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Mark Wahlberg Became 1st-Time Dad on Same Day His Sister Died — He Calls Her His Daughter's 'Guardian Angel'

Gaone Pule
Jul 13, 2022
01:00 A.M.
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Rapper turned actor Mark Wahlberg's world was torn into two when he welcomed his first child on the day he lost his older sister, Debbie. Their mother fell into depression as a result.

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Hollywood A-lister Mark Wahlberg grew up in a big family and is the youngest of nine siblings. His parents, Alma and Donald Wahlberg welcomed five other sons, Donnie, Paul, Robert, Arthur, and Jim, and three daughters, Debbie, Tracey, and Michelle.

Mark revealed to Esquire Magazine in May 2014 that growing up in such a huge family had downsides and upsides when he was younger.

Actor Donnie Wahlberg with his sister, Tracy, and brothers actor Mark Wahlberg and Bob Wahlberg at the opening of "Southie," at the at Kendall Square Cinema. / Source: Getty Images

Actor Donnie Wahlberg with his sister, Tracy, and brothers actor Mark Wahlberg and Bob Wahlberg at the opening of "Southie," at the at Kendall Square Cinema. / Source: Getty Images

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The Boston native recounted that having older brothers who were teenagers at the time exposed him to what teens usually do. He could not understand their behavior because he was relatively too young then.

Nonetheless, Mark said that he had a good childhood despite it all and that even though they grew up in a low-income family, it only dawned on them as they got older that they were poor:

"I think, for the most part, I had a pretty good childhood. It wasn't until we got older that we realized we didn’t have what a lot of other people had."

MARK FOUND LOVE AND BECAME A FIRST-TIME DAD

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Former model Rhea Durham and Mark Wahlberg during "The Italian Job" movie premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. / Source: Getty Images

Former model Rhea Durham and Mark Wahlberg during "The Italian Job" movie premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. / Source: Getty Images

At the time, when his family extended with nephews and nieces, Mark also decided to start his own family and settle down after his bachelor ways.

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He found love in 2001 when he began dating then-24-year-old Victoria's Secret model Rhea Durham. When speaking about his then-girlfriend, the movie star said Durham was different from the women he previously dated, who only wanted to be seen with him at showbiz events:

"(Rhea) is the person I was looking for. I can trust her in ways I can't trust myself."

Rhea Durham and Mark Wahlberg during Mercedes-Benz Shows LA - Richard Tyler at The Standard Downtown LA in Los Angeles, California. / Source: Getty Images

Rhea Durham and Mark Wahlberg during Mercedes-Benz Shows LA - Richard Tyler at The Standard Downtown LA in Los Angeles, California. / Source: Getty Images

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Over two years into their on-and-off relationship, Mark and Durham welcomed their first child together. The duo's daughter, Ella Rae, arrived in Los Angeles on September 3, 2003. Upon her birth, the couple refrained from sharing any further details.

Mark was in the delivery room when Durham was in labor and explained the magical moment when he first saw his daughter for the first time.

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The "Instant Family" star recalled that as soon as Durham gave her last push, they looked at each other with tears streaming down their faces:

"The birth of my daughter was like the most amazing thing I've ever experienced."

Being a father made Mark consider his life choices as he now had to be "more conscious" of his decisions to preserve his image.

HIS SISTER DIED THE SAME DAY HE BECAME A DAD

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While Mark was still overwhelmed with joy after becoming a first-time father, his world came crashing down after he learned of the tragic passing of his sister Debbie that same day.

According to Boston Herald, Debbie had been admitted to a Boston hospital to get kidney stones removed. Sadly, while there, she suffered a sudden heart attack and went into septic shock, which ultimately took her life at age 43. A family friend revealed to the outlet what that day meant for Mark:

"It was the best day of his life – and the worst. Every year on the kid's birthday, he'll be reminded of [his sister's death]."

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At the time, the producer refused to comment on Debbie's passing and flew back to his hometown for the funeral. Meanwhile, his older brother Donnie, also an actor, took a leave of absence from filming "Boomtown" to go and grieve for their sister.

However, as a new mom, Durham remained in LA with Ella at the couple's home. Mark later explained that his sister had been sick for a while, but the family never anticipated that her illness would be fatal.

The "Father Stu" star expressed the sky-high emotions he felt right after becoming a dad while his mother was mourning her first child.

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He disclosed to ET Canada in July 2019 that his beloved mother fell into depression following Debbie's passing and stressed deep empathy for her:

"It was the same day my daughter [Ella] was born, and she'll be 16 on September 2, so it was a long time ago, but no parent should have to lose a child."

MARK SAYS ELLA'S BIRTHDAY WILL ALWAYS BE 'BITTERSWEET'

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When the doting dad celebrated Ella's 18th birthday in 2021, he took to Instagram to remember his sister in an emotional post.

Mark posted two throwback images, one showing him holding his baby daughter Ella and the next embracing his sister Debbie. He wrote that September 2 would always be a poignant day for him:

"Happy B-Day, my Ella, 18 years old. Wow, how time flies. So proud of you!! Always a bittersweet day. Missing my big sister Debbie, Ella's Guardian angel."

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As much as the father of four leans on his late sibling being his daughter's guardian angel, he still worries about raising his girls, especially when it involves dating. Mark and Durham welcomed three other kids, another daughter named Grace and two sons, Michael and Brendan.

When he opened up about fatherhood in an interview with People in 2020, the "Uncharted" actor admitted that he feared the teenage years with his daughters. "It's not going to be easy for them to go on a date," said Mark.

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Meanwhile, he expressed relief that his boys only showed an interest in sports, saying that whenever they woke up in the morning, they would first ask, "Dad, did the Clippers win?"

But when Ella eventually started dating, Mark let his guard down and became accepting of his daughter's boyfriend, James Stuart. He even admitted to E! News in January 2022 that he gave them his blessing and was happy for them.

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The businessman described Stuart as kind, adding he treated his child "like the princess that she is." Mark jokingly noted that he was more concerned about Stuart because of how tough Ella was. He said that she usually gave him a hard time and would, without a doubt, do the same to her boyfriend.

The proud dad continued to sing Stuart's praises, saying that he was a "sweet kid" while divulging that they even work out together sometimes. Mark wished the young couple well and said he hoped they would last forever.

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