Shania Twain is one of country music’s most successful female artists, though she hails not from Nashville, but rather Ontario, Canada.
When it comes to album sales, Twain is at the top. According to Universal Music Publishing Group, she’s sold 100 million albums, more than any female artist in country music history. Following her self-titled 1993 debut, her 1995 followup, "The Woman in Me," made her a force to be reckoned with. Yet her greatest triumph lay ahead in the form of 1997’s "Come On Over," which sold 40 million albums worldwide, as noted by Variety, and spawned such hits as "You’re Still the One" and "That Don’t Impress Me Much."
Unbeknownst to Twain, there were dark times ahead that would sidetrack her red-hot career for years. Yet Twain demonstrated she was a survivor, reemerging with the comeback of all comebacks to reclaim her place at the top of the charts and remind fans why they fell in love with her in the first place. Here is the untold truth of Shania Twain.
Shania Twain wrote her first song when she was just 10 years old
Shania Twain was born in the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario in 1965 (via Biography). Her birth name — Eilleen Regina Edwards — was changed to Eilleen Twain when she was just 4, when her mother remarried and she was adopted by stepfather Jerry Twain, who was a part of the Ojibwa tribe. The name Shania, an Ojibwa word for "on my way," came after she was signed to a record label, as she told The Guardian.
Twain was just 10 years old, she told ABC News, when she wrote her first song, titled "Mama Won’t You Come Out to Play." As she explained, the song was her childhood attempt to convince her introverted mother to enjoy life more. "My mother was always … very isolating of herself," Twain said. "I don’t still really understand why. … she was always that person that was watching life happen from inside through a window."
Looking back, Twain recalled seeing her mother "sad a lot of the time," so she wrote the song to try to convince her mom to get out there and live life.
The shocking betrayal behind Shania Twain’s divorce
Shania Twain’s career and her personal life intersected when she fell in love with producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, marrying in 1993, just six months after they met. Lange, who masterminded albums for such artists as AC/DC and Def Leppard, redefined Twain’s sound on her 1995 album, "The Woman in Me," sending Twain crossing over from country to pop charts.
It all came crashing down in 2008, when Twain announced she and Lange were separating after 14 years of marriage. While no reason for the split was initially given, sources told People that Lange allegedly had an affair with the couple’s personal assistant, Marie-Anne Thiébaud — someone Twain considered to be one of her closest friends. "It’s a multiple betrayal because it involves all the people around her, the people she is closest to," the source told the magazine. "She is in absolute, total shock."
In an excerpt from her memoir "From This Moment On" that was published by Chatelaine, Twain painted Thiébaud as a gold-digging, two-faced "temptress secretary" who entrapped Lange. "I was disgusted that another woman’s lust for a lifestyle upgrade was worth the devastation of my family," she wrote.
What Shania Twain will say if she ever encounters the ex-BFF who wrecked her marriage
When Shania Twain appeared on Andy Cohen’s "Watch What Happens Live," he asked what she would say to Marie-Anne Thiébaud, her former friend and wife of Twain’s ex-husband. She didn’t have to think too hard about what her words would be. "I wish I’d never met you," Twain declared. She explained, "I think there are some people in life you would say, ‘I would have been better off not ever knowing that person.’"
Several years after the painful betrayal that ended her marriage, Twain told Cohen she was now in a much better place and didn’t regret anything.
In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, Twain admitted the "turning point" came when she realized she had zero control over what was happening in her life, with all the effort she’d put into protecting her privacy over the years going up in smoke. "It was written about all over the tabloids, so that was humiliating at that moment for me," she said.
How Shania Twain found the "courage to love again"
After former friend and personal assistant Marie-Anne Thiébaud’s affair with Robert "Mutt" Lange destroyed Shania Twain’s marriage, she found consolation from the other injured party from the situation: Thiébaud’s husband, Frederic Thiébaud. In a truly unexpected turn of events, Shania Twain and Frederic Thiébaud fell in love, and they got married in 2011 (via People).
Twain announced their engagement in a letter posted to her website in late 2010, as reported by People, praising her fiancé as a "compassionate, understanding friend" when she most needed one. That friendship, she explained, grew into something richer and deeper.
However, she admitted it wasn’t easy for her to take the leap of faith required to put her trust in another person after experiencing such a devastating betrayal. "I’m so grateful I found the faith and courage to love again — because the last thing you want to do when you’re crushed is love again," Twain, who’s one of several singers who have really gorgeous husbands, told People in 2020. She went on, "I’m really glad that that got turned around for me, and that’s what this relationship is."
