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Nelly Was Enraged after His Sister Jackie Died of Leukemia — A Look Back at Their Bond

Edduin Carvajal
Jun 28, 2020
11:30 A.M.

Rapper and entrepreneur Nelly, who shot to stardom in the early 90s with the hip hop group St. Lunatics, once opened up about his reaction after his half-sister died from leukemia.


Although Nelly has had a very successful career with AMAs, Billboards, and Grammys under his belt, his life has not been a walk in the park.

[Jackie Donahue] used to call Nelly crying and "ready to give up."

Nelly on June 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

Nelly on June 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images


In March 2001, for instance, his half-sister, Jackie Donahue, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Her cancer was in remission for two years, but she relapsed in 2003.

Jackie, who had been working as Nelly's stylist, needed a bone marrow transplant to get better. Doctors told the family that, to get higher chances of the donated bone marrow successfully matching her body, the donor should be of her own ethnic group.


It must have been difficult to hear such a thing, mainly because, at the time, only ten percent of the registered donors were Black. In their efforts to raise donation awareness, Nelly and his sister created the Jes Us 4 Jackie campaign.


Through his initiative, nearly 1800 people signed up to be donors. Sadly, none of them was a match for Jackie. It is important to point out that Nelly was not a suitable donor either.



According to Jackie's mother, Sarah Donahue, she got frustrated but was also aware that their campaign could help other people, and it did. Sarah's cousin, Craig Gleason, found a matching bone marrow donor for his lymphoma.

Unfortunately, on March 24, 2005, about four years after she was diagnosed with leukemia, Nelly's sister passed away.


In a statement released by the family, they admitted to being "deeply saddened" but also "very proud" for her work to educate and push Black people to join the National Donor Registry.

The bond that Nelly and Jackie shared was very particular and special. They grew up in separate homes and shared the same father. When the siblings grew up, they became close.


One year before Jackie's death, she told People that she used to call Nelly crying and "ready to give up." However, the rapper always helped by making her think about positive things.

That was probably the reason why he was the last person she called before passing away.



For years, Nelly decided not to talk about his sister's passing in public. In an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music," though, he opened up about their last conversation. He explained:

"Jackie gets on the phone, and I'm like, 'Hey, sis.' She's so medicated. The pain got so severe, and there was nothing they could do."


The rapper pointed out that doctors had to drug her to ease the pain. After talking for about 20 minutes, she got off the phone, laid down, and died.

According to Nelly, Jackie's doctors told him that the only thing that kept her alive was that she wanted to talk to him one last time before passing away.

A few hours before a show in Beaumont, Texas, Nelly received that awful news about his sister's passing. His reaction was explosive, to say the least. He revealed:


"I was enraged. We had this door in the back where my room was; I split the door straight down the middle, just punched it."



Apart from that, he punched a TV screen, "destroyed everything," and broke down into tears.

Jackie Donahue left behind two kids, Shawn and Sydney, who were raised by Nelly. Both of them appeared in Nelly's reality show, "Nellyville," which showed his life as a businessman and single father.

Speaking on "The Real," the musician and entrepreneur admitted that his relationship with his children was great, adding that his son and nephew usually wear his clothes and shoes and that he does the same with theirs.

At the moment, Nelly's children are all grown up and working hard to be the best version of themselves.

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