Jewel Has Finally Found True Love. And You'll Be Surprised Who It Is (Exclusive)

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In a candid interview, the singer and activist opens up about healing from an abusive childhood and painful divorce through motherhood and mental health advocacy

<p>Dana Trippe</p> Portrait of Jewel 2024,

Dana Trippe

Portrait of Jewel 2024,

Growing up Jewel felt unworthy of love.

And as she made her way into adulthood, the '90s folk icon (born Jewel Kilcher) had deep scars that she didn't dare uncover — especially for herself to see. Each day was a challenge as she battled her way through a fog of physical and emotional abuse.

No one had taught the four-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, now 49, to address her childhood trauma, and as she found success in the music industry, she struggled to untangle her past from her present.

Moments before this interview, she had been trying on a dazzling Iris van Herpen gown to wear to the May 3 VIP opening of her new exhibit, The Portal: An Art Experience by Jewel, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

"It's not that I was sitting there thinking of taking my own life," Jewel, wrapped in a white bathrobe, tells PEOPLE over Zoom from Bentonville, Ark.

<p>Dana Trippe</p> Jewel

Dana Trippe


"I never had a psychotic break," she continues. "[But] I was thinking, 'Is this tenable?' If this is the rest of my life... Who wants that?"

When the singer was 8, her mother, Lenedra Carroll, left the family, and Jewel and her two brothers were raised by their father Atz Kilcher (a star on Discovery's Alaska: The Last Frontier) on their 300-acre ranch in Homer, Alaska.

"I grew up in a very traditional Mormon family. But everything changed when my mom left. My dad started drinking and being physically abusive, so like hitting us, and that's what caused me to move out," says the star, who previously detailed her father's abuse in her 2015 memoir. "He was in a lot of rage and a lot of yelling."

Outside of her family home, she also faced sexual harassment from a young age. At 8 years old, she would have men tell her, "Call me when you're 16. You're going to be a great f--k," she recalls. Another time, a man slammed her against a wall after her performance at a local bar when she was 12, demanding to know if she had "cheated" on him, she says.

After years of mistreatment she was no longer willing to put up with Atz's abuse, and Jewel — who opened up to PEOPLE in 2020 about reconciling with her father, a Vietnam veteran who developed PTSD, after he got sober in his 60s — moved off her family's homestead and into her own cabin at 15, when she began shoplifting to survive.

<p>Dana Trippe</p> Portrait of Jewel, May 2024.

Dana Trippe

Portrait of Jewel, May 2024.

Then in 1993 she moved to San Diego, where she worked at a computer warehouse to pay the bills while pursuing her music career. Her boss fired her after she turned down his advances, and she was left broke and homeless after her car was stolen.

"It was a violent era, but the Hells Angels actually were very protective over me. But there's still violence," recalls Jewel, who suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, kidney problems and agoraphobia (an intense fear of leaving the house alone or of being in crowded places). "It was men in positions of power from TV networks to record labels, and women faced it every day."

The harassment only worsened when her music career began taking off, and today she throws her support behind younger female artists to protect them against the abuse she endured.

A few weeks ago on the final night of her Madison Square Garden Guts world tour show on April 9, Olivia Rodrigo welcomed Jewel onstage for a duet of her 1995 hit "You Were Meant for Me." The two women strummed their guitars and took turns singing the song's lyrics before joining together in harmony for the chorus. "Dreams last so long, even after you're gone / I know that you love me," they sang.

Related: Olivia Rodrigo Says 'It's an Honor' to Sing 'You Were Meant for Me' with Jewel at 4th Sold-Out N.Y.C. Show

"It is so neat to see Gen Z fighting the good fight, wanting to stand up for things... and that I can be there for them. I was humiliated and teased. I was publicly ridiculed for being different and speaking my values and for needing to heal," she says. "That's what's so touching about Olivia because I'm glad to be a role model — not just for singing and writing — but for the type of human I fought to be."

Jewel met her ex-boyfriend Sean Penn in 1995, the same year her debut album Pieces of You was released. She caught the actor's attention with her first TV appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Back in her hometown one day during a break from the road, she got an unexpected call.

"My dad came to find me, saying, 'Jewel, you must be getting some kooky fans out there in the Lower 48. Some guy just prank-called and said he was Sean Penn,'" she wrote in her memoir. She eventually wrote a song, "Emily," for his 1995 filmThe Crossing Guard, and they went on to have a short-lived romance.

Despite being so new in the business, Jewel knew she wanted to keep the relationship under wraps. 

<p>Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art</p> Jewel at the Crystal Briges Museum of American Art

Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Jewel at the Crystal Briges Museum of American Art

"Even when I was dating Sean really early on, nobody knew I was dating him. I wouldn't do a red carpet with him. I was just very prideful," she reflects. "I wasn't famous and my album was flopping, like failing spectacularly. I remember going to the Venice Film Festival with him, and I could have done the red carpet and received a lot of media attention.

"People would've said, 'Who is this girl?' and I could have plugged my album. But I'd rather be unknown the rest of my life than have that be the way the world was introduced to me," she says. "I don't need fame that badly. I need to be fulfilled. I need to be happy. I need to be a songwriter. I wasn't thirsty in that way."

Jewel wanted people to know her for her heart, her music and her authenticity — not for the man by her side. 

Once she hit it big, she faced other cruelties. "I was called the chubby Renée Zellweger," she recalls. The humiliation fueled her eating disorder, which started at age 16. "I was bulimic," she continues. "I was at a weight I didn't like. I didn't know how to fix it other than love myself. I was trying to love what I was eating, not lose more weight or get worse."