How having a child helped Shania Twain survive divorce
Shania Twain’s divorce from Robert "Mutt" Lange marked a particularly dark period for the Canadian singer, and she credits son Eja for helping her make it through. During an appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Twain explained how having a child forces a parent to become "selfless," adding that "what helps about that is that you’re just not always so self-focused."
Caring for a child while undergoing the emotional trauma of an exceptionally painful split, she added, is "a very healthy… I don’t want to say distraction, but preoccupation that you love and enjoy." She said parenting was "very helpful" during that time.
To illustrate her point, Twain shared a quote with host Kelly Clarkson that was relevant to helping her emerge from the darkness and into the light. "You have to … survive to tell the story so the hunter doesn’t get the glory," she said. "Whatever it is that has pounced on you or is challenging you or weighing you down, you can’t let it win."
Despite her hit song, Shania Twain actually is impressed by Brad Pitt
One of Shania Twain’s biggest hits is her 1997 single "That Don’t Impress Me Much," in which she runs through a list of things she doesn’t find all that thrilling. In the song, she mentions Brad Pitt, but she has since insisted that she never meant his name on the track to be a diss. As she told The Daily Telegraph’s Stellar Magazine, she’s actually "very impressed by Brad’s wonderful career," and she shared her hope that "he takes [his mention in the song] with the sense of humor that was intended."
In a 2017 interview with Billboard, Twain revealed how Pitt came to be name-checked in the song. As she explained, while she and a friend were baking Christmas cookies, they were discussing revealing paparazzi photos of the actor that had recently been published in Playgirl. "I just thought ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’ I’m like, well that don’t impress me much, I mean what is all the fuss," she said. "We see people naked every day. That’s really what I thought. I wasn’t picking on Brad Pitt. … it could have been any gorgeous guy."
The health crisis that left Shania Twain fearing she’d never sing again
In 2011, Shania Twain began losing her voice, which led doctors to diagnoses of a vocal cord disorder and Lyme disease. "It was devastating,” Twain told Sunday Today, admitting she found herself "mourning" the loss of her voice as she underwent two "invasive" open-throat surgeries.
The experience was "really, really, really tough and I survived that, meaning emotionally I survived," she told Extra. While the surgeries saved her voice, they also changed it. She explained, "It was a great, great loss, so I had to come to terms with losing the voice that I had and rediscovering my new one."
Over time, she told Sunday Today, she’s come to appreciate her new voice. "It’s given me more room to play, to be honest. I have gravel," she declared. Having accepted that she can’t have her former voice again, she shared that she finds her new one to be "sexy."
Why Shania Twain describes her second marriage as ‘beautifully twisted’
Finding new love with the former spouse of the person whose infidelity destroyed your marriage isn’t something that happens to everyone. After Shania Twain’s ex-bestie married the singer’s husband Robert "Mutt" Lange and Twain wed that woman’s ex-husband, Twain admitted that she was well aware of how odd the spouse-swapping appears from the outside. In fact, in an interview with AARP the Magazine, she described her marriage to Frédéric Thiébaud as "twisted, but so beautifully twisted."
Finding love again, she explained, is a demonstration of her abilities as a survivor. "Survival is everything," she declared. "I was in quicksand. I panicked, like everybody does, but I didn’t surrender. I found a way out."
Going through such a painful and public divorce, she now believes, made her better at coping even when times get tough. "When you get older, you have so much experience at falling and getting up," she shared. "You’re not going to stop falling. But you will get better at getting up and brushing yourself off. I believe that. I’ve lived it."
The surprising reason Shania Twain gets starstruck
Nobody would argue that Shania Twain is one of the biggest music stars in the world. Yet despite that massive success and worldwide fame, Twain admits she often becomes starstruck when encountering other celebrities. In a 2019 interview with Today’s Savannah Guthrie, Twain admitted she’s "not very good with stars," explaining, "I get really uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say."
The reason for her starstruck reaction may prove surprising to her fans. Twain said she’s "very shy," particularly when she encounters her fellow celebs. "I feel like I’m invading their space by being with them," she confessed, sharing an anecdote about being "awkward with Madonna" the first time she met the pop icon. With a laugh, she added, "I’ve never met Brad Pitt, but I already know I’m going to be awkward if I ever meet him."
Guthrie asked Twain if her fans ever become starstruck when they meet her. "They do, so I understand how it happens," said Twain, revealing her own shyness allows her to step into their shoes and understand what they’re experiencing.
Shania Twain once received a $100 handout from this celebrity
When it came time to produce the video for Shania Twain’s second single, 1993’s "Dance With the One That Brought You" from her self-titled debut album, a celebrity fan offered his services as director — actor Sean Penn. According to a passage in "Shania Twain: The Biography," the singer was "literally jumping up and down" when she heard that Penn had contacted her label asking to direct her video.
