Inside Sia's Private World: Addiction, Despair and a Spotlight at the End of the Tunnel

Alli Rosenbloom
·10 min read

Sia may be known for hiding her face, but she has revealed a whole new side of herself in recent years.

The nine-time Grammy nominee can now add filmmaker to her list of accomplishments, her feature directorial debut, Music, earning Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy and, for its star Kate Hudson, Best Actress, Musical or Comedy.

Sia, 44, wrote, produced, directed and created the entire soundtrack for Music, an achievement to be celebrated for the pop powerhouse given the unlikely road she traveled to get to this day.

Not that this leg of the journey hasn't been without its own struggles. A day after the nominations were announced, the "Never Give Up" singer appeared to delete her twitter account amid ongoing criticism the film has received for its casting of Maddie Ziegler as Music, a teenager on the autism spectrum. Most recently, a leaked scene from the film showed Zu, played by Hudson, restraining Music during an episode related to her condition. Some in the autism community were quick to point out the dangers of this method, prompting Sia to issue an apology.

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"I promise, have been listening," Sia wrote over two tweets. "The motion picture MUSIC will, moving forward, have this warning at the head of the movie: MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people. There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help w meltdown safety."

Of course, the singer-songwriter, born Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, would have never achieved the success she has without taking risks and trusting her creative instincts. But it's her resiliency and commitment to holding herself accountable that have made her such a storied, inspiring artist. Because at one point, in 2010, Sia actually retired as a solo pop singer, with no real plans to return to the spotlight.

But there was an unstoppable force that pulled her back to performing and, dare we say, Sia found the courage to change.

Sia, 2020 Billboard Music Awards, Show
Sia, 2020 Billboard Music Awards, Show

While most know the Australian-born artist as the brains behind Rihanna's mega-hit Diamonds, or as the mysterious wig-wearing-and-face-concealing performer who is best friends with Jennifer Aniston and performs at the Kardashian Christmas party, the famously private star almost called it a career before she'd created the work she's known for.

"All I wanted to do was write for pop stars," she told Billboard in a rare interview in 2013. "For one reason or another it never happened for me. Then I got seriously addicted to Vicodin and Oxycodone, and I was always a drinker but I didn't know I was an alcoholic. I was really unhappy being an artist and I was getting sicker and sicker."

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One of the events that led Sia to that dark space was the 1997 death of her boyfriend Dan Pontifex who was killed in a hit-and-run accident on his 24th birthday.

"It was my first big loss, you know?" she recalled to Rolling Stone in 2018. "So I drank a lot and did a lot of drugs with all of his grieving friends."

Her struggles with substance abuse and depression were compounded years later as she grappled with celebrity culture amid a waning solo career, leading her to question everything and, one night, chase 22 tablets of Valium with a bottle of vodka.

"Unfortunately, you can only commit sleep on Valium—or should I say fortunately," she told the magazine.

Sia
Sia

Sia wouldn't call that night a wakeup call, though, and continued to have thoughts of ending her life until, one day, a cheery phone call from a friend pulled her back from the brink. "There must have been a part of me that really wanted to live," she said. "Because in that moment, I thought, 'There's a world out there and I'm not a part of it. But I might like to be.'"

Sia said she went to her first 12-step meeting the very next day, hitting pause on her solo pursuits for three years, starting in 2010, to focus on her sobriety.

"I was a singer already for like 10 or 11 years to mediocre success and I was an alcoholic and a drug addict," she told James Corden during a 2016 installment of The Late Late Show's Carpool Karaoke. "And I sobered up and decided I didn't want to be an artist anymore because I was starting to get a little bit famous and it was destabilizing in some ways. So, I thought, what doesn't exist in pop music at the moment? And it was mystery."

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Hence her famous wigs, including the one she wore in the car that day.

"I don't wear this if there aren't cameras around," she shared with James. "I only wear this to maintain a modicum of privacy."

Sia, James Corden, Carpool Karaoke, Late Late Show
Sia, James Corden, Carpool Karaoke, Late Late Show

The 2011 success of Titanium, Sia's first major foray into mainstream songwriting for mega DJ David Guetta, turned her into one of the busiest pop songwriters in the game. Soon enough, she found herself writing top-charting hits for everyone from Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera to Katy Perry while simultaneously achieving that under-the-radar acclaim she was looking for.

But as her star as a songwriter grew brighter, a new phase was taking shape. Sia eventually reemerged as a solo artist with the release of her 2014 album 1000 Forms of Fear, her first solo LP since 2008. The album's hit single "Chandelier" topped international charts and catapulted Sia to the mainstream space as a solo artist. It also introduced the world to Ziegler, Sia's muse who has since appeared in a number of her music videos and danced with the artist (and, in a brilliant parody, Kristen Wiig) at the 2015 Grammys.

Sia's oversized blonde wigs, concealing all but her brightly colored lips as she belted out her songs, became her trademark, as well as her intentional act of self-preservation.