Related: Jewel Details Romance with Sean Penn: He Said 'It Would Be Impossible Not to Fall in Love with Me'

She took years off following her critically acclaimed 1998 album Spirit, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Stepping away at the time was an "act of power," she says now.

"I had to learn how to handle the male ego and turn them down in a way that didn't cost me in the workplace. It's awful. Nobody should have to learn that, and sometimes it didn't work," she says.

<p>Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art</p> Jewel at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Jewel at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Related: Jewel on Reconciling With Her 'Abusive' Father After He Got Sober: 'I Was Determined to Heal'

A year later she met rodeo star Ty Murray, and after nearly a decade together they tied the knot in the Bahamas. In July 2014 the couple announced their divorce, and the singer says she fell into a major depression while navigating being a single mom to their son Kase, 12.

Related: Ty Murray on His Divorce from Jewel: 'We Are in a Really Good Spot'

"The divorce wasn't easy. Choosing not to work for seven years wasn't easy. Choosing to build something else other than music wasn't easy. Insisting that I had to change and grow so I could be the most available mom, those were all things that I lived privately, and this was a way of honoring myself too," Jewel says. "I'm a lot more present now. I'm a present mom, which I worked hard on. It wasn't easy in the beginning to be present. Divorces... you have so much grief, and it's hard. Not wanting to let go of that dream kept me in a marriage much longer than I probably should have."

She detailed her heartbreak on the song "Love Used to Be" (off her twelfth studio album Picking Up the Pieces). "It's a funeral song," she adds, admitting that she cries every time she sings it.

<p>Dana Trippe</p> Jewel and her son Kase

Dana Trippe

Jewel and her son Kase

Over the years Jewel sought counseling and studied wellness. She began to meditate and journal, chronicling her sorrow.

In her 30s she discovered her mother, who used to manage her career, embezzled over $100 million from her, she alleged on a 2023 episode of the Verywell Mind Podcast. "Our relationship messed with my head so much. It was so much psychological abuse that I was afraid to let a therapist get close to me," she says. "But I don't personally believe in forgiveness. I don't have to have a relationship with my mom to heal. I don't have to hear her say 'I'm sorry.' Not all of us get the storybook ending, and that's okay. We can still heal." (They haven't spoken since 2002.)

After her divorce, Jewel began seeing a therapist again — and this time it helped. Still, she felt uninspired and beaten down by life. So she did what she knew best: create change for herself. 

Her new, self-curated 90-minute immersive art exhibit (open to the public from May 4 to July 28) reflects the growth and peace she's found.

<p>Courtesy of Jewel</p> Jewel in 2024

Courtesy of Jewel

Jewel in 2024

For Jewel, the experience represents the "three spheres" of existence: the inner realm, which is our thoughts and emotions; the physical realm, which includes our jobs, finances, families and nature; and the unseen realm, which humans have been trying to define since the dawn of time.

"For me, mental health and emotional well-being is a side effect of our three spheres working in harmony. And suffering is a side effect if they aren't," says the singer, who's been a staunch advocate for mental wellness through her nonprofit, the Inspiring Children Foundation, and Innerworld, a virtual reality-based wellness center where people can use an anonymous avatar to access free mental health tools in a safe space.

She hopes fans visiting the exhibit this summer will take the time to learn about "what's working and what isn't" in their lives. "It's about being curious about ourselves and discovery," she says. "It's about being aware of our three realms and being committed that we can change it and have input in it."

In the evening a 200-piece drone light show, choreographed by Jewel and set to her new song "The Portal," will cap off the experience.

While each of the 10 pieces she selected for the exhibit has personal meaning to her, the most moving for her is an oil painting she created of her son specifically for the experience.

Related: Jewel Says Son Kase, 12, Has a 'Beautiful Voice' but He's 'Not Obsessed' with Music (Exclusive)

"Mothering is not given much credit in this world, or celebrated," she says. Reflecting on the creation process, Jewel grows emotional.

"It's also a way for me to deal with my feelings about my son getting older and the transitions that we are both going to be making in our lives," she says, crying. "It was a way to honor him with every single brushstroke. I just loved painting the curve of his face."

What does her son think of his famous mom? Jewel likes to think Kase would say their relationship is filled with laughter. "We're very, very, very silly. We're ridiculous and wrestle a lot," she says. "I didn't think that's the type of mom I'd be, but we do play fight every day, and it's so funny."

<p>Courtesy of Jewel</p> Jewel's portrait of her son Kase

Courtesy of Jewel

Jewel's portrait of her son Kase

Motherhood has helped keep her grounded, and for her, being a parent is about explaining life and teaching her child: "I'm the kind of mom that wants to explain probably too much. That might be on the negative list, but that's the kind of mom I am. I want to break things down. I want to help him understand. And I hope I'm a good listener."

Indeed, guiding the next generation with her own experiences and speaking candidly about mental health has been a key way for Jewel to process her own trauma.

And today the star says she's never been happier. "I'm more inspired now than I've ever been in my life. The most since I was like 19 or 20 years old," she says, beaming.

Related: Jewel Says Her Son Is 'Very Emotional' and She's Learning to Not 'Over Empower' His Feelings

And like her younger self — the one who dated Sean Penn all those years ago — it's clear Jewel still refuses to be defined by anyone else.

Asked about the rumors she's in a relationship with Kevin Costner, she shuts down the notion that a man has anything to do with where she is in life. "I found love, and I'm not talking about Kevin's. I'm so happy, irrelevant of a man. It has nothing to do with being in a relationship or not being in one," she says, declining to answer questions about the actor.

"I'm just happy," she emphasizes, speaking with a keen understanding that everyone wants to know about her love life.

The love she's willing to share is the one she's found within herself — one she's been searching for her whole life. "I'm good," she says.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.