Penn enlisted Oscar-nominated actor Charles Durning for a role, adding to the star power backing up the rising Canadian singer, who was still pretty unknown at the time. Penn was so enamored of Twain, according to "Shania Twain: The Biography," that he suggested that, in addition to lip-syncing, she also try acting in the video, which featured Durning and an older actress playing a couple in their golden years at a country-western barn dance. Twain and another actor played the couple in their younger years.
As Entertainment Weekly reported, Twain revealed in her memoir "From This Moment On" that Penn gave her $100 to help her out until her career took off. While the money was appreciated, she wrote, "I was embarrassed to receive a handout like that."
The reason Shania Twain’s heritage caused controversy
In most cases, a Canadian entertainer working in the U.S. requires a visa or green card. Shania Twain, however, was able to sidestep that requirement via the Jay Treaty of 1794, which grants rights to Native Americans. Twain qualified, noted newspaper Windspeaker in 1996, because she’s legally registered as a "status Indian," claiming to be 50 percent aboriginal on the side of stepfather Jerry Twain, a full-blooded Ojibway. Her adoption by him, noted Windspeaker, allowed her to register as a "status Indian," reporting that she was "on the official band membership list of the Temagami First Nation."
This eventually caused a bit of an uproar. Twain said her mother had always claimed her biological father, Clarence Edwards, had native blood; however, Edwards’ family denied this, saying they were French and Irish. Twain was accused of being less than forthright about her heritage, with critics feeling she shouldn’t have listed Jerry Twain as her father in her application. Twain fired back with a statement insisting Jerry Twain, who died alongside her mother in a 1987 car accident, would have seen being called "stepfather" as "the worst slap across the face." She also wanted to make it clear to the Native community that "I have not lied to them."
Shania Twain made her feature film debut opposite John Travolta
Shania Twain burst onto the music scene in the 1990s, but it would be more than two decades before she would take a starring turn the silver screen, starring opposite John Travolta in the 2019 feature "Trading Paint." In the film, Travolta stars as race car driver Sam Munroe, with Twain cast as his girlfriend, Becca. "Well, it’s fun and it feels really natural," Twain told ET Canada of acting in a movie, crediting the "Grease" star for helping her conquer her nervousness. "I thought I was going to be really intimidated," she added.
While the film didn’t make much of a mark, Twain garnered good reviews in an otherwise critically lambasted film. The Hollywood Reporter, for example, derided "Trading Paint" as "cornpone melodrama" but pointed to Twain’s "charming feature acting debut." The Los Angeles Times had a similar take, dismissing the film as "blandly earnest" while praising Twain for "warmly inhabiting an otherwise thankless role as Travolta’s supportive girlfriend."
Twain’s co-star was also full of praise. "I think Shania is born to be on film," Travolta told ET Canada. "Her videos are a knockout but I think this is such a beautiful role."
Shania Twain took the reins for her 2017 album… her first in 15 years!
When Shania Twain released her 2017 album "Now," it had been 15 long years since her previous release, "Up!" That album, like many of her others, had been produced by her former husband and musical collaborator Robert "Mutt" Lange. Their high-profile divorce had been well-chronicled by the tabloids, and Twain endured another gut punch when she was diagnosed with the vocal cord disorder dysphonia, which required invasive surgery and extensive therapy.
While Lange helmed her previous albums, Twain took control of "Now," working with several producers and writing all the songs herself. After all those years collaborating with her ex, she found herself in unfamiliar territory. "Now all of a sudden I’m alone. I’m starting over. And I don’t know where to begin," she told Rolling Stone. She added, "I just don’t know what to do. I was lost."
The turning point, she said, came when she began to share the songs she’d been writing with others. She recalled, "The responses were really powerful and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m gonna try to do this alone. I’m gonna write the most honest experiences and emotions that I can in these songs.’"
The advice Shania Twain would give to her 26-year-old self
Shania Twain was asked by Refinery29 what advice she would give to herself when she was 26, and she had a lot of suggestions to offer. "Never, ever cake on your mascara," she said, adding some hair tips as well. "Keep your split ends cut," she declared. "Once they start they never stop." Twain also regretted getting her hair permed and wearing pencil jeans, and, in hindsight, she wished she had gone sans-bra more often. She followed that with a bit of sage advice about diet and exercise. "Eat well, and take care of yourself, and whatever weight that leaves you at, accept it," she said.
The singer, who’s just one of many country stars who are unrecognizable now, also shared some thoughts of a more philosophical nature. "Listen more than you speak, and then apply what you learn," she said. But perhaps her most important recommendation was to "be fearless" and to "dare to be yourself." She went on, "There’s only one you, so just be you."