On Empire, Taraji P. Henson played the larger-than-life Cookie Lyon—a music mogul and mom whose 17-year prison sentence kept her from raising her three kids. But in real life, the actress has always been there for her only child, who was born when the Hidden Figures star was in her 20s. Here’s everything you need to know about Taraji P. Henson’s son, Marcell Johnson.
Johnson Grew Up Without A Father
In 1993, Henson discovered she was pregnant by her high school sweetheart, William LaMarr “Mark” Johnson. The young couple welcomed Marcell into the world on May 10 of the following year. But after Johnson was abusive to her on multiple occasions, Henson decided to leave her son’s father and raise Marcell as a single mom.
In her 2017 book, Around the Way Girl: A Memoir, Henson made it clear that despite her troubled relationship with her ex, she never considered Marcell’s birth anything but a blessing. “My baby, Marcell Johnson, was most certainly the product of a loving relationship,” she wrote. “Yes, it was dysfunctional, sure; his father and I were young, dumb, and clueless about how to make our partnership work. But we did love one another and were in love when I got pregnant with our son. Though Mark and I weren’t actively trying to have a baby together, Marcell is not a mistake. He was—and always will be—wanted.”
Mark Johnson Tragically Lost His Life At A Young Age
The story turned even more tragic in 2003, when Mark Johnson was stabbed to death in an altercation with a couple. Marcell was just nine years old and the time, and Henson says she struggled to tell her son the devastating news. “I didn’t know how to tell him that,” Henson explained on her Facebook Watch show, Peace of Mind with Taraji. “I couldn’t tell him [his father] was murdered, so I told him he died in an accident.”
The What Men Want actress says that when Marcell eventually learned the truth about his father’s passing, it took a toll on their relationship. “Later on in life he found out and he came back to me and was like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me my daddy was murdered?’ And so then we had to get therapy,” said explained.
Henson, who is an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, says therapy also helped her and Marcell deal with the death of her own father, who passed away just two years after Johnson’s murder. “That was very traumatic for us, and when it was time to start looking for someone that we felt safe talking to, it was like searching for a unicorn, a purple one, so I felt compelled to jump into action,” she told Extra in 2019.
He Learned To Be Resilient In The Face Of Racial Prejudice
As a single mom, Henson worries about her son’s well-being—especially as a young black man in America. “That’s what I fear, that’s something that I carry—I think every black mother does,” she said in a 2019 interview with People. “All parents worry about their kids, but then when you see the news and you see people getting off for killing innocent children with no weapon it’s like, that doesn’t exempt my son.”
The Empire star says she taught her son to be resilient and not let racial slurs get the best of him. In fact, she told People that when Marcell was in high school, his dean commended him for his maturity when dealing with name-calling, including the N-word. “That’s just a word,” Henson says Marcell told his dean. “It means you’re ignorant and that has nothing to do with the color of my skin.”
He’s Following His Mother’s Footsteps Into The Entertainment Industry
Now 28, Marcell is dipping his toe into the entertainment world. He appeared on over a dozen episodes of Empire, and has had roles in movies like Misled, A Girl Like Her, and Needlestick. He also worked as a media manager on the 2019 movie Little, and walked the runway in 2018 for Fashion Week.