Quindon Tarver was the child star of Romeo + Juliet: what happened next?
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In 1997, Quindon Tarver was a superstar. His version of ‘Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)’ in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 smash hit Romeo + Juliet was one of the film’s emotional highpoints.
On the back of this success, his version of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ featured on a second soundtrack album for the film. It absolutely blew up. It reached number three on the ARIA charts in July ’97 and it stayed in the charts for 18 weeks.
His vocals also feature in the memorable chorus to Luhrmann’s 1997 single ‘Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’, a Hottest 100 favourite that later became a smash in Europe.
It’s not a bad CV for a kid of 14. But success was fleeting.
“I'm working in insurance,” Tarver says from his Dallas home. “I make sure that all the data on the policies are correct.”
While that might sound sobering, after learning about the past two decades of Tarver’s life, it’s just good to hear he’s okay. But more on that later.
The singer had an immense drive to be a success from a very young age. It was clear he possessed an almost otherworldly gift as a singer, and he wasn’t afraid to show it off.
I would see the effect on people when I would sing and it just amazed me.Quindon Tarver
“I started singing when I was four,” he says. “I started singing in my grandfather’s church. He was the pastor.
“I kinda just took it and ran with it. It was something that I really liked and I began to love it and began to do connect with it.
“It was something that flowed from me. It was something natural. I didn't have to work so hard. Nobody had to make me like it. It wasn’t anything forced. It was very organic.
“I realised from a young age that this was what I wanted to do. I liked the way that people were moved by it, how it affected them. I would see the effect on them when I would sing and it just amazed me.”
Tarver secured a major record deal with Virgin by the time he was 12. But his road to stardom via Luhrmann’s film began much earlier.
“I had just recently signed to Virgin Records and I was out in LA recording my album. Someone at Twentieth Century Fox that knew me.
“At the time that this is taking place I was 12, but back when I was eight-years-old I had come out to LA to audition for Hollywood Records, which was a part of Disney.
“The lady that I auditioned for at Hollywood Records was now a part of the music department at 20th Century Fox. I guess the word had gotten to her that I had signed with Virgin, so she reached out to them because they were looking for someone to sing those songs for the movie.”
‘Everybody’s Free’ was originally a Eurodance smash released by Rozalla in the early 90s. And ‘When Doves Cry’ was, of course, one of Prince’s biggest hits.
“I’d never heard ‘Everybody’s Free’, never heard of it before in my entire life,” Tarver admits.
“Of course, ‘When Doves Cry’, yes! Because I love Prince. He was an iconic legend. Even as a child, for me he was this amazing guy doing all these different things with his voice and these instruments and the wardrobe and the costumes.”
Tarver says making the film was a great experience and the thought of appearing on screen was a huge thrill.
“Me? A country boy from Dallas, Texas? To be on a movie screen where my friends could go and see it? That blew my mind. That was amazing,” he says.
But, while he enjoyed the work, he struggled to appreciate the fame.
“I've always been a very humble and modest person. When it came out, I was excited about it, but I didn't really know how to display my excitement. I was shy."
But it wasn’t just shyness that stood in his way. Tarver suffered profound trauma and his life changed immediately.
“I was going through some things at that time in my life,” he says. “That’s when some stuff that devastated me started taking place in my life.
“I was really a big, big mess. Emotionally and mentally. I was trying to balance myself out. So, when [Romeo + Juliet] was actually released, it was kind of hard to enjoy it.
“It should have been a big thing. It was a really big pinnacle for me to reach at that age. And I was not able to really enjoy it like I feel like I could have or should have.
“But I still, to this day, think it was an amazing thing for me to do and I’m glad that I was able to accomplish it and be a part of it.”
Tarver was abused around this time and, after speaking up about it, was shunned by those who had once championed him.
“While in the music industry as a child, I was raped and molested,” he says.
“When that took place, I shared it with one person that I thought I could trust and confide in. This person went back and said something to my management at that time and, immediately, I noticed that there was this distance. They wouldn't answer the phone when I came out to LA.”
The dizzying highs of fame came crashing down and Tarver began to feel an immense sense of loss and pain.
You don't want to tell anyone. You feel embarrassed, you feel guilty, you feel shame, you feel unworthy, unaccepted. I went through all of that and found myself at the bottom of a bottle.Quindon Tarver
“It was extremely weird for me to experience such high success – to be in all the magazines, on a 90-city tour, travelling to Australia in first class, and getting paid to do what I love – and it be snatched away.
"It was very weird and, not only that, it was very hurtful.”
A year after topping the charts, he was back at his old public school in Texas.
“I was very quiet, I was going through a lot,” he remembers. “A lot of people deemed me as stuck up, somewhat snobbish, but that wasn’t the case.
"I was hurting. I had been molested, I had been raped, I had lost my career, which is what I had dreamed of doing all my life.
“I had to come back home because someone did something to me. I didn't know how to cope with that. I didn’t know how to deal with that.
"I began drinking and dabbling in drugs and I lost it, man. I spiralled completely.”
Soon Tarver began to identify with so many fellow child stars who had lost their way. He saw so much of himself in every tragic story of a life gone awry following childhood fame.
“I knew why they were spiralling,” he says. “I know why this child star, that’s now an adult, can’t cope.
"Why they’re using some kind of stimulant or some kind of substance to cope. Because you try to find a way through all of what you've been through.
“You don't want to tell anyone, you feel embarrassed, you feel guilty, you feel shame, you feel unworthy, unaccepted. I went through all of that and found myself at the bottom of a bottle.
Five years ago, it all came to a head.
“I attempted suicide, which landed me on life support for 17 hours in 2012,” Tarver said.
“After getting off life support, I was upset. Because I was like, ‘why am I still here?’
“I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to be here anymore. There was no reason for me to live. I felt everything I gained I lost, I couldn’t succeed in anything and I was a failure.”
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Prince had already served as a vital part of Quindon Tarver's life given the monumental success of Tarver's version of 'When Doves Cry'. But Prince arguably gave Quindon Tarver a far more valuable gift in his passing than he ever did while he was alive. He made the artist believe that he could bounce back.
“I had pretty much given up,” he says. “When Prince passed away, I went to LA to be a part of a Prince tribute. When I got on the stage and they announced my name, it was like a coming to Jesus moment.
“The applause and the cheers of the people, it was like ‘Wow, this is what I want to do. These people remember me! Twenty years later, these people remember me.’
“It was like, ‘You can't do this, because you’re not in a place to receive it. You wouldn’t be able to handle it’. I knew I had to do something.
“On May 8 of last year, I put myself in rehab and I stayed there for a month. I made up my mind that I was not gonna come out of those doors that miserable person that walked in.”
While in rehab, Tarver worked hard. He confronted the demons that had made his life so hard with a determination to overcome them.
“I took everything seriously,” he says. “Everything that I had suppressed inside, every hurt, every pain every feeling, every hate, every regret, every resentment. All of it, I let it go. I cried, I wrote on paper, every emotion came out of me in that rehab.”
And it worked.
“It was a relief,” he says. “I was free. Those burdens were all lifted. It was the most liberating, amazing feeling that I had ever felt in my life.
“I forgave the people that hurt me, the people that did cruel things to me, I forgave them and I let it go, so that I could heal. That was the only way I could heal.
“I walked out of there a free man and I have not looked back. I’m back into my music and I think my passion is stronger than ever.”
For the first time, Tarver realised the power of his own music. While he knew it had been a sense of strength for many others in the past, he finally used it to help himself.
“It's amazing to me. ‘Everybody’s Free’, at the age of 12 I sang that song… I listened to that song and that 12-year-old Quindon was singing to a 33-year-old Quindon, and I cried. For once, I felt what all of my supporters were feeling when they heard that song.”
So that’s why he’s embracing that part of his career. He has re-recorded ‘Everybody’s Free’ to be a part of a new release that he hopes will inspire.
“I want to do an EP which is going to inspire people,” he says. “It'll tell my story, from the bottom to where I am now, in seven songs.”
And he wants to spread the positivity as far as he possibly can.
“I'm starting a movement that’s called Everybody’s Free, explaining to people that you are free,” he says. “That you can overcome any obstacle or situation, but that choice to do so is the key that unlocks that journey. The freedom starts with you.
“It started with me when I went to rehab, I made a choice. I want to let people know that you are free, and that the only person that is holding you from your freedom is yourself.”
As hard as his post-fame experiences have been, Tarver is turning his hurt into positivity. He wants to help others who are suffering.
“I didn't understand why I went through what I went through,” he says. “But now I realise the reason I went through it was so that I could be that beacon of hope to other people that have gone through those types of things. I was used to help people, let them know that they can overcome. Because, if I can do it, so can you.”