"Dallas" star Charlene Tilton lost her fiancé only one day before Christmas Eve. His untimely passing affected her so much that she got stuck in a hopeless mood for months.
Losing a loved one is never easy, but doing so around Christmas changes the holiday's meaning completely. Unfortunately, Charlene Tilton knows this pain firsthand.
Tilton, best known as Lucy Ewing in the hit TV series "Dallas," didn't expect Cheddy Hart, her cinematographer fiancé, to pass away only one day before Christmas Eve. After his death, she was a "mess."
Charlene Tilton and Cheddy Hart [left]. Tilton crying in an interview with Oprah Winfrey Network's "Where Are They Now" in May 2015 [right] | Photo: OWN
Born in December 1958, Tilton was married twice before dating Hart. Her first husband was Actor and Country Music Singer Johnny Lee. The former couple tied the knot in February 1982 along the Lake Tahoe shore.
For the ceremony, Tilton, who was only 22, put on a classic white gown. Lee, 14 years her senior, opted for a black velvet coat, matching shirt and hat, and pink tie.
Charlene Tilton circa 1993 | Photo: Getty Images
Given that Tilton and Lee preferred to keep details of their relationship away from the spotlight, the maid of honor and the wedding's officiator were not revealed. However, fans learned that Lee's best man was fellow Singer Mickey Gilley.
Although Tilton, who made her acting debut in 1976's "Freaky Friday," was the most famous of the two, Lee was a respected celebrity, too. He gained nationwide notoriety with his hit single "Lookin' for Love."
While Lee had a home in Pasadena, Texas, they lived in the actress' Coldwater Canyon house in Los Angeles. Due to their packed schedules, they couldn't go on their Israeli honeymoon right away.
Charlene Tilton on April 19, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images
Sadly, their relationship was short-lived as they only were married for two years. During their time together, they had a daughter named Cherish.
One year after divorcing Lee, Tilton married "Days of Our Lives" actor Domenick Allen. Even though they were married for seven years, their relationship was even more private, and they didn't have children.
The depression had her in a very dark place.
MEETING CHEDDY HART
In 2001, almost a decade after divorcing Allen, Tilton met and started dating Cinematographer Cheddy Hart. They eventually got engaged and hoped to spend the rest of their lives together. Unfortunately, the end came much sooner than expected.
On December 23, 2009, Tilton noticed something was wrong with Hart. When she asked about his health, he said he didn't feel well and put her fingers on his neck to check his pulse. It was faster than usual. Tilton explained:
"[His heart] was going, 'boom, boom, boom' He knew how much I was looking forward to Christmas, and he looked at me and said, 'I'm sorry I'm ruining Christmas.' And he died."
The actress admitted that the shock she felt after Hart died of a heart attack was something she had never experienced. The grieving process was also long and painful, especially because the depression had her in a very dark place.
Tilton said she was so hurt that she couldn't get off the couch or do anything. She shared that she just drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes all day. "I was an absolute mess," she added.
Alcohol was her coping mechanism. She believed that drinking would make her stop feeling anything. At some point, Tilton thought that she would join Hart if she kept living that way.
After about seven months, she realized that neither Hart nor her daughter would have wanted her just to lay down and die. Apart from that, she still wanted to do many things with Cherish, so she needed to leave the depression behind.
With her daughter's sake in her mind, Tilton changed everything. She quit drinking and smoking and became more focused on utilizing any opportunity that came her way.
PICKING HERSELF UP
Eventually, Tilton decided she would help others. After one of her friends talked to her about Actors for Autism, she knew it was the right place for her, so she became a teacher.
Hart's passing also inspired Tilton to participate in "Dancing on Ice" even though she was 52. The actress pointed out that her fiancé's death showed her that our next breaths or heartbeats were not guaranteed.
Cherish and her half-brother were very close, so his passing was devastating.
If that wasn't enough, she became good friends with fellow contestant Rosemary Conley, a diet and fitness guru. After describing Conley as an inspiration and a gorgeous person, Tilton wondered why she didn't start listening to her advice earlier.
Coming back to Cherish, she gave her famous mother another reason to be happy and proud in 2014 when she married Matt Dunn. Just like Cherish, Dunn is a country music singer.
The couple tied the knot at Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas – the same place "Dallas" was filmed. Tilton admitted that the ranch had been her second home since she started portraying Lucy over four decades ago. She added:
"When my daughter Cherish was born in 1982, I used to bring her down on the set, and she loved running around the ranch and through the fields at Southfork."
Although Cherish was thrilled about her wedding, one person was missing: her half-brother Johnny Lee Jr. Lee Jr. sadly passed away from a drug overdose when he was only 23.
Tilton explained that Cherish and her half-brother were very close, so his passing was devastating. However, the actress said that God's way of healing grieving was by bringing families together, so she reached out to her ex-husband to offer comfort.
In 2018, Cherish described her late brother as the funniest, coolest person she had ever met. The singer admitted that he was even funnier than her dad, who is hilarious in his own right.
However, when Johnny Lee Jr.'s mother died by suicide in jail, he started experimenting with drugs and eventually became addicted. He also stole from his dad and sister to support his habit, but Lee Sr. sent him to jail.
Thankfully, he got sober and apologized for everything. After he was released, he moved to Texas with Cherish and his father with hopes of making a fresh start. Unfortunately, he used drugs again and died of an overdose in 2014. Rest in peace.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "help" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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