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Natalie Cole: Faith in Her Heavenly Father

By Kristi Watts
The 700 Club Natalie Cole, daughter of the great Nat King Cole, has become a legend in her own right with close to three decades in the music industry. Her credits include 27 albums, multiple Grammy awards, and even a highly acclaimed acting career. But as I sat down to talk with Natalie, she shared how throughout her life, the good times were often soiled by years of drugs, physical abuse, and failed marriages. Through the power of friends, family, and her faith, she has become a true survivor, and much like her father, she is ‘unforgettable’ too.

NATALIE COLE: There’s inevitably something missing when you grow up in this kind of an environment when your parents travel a lot. When your father is famous, you are looked at and expected of. There are standards you need to meet. You kind of call yourself getting used to it. In fact, you probably are stuffing and suppressing things about yourself that you probably would not be afraid or told not to show.

KRISTI WATTS: Like what?

NATALIE COLE: Crying, sadness, being needy, looking for attention, wanting to be hugged, wanting to be held more because maybe your mom is not around as much as you want her to be or your dad is not around as much as you would like him to be. So you look to others for affection. We had some wonderful people raising us, but they still weren’t our parents. As you get older, it gets distorted and convoluted, complicated, and, of course, you start looking for attention, affection, affinity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

KRISTI WATTS (reporting): When Natalie was only 14 years old, her fairy-tale life was turned upside-down. The man whom she adored and cherished had died of lung cancer.

NATALIE COLE: The devastation that he died, the fact that I wasn’t there when he died, the fact that I did see him before he died and I was still recovering from that, the way he looked, how sick he was--it was a combination of things. [I was] trying to make sense out of it, and it just came crashing down on all of us. I don’t think that the impact was greater on me than anyone else. I just think that I dealt with it differently and I acted out more than anyone else in the family.

KRISTI WATTS: What vices did you turn to?

NATALIE COLE: Mostly drugs and toxic people. They usually go together. The ones that I was drawn to were cocaine and heroine. I don’t think that my parents even imagined that I would be exposed to drugs. In those days, for some reason, it was not talked about, just like sex was not talked about. You know so many things in the way that you were raised that were just not discussed, so you kind of fend for yourself.

KRISTI WATTS: I think every young person at one point in their life is faced with the choice to use drugs or not to use drugs. But one of the reasons I never did it was because I was seriously scared that it would kill me. The first time I would use it, I would be dead. Did you ever think that?

NATALIE COLE: I don’t think I wanted to die. You were talking about you were afraid. I had no fear, and I think that is one of the insanities of being on drugs, that you really aren’t afraid of anything. When I did the ‘I’m sorry, God, if You get me out of this, I’ll never do it again,' I did that when I went to prison. When I went to this ladies prison in Canada because I got busted for heroine in 1973, I said, 'Lord, please. If You get me out of this, I will never put myself in a position like this again. I will turn myself around. I’ll be good. I’ll be real good.'

KRISTI WATTS: How did you know to call on the name of the Lord?

NATALIE COLE: Oh please, that’s inborn in all of us to call on God. That’s the first thing we say: ‘Oh God, help me.' Why not? I think that’s a part of what He put in us, and what we do with the rest of it is a choice we make. I think it is something that everybody knows about God. When you have put all your faith in man and continue to be disappointed, don’t you hope there is something out of there that is not of human element?

KRISTI WATTS (reporting): Like her father and mother, Natalie had the gift of song, but just as she was making a name for herself in the music industry, she was also gaining a reputation that threatened to destroy her. She became known for her erratic behavior and drug binges. And worse yet, Natalie’s star was beginning to fall as quickly as it was rising.

NATALIE COLE: God surrounded me with people of faith, people of strong faith, people of power, spiritual power, and I saw little miracles happen in their lives. By it happening in their lives, I started believing it could happen to me. I’m a little like Thomas: I doubt. I know that the Lord is good, but I have been a doubter of His goodness for me.

KRISTI WATTS (reporting): Natalie realized that it was God who picked her up when she hit rock bottom, it was God who kept her from death the times she overdosed on drugs, and it was God who found her when she was lost in her personal darkness. So now she decided it would be God who was going to save her.

NATALIE COLE: God was going to be to me the father that I never had, the father that I didn’t have enough of, enough time with. God was saying, 'I can do that for you if you let Me.' And that’s what He’s been to me. I had to learn to trust that as a father He would be there for me, that He disciplines me, that He encourages me, that He tests me, that He challenges me, that He believes in me, and that He has great things for me. All I have to do is trust and follow. It’s taken me from that time on until this time in my life to see that He has done exactly what He has promised. By the time I got to the point that I was able to really release myself from the drug use, that was a strength that I could really say cemented. Now there were other weaknesses I had to work on. That was the one that could always get me. And once I had conquered that one, I started to really believe 'Gosh, I just might be able to make it.' I have not always been faithful. I have not always been good, certainly not worthy, but the wonderful thing about the Lord is that He knows your heart.

KRISTI WATTS: It’s been over 15 years since Natalie gave up drugs and turned her life around. She owes her strength to her friends, her family, and, most of all, to Jesus Christ.

NATALIE COLE: I’m much more in a surrendering mode now than I’ve ever been, but it was a challenge. I think for the most hardheaded people, it’s not easy when you put your faith and your trust and your destiny into the hands of God. You have to go on faith, but I have learned over the years to turn my life over to God.

KRISTI WATTS: Natalie has come to grips with the death of her father and has experienced first hand the unconditional love of her Heavenly Father. When she talks about her life today, she’ll tell you how God has restored all that was lost--her health, her career, and even her new love.

NATALIE COLE: I had finally managed to get myself into a place where I was actually content for Jesus to just be the man in my life. I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t need anybody else. A man would come in and that was just not me. I was just in a state of desperation for many years. I really wanted a man in my life so badly it was pathetic. It was pathetic because it took so much of my time and it took so much out of me. I realized that every time I did that I would give myself away. I was not keeping the most important part. And the most important part was what God wanted to use of me. I had found myself in a place were I was giving my best to the man who deserved it--and that was Jesus in my life. Then He gave me a man that I deserved. He didn’t have to do that.

KRISTI WATTS: Throughout your music career you’ve done a little bit of pop, you’ve done a little bit of rock, blues, even jazz. Have you ever though about doing a little bit of gospel?

NATALIE COLE: I feel it coming on. I really do. I feel I do know that title already, and I’ve been thinking of that for ten years. That would be called 'To Sing for the Master,' because that’s whom I really sing for.

KRISTI WATTS: For that one person whose sitting there watching this interview right now who has seen your face and heard your testimony, what’s the one bit of advice you could give them?

NATALIE COLE: Never stop working on your relationship with the Lord. It is an awesome experience. He is there in our lives.

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