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"I don't want to be famous or recognizable," she told Chris Connelly during a 2014 Nightline interview, which she conducted with her back facing the cameras to conceal her face. "I don't want to be critiqued about the way that I look on the internet. I was at Target the other day buying a hose and nobody recognized me. And my song was on the radio and I thought, 'Okay this experiment is working.'"

The enigmatic vibe she was going for not only helped her maintain her privacy, but people were also loving her solo music to a degree she'd previously only experienced with the songs she wrote for other pop stars. She said she had made 1000 Forms of Fear originally to get herself out of an old record deal, after which she'd continue writing for others, but she ended up making 2016's This Is Acting instead.

Sia
Sia

Musically, this era of Sia proved to be a surprising success. But there were struggles behind the scenes that came to light in 2020 after indie artist FKA twigs filed a lawsuit against Shia LaBeouf accusing the actor of "relentless abuse" during their relationship. FKA twigs, whose real name is Tahliah Debrett Barnett, told the New York Times, "He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible."

Days later, Sia shared the Times article and tweeted, "I too have been hurt emotionally by Shia, a pathological liar, who conned me into an adulterous relationship claiming to be single. I believe he's very sick and have compassion for him AND his victims. Just know, if you love yourself- stay safe, stay away."

LaBeouf was featured in Sia's 2015 "Elastic Heart" music video alongside Ziegler.

LaBeouf has not commented on Sia's accusations, but a response to FKA twigs' lawsuit, filed Feb. 5, states that the 34-year-old denies "each and every" allegation in twigs' complaint. His lawyer Shawn Holley told E! News in a Dec. 25 statement, "Shia needs help and he knows that. We are actively seeking the kind of meaningful, intensive, long-term inpatient treatment that he desperately needs."

Sia, Erik Anders Lang
Sia, Erik Anders Lang

Sia was previously married to filmmaker Erik Anders Lang, having wed in a private ceremony at her Palm Springs home on Aug. 3, 2014, just two months after they announced their engagement. At the Venice Film Festival in 2015, about a decade after first writing the story, Sia announced her intention to make Music. In September 2016, she celebrated six years sober and that December she filed for divorce.

"After much soul searching and consideration we have made the decision to separate as a couple," the pair said in a statement to E! News at the time. "We are, however, dedicated to remaining friends. There will be no further comment."

But Sia, who soon after the breakup got to work on making Music come to life, apparently had more to process than met the eye. "I was very scared [of directing]," the filmmaking newcomer explained during Variety's Power of Women: Conversations series in October. "I just got the courage up. I just got divorced and it was a horrible, horrible painful relationship and I had lost a lot of self-confidence during that relationship."

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Despite the controversy since Music began its promotional run this past fall, including an online petition to stop the film's release altogether, Sia called the experience of directing the film "magical," telling NewsHub, "It was just the best thing I've ever done. Everyone who worked on the film liked doing it."

Then, as one journey came to a close, a new chapter began: motherhood. Speaking in full costume—blonde wig, giant bow and all—Sia revealed that she adopted two teenage boys in 2019. "They were 18, they're both 19 years old now," she told Sirius XM Hits 1 in May. "They were aging out of the foster care system and I love them."

Maddie Ziegler, Sia, Grammy Awards
Maddie Ziegler, Sia, Grammy Awards

Becoming a parent wasn't always her plan, but the confidence that she could take care of someone started with her maternal, protective relationship with Ziegler.

"I really took my role as Maddie's bonus mother, I do take that role very seriously," Sia said on the HFPA's In Conversation podcast. "I think she was the beginning of my realization that I had a lot of love to still give and I didn't think I really wanted children anymore… I realized I had enough love and enough resources to really be of assistance to the less likely to be adopted and that's why I decided to take my boys."

"It's profound and hard," Sia continued. "It's really, really hard because I love them so much. We bond and then their trauma comes back to haunt them. It's much, much more complicated than I ever thought it would be… I'm the first person who's ever loved them from the heart is what they've told me. And that's what I have to keep trying to do even if their conditioning keeps coming back to kick us all in the butt. I've just got to stay with it, keep going."

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Her journey as a mother is still evolving, revealing that she's now a "f--king grandma" in a July interview with Zane Lowe. "My youngest son just had two babies… I'm just immediately horrified," she joked. "They call me 'Nana.'"

"Nana" isn't exactly the name Sia had in mind for this new act. "I'm trying to get them to call me 'Lovey' like Kris Kardashian [Jenner]," she told Lowe. "I'm like, 'Call me Lovey.'"

As for what's next? Sia's not done yet bringing art into the world—and working on the serenity she's strived so hard to achieve. "I've already got a couple of albums finished," she told the HFPA. "So we're just basically going to just put them out over the next few years. And I'm going to work on relaxing, and my PTSD and my sobriety and my health."

You could say that Sia truly is a bird set free.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).