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From witness chair, Terrence Howard forced to confront past

21 August 2015, 18:00

Los Angeles - Terrence Howard needed a break.

He stood up from his seat, declared "I'm angry right now" and, with permission, stepped out of the room. Howard wasn't channeling Lucious Lyon, his character from the smash Fox series "Empire." Instead, he was undergoing tough questioning in a Los Angeles courtroom by an attorney for his second ex-wife about allegations of violence, some dating back 15 years.

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The re-examination of old, and new, allegations against Howard comes at a sensitive time for the resurgent actor, who took time away from the "Empire" set last week to spend three days in court trying to undo a divorce settlement that entitles his ex-wife to a share of his earnings.

It also comes at a time when the public is interested in the circumstances of old allegations against celebrities, such as accusations about years of sexual abuse by comedian Bill Cosby.

The judge is expected to render a decision in Howard's case on Monday. But regardless of the outcome, the ruling will likely lead to more legal fighting between Howard and ex-wife Michelle Ghent, who has accused the Oscar-nominated actor of abusing her multiple times and has an active restraining order against him. The actor contends she extorted him into signing a lopsided 2012 divorce settlement.

Howard's efforts to cut his financial commitments to Ghent forced him to revisit what his attorney called a low point in his career and life. Within the span of a couple hours last week, Howard shifted from tearfully recounting threats Ghent made to him to leak private information, including years of phone sex conversations with other women and a video of him dancing naked in a bathroom, to bristling at questions that focused on his arrests.

The actor told a judge that he feared the release of the information at the time would have ended his acting career.

Admissions by Howard that he was unfaithful to Ghent during their engagement and acknowledging he struck his first wife in anger are unlikely to hurt his standing on the show or with its fans.

His "Empire" character is a bigoted, homophobic music mogul who hits his children, and anticipation remains high for the series' return on Sept. 23.

"It depends who you are, who you play, what your character is," said Howard Bragman, a veteran Hollywood publicist and vice chairman of Reputation.com.

"Terrence Howard is going to get beyond this," he said. "I think it can be personally humiliating, I think it can be embarrassing. Nobody likes their private life and these moments splayed out there, but he'll be fine."

"Empire" producers say there was no disruption in filming as a result of Howard's absence.

The hit series comes after some lean years for Howard. Despite an Oscar nomination for 2005's "Hustle & Flow" and a role in the original "Iron Man," but was replaced with Don Cheadle in the sequels.

He married Ghent, a massage therapist, in January 2010, but she filed for divorce a year later. She accused him of physically abusing her and obtained a restraining order, which she later renewed.

The pair's tumultuous relationship included several reconciliation attempts even after they were officially divorced in 2013.

Howard testified that he twice threatened to harm himself to preserve his relationship with Ghent, telling her at one point he would swallow a bottle of pills if she broke up with him and on another occasion that he would throw himself off a balcony after they fought over him kissing actress Jennifer Hudson on a movie set.

Within days of marrying his third and now former wife, Mira Pak, in 2013, Howard again professed his love to Ghent, according to audio her attorneys played in court on Monday.

The recording contradicted Howard's earlier testimony that he had only married Ghent because she had been blackmailing him over the recordings.

The hearing, scheduled in response to a motion by Howard's lawyers, included lengthy questioning about incidents in which the actor was arrested on allegations of abuse.

In 2000, Howard was arrested after a flight attendant accused him of grabbing her after an argument over whether he could take his young daughter to the bathroom. Charges were not pursued.

The actor acknowledged hitting his first wife in 2001, saying he "kicked down the door and smacked her." He said it was the "only time I've struck a woman" when it wasn't self-defense.

He denied abusing Ghent, testifying that if he hit her it was in self-defense and he had never choked her, as she has alleged.

Lewis did not hear Ghent's version of events because her attorneys did not file a sworn statement from her before the hearing.

"I regret that I'm not hearing from her," Superior Court Judge Thomas Trent Lