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Somers first fought her own fright

 
Published May 15, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

The blond girl, terrified of her drunken dad, huddled in a dark closet, convinced she might be killed.

"Night after night, my heart was pounding until I was finally pushed to the breaking point," remembers actor Suzanne Somers, who lectures children of alcoholics in between taping her ABC-TV series, Step by Step.

"Seventy-six million adults in the U.S.," Somers says, "are either alcoholics or affected by alcoholics," whopping statistics addressed at the Suzanne Somers Institute for the Effects of Addictions on the Family.

Somers' story began in San Bruno, Calif., with the Mahoney kids _ Dan, Michael, Maureen and Suzanne _ all terrorized by their father. Suzanne was a bed-wetter until age 12: "It was humiliating and my father made fun of me for it." By 17, the volcano erupted: "When he ripped my prom dress off me, told me I was "nothing,' I slammed him in the head with a tennis racket."

Desperate to escape home, Suzanne became pregnant at 17 and married the father, Bruce Somers, in 1965. "Getting pregnant and getting a divorce a year later only contributed to my low self-esteem and my need for constant crises," she says.

Indeed, the broke actor was arrested for check fraud, her car was impounded and she secretly had an abortion after embarking on an affair with a married man, TV host Alan Hamel, whom she later would marry. "Back then I was lying, manipulating, hiding. . . . I blamed myself for everything."

Until 1971, when her son, then 6, was run over by a car. Although the boy recovered, "Bruce had terrible nightmares and night sweats for months afterward," she says. "I finally took him to a psychiatrist in Marin County." Her son's treatment soon led to her own.

"The therapist told me I had the lowest self-esteem of anyone she'd ever met. That was my turning point." Three years of therapy led Somers to write her story in her best-selling book, Keeping Secrets, published in 1988.

"I sobbed every single day I wrote the book, forgiving myself, forgiving my father. I learned Bruce's accident . . . allowed me to learn the greatest lesson in life: that I had value, that my father's disease was not my disease, that I could choose to be a victim or take hold of my life."

Taking hold, of course, Somers hit it big in Three's Company from 1977-81, then headlined in Las Vegas for a decade before returning to network television last year.

Now writing another book, Wednesday's Children, the 45-year-old Somers says the book chronicles celebrity triumphs over abusive upbringings: "Wednesday's child is full of woe, but a child who also survives and forgives."

1992 GLENN PLASKIN

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