more people to hide their condition and self-medicate rather than seek professional help.
She believed by having more famous people open up about their battles with mental health disorders, the world would come to treat it like any physical ailments, hence, making more people courageous enough to seek help.
Coincidentally, her role on “The Sopranos,” went a long way in enlightening people on the importance of therapy sessions, which is in line with her new cause.
While she cherished every moment of being “Dr. Melfi” onscreen for six seasons, the 66-year-old’s one regret was her character’s “rough ending.”
In a 2021 interview, Lorraine Bracco admitted to being upset over how the show wrote off her character.
To her, Dr. Melfi’s character deserved a more meaningful climax. Perhaps one that would have depicted the therapist-patient relationship between her and Tony in a more loving light, and hopefully, help more people understand there was more to seeking professional help.