Tatum O’Neal Gives Revealing Interview About John McEnroe, Her Kids, And Rheumatoid Arthritis

by Stephanie Kaloi

Tatum O’Neal doesn’t pop up into the spotlight that often, but when she does, you know you’re in for a soul-searching treat.

Tatum is an incredibly thoughtful actress, and her interviews always offer riveting glimpses into her otherwise private life.

This time, in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Tatum opened up about being diagnosed and living with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful inflammation disorder that often impacts the joints. Tatum even had back surgery to help ease the pain she lives with daily, as the arthritis impacts most of her body.

“That means that my hands stopped working. It means that — I can’t really tie my shoes,” she said.

“It means that I can’t — I mean, I can’t tie my shoes. I have to re-learn to write. And definitely need surgery on my left knee and my neck in the next week.”

Tatum also said that her three children have helped her with her condition more than anyone. Her daughter Emily shared, “My mom is incredibly loving. She’s childlike and has always been honest, like she said, fun-loving, just bright. My mom lights up every room that she enters. And that’s true.”

Tatum has not had an easy road of it. As the youngest female to ever win an Oscar (for her role in Paper Moon, when she was 10), she has been around Hollywood for a long time. She had a notoriously difficult relationship with her father, actor Ryan O’Neal, which she documented in her 2004 book, A Paper Life. She and her father worked on mending their relationship in 2009 following the death of Farrah Fawcett.

Last year, she shared a photo of herself and her dad on Instagram, saying, “Dear Daddy, Happy St. Valentine’s Day! ♥️ I found a picture of us in better times. I want to tell you that I am me because of you, and I mean all my good qualities. The way I have taught my children the joy of irony and how to love. The ability to laugh ourselves. Love of movies. I wish things could be different that I could have made choices you could be more proud of. I have to live with myself and take pride in the woman I am today for better or worse.”

Tatum has also faced her own struggles as a parent, as she famously struggled with drug addiction for years. In 2015, her son Kevin McEnroe shared that when he knew his mom was struggling, he had a strategy. “I would lock myself in my room because it was hard to be around her not acting like herself.”

Kevin said, “I had to go to a court-appointed therapist at 10 and I had a hard time speaking about it and I shut down. I could understand she was hurting and needed some help. When she wasn’t happy was one thing, but when she started to look unhealthy and thin, it scared me.”

Fortunately, Kevin was also able to find a path toward forgiving his mom. He also turned to writing, and wrote the novel Our Town based on his own experiences. “Writing the book about Joanna helped me to understand it wasn’t a choice. There’s definitely this sense when you are young, that you’re choosing this over us and I think real forgiveness came when I realized this wasn’t the case.”

He also said, “When you’re really in it, there is no way out. But when you’re 11, it feels like that – if you keep on doing this – you are not going to see us, so how could you keep doing this? Real forgiveness came when I learned it doesn’t work that way.”

Kevin and Tatum have always been very close, even though, as Tatum says, “There were years my kids didn’t know if I was going to live or die. Now I call Kevin every single day and I always say I am making up for lost time.”

Kevin actually also had his own drug battles to contend with. He was arrested for drug possession the day he got his book deal. He subsequently spent two months at the Betty Ford Center, which he said gave him a new understanding about his family. “More than addiction and alcoholism, what was passed down to my mother and me was the inability to believe in ourselves. And that pairs very well with alcohol and substance abuse.”

Tatum has recently shared that when she was in the thick of her own battles, her kids were the reason she kept going. “I was really ready to kind of fall down and — and not get back up. I was not myself. I was 22 and then the kids gave me kind of a real reason to keep going and fight.”

“And still the happiest times of my life were the times that I, that I was married, funny enough. So the most stable, the most loved, the most … so sometimes we’re thinking we made the right decision and maybe we aren’t. And I have to live with that, too.”

When the CBS interviewer asked Tatum if her divorce from John McEnroe was the right move, Tatum gave a heartbreaking answer. “Perhaps not. I was loved. I was cared for. We are very different now. But, I, he’s happier, and I’m happy for him. And that makes me happy.”

Tatum and John split up in 1992 and entered into a messy, and often nasty, custody battle for their three children.

They didn’t speak for decades, but Kevin’s book forced the two to attend the same events and be in the same rooms. In 2015, Tatum shared that “John was really nice to me at Kevin’s reading at The Strand bookstore (in 2015). I was very impressed how he has evolved – and for being able to talk to me. I would say there isn’t a relationship but there is respect now.”

Kevin has also said that he’s not sure his parents could have handled themselves differently. “I don’t know if I know any other way. We were brought up where they didn’t talk much unless we spoke to them separately. We loved them equally and separately, and through their struggles, I think we developed very different relationships because of it.”