When Donna Summer was feeling all the love from the world as the Queen of Disco in the ’70s, the suicidal singer hit rock bottom.
“The most dismal days of my existence were at the height of my career,” says the late legend in the new documentary “Love To Love You, Donna Summer,” which premieres on HBO and HBO Max May 20.
In fact, while Summer was riding high from the success of her breakout hit, the orgasmic classic “Love To Love You Baby,” she was enduring an abusive relationship with artist Peter Mühldorfer. One severe beating even left her unconscious, with a black eye and broken ribs.
“I hit her, and I never could forgive myself,” says Mühldorfer in the doc.
And having grown up in a deeply religious household — her father smacked her for wearing red nail polish because “that’s what whores wore” — Summer was highly conflicted about her image as a sex goddess from hits such as “Love To Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love” and later “Hot Stuff.” In reality, she was more church girl than “Bad Girl.”
“You’re looking at me, but what you see is not what I am,” she says in the film, which is co-directed by her daughter Brooklyn Sudano and Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams. “How many roles do I have to play in my own life?”
Summer was also carrying around the pain and trauma of having been sexually abused by her pastor as a child.
“He did the devil’s work better than most,” says her brother Ricky Gaines in the doc. “It became a defining moment in her life.”
All of her mental struggles led to Summer almost jumping out of a window in her New York hotel room in 1976. But her foot became entangled in a window curtain as she approached the ledge, and at that moment a maid entered.
“Another 10 seconds, and I would have been gone,” Summer — who died at 63 from lung cancer in 2012 — later said.
“I felt God could never forgive me because I had failed him. I was decadent, I was stupid, I was a fool. I just decided that my life had no meaning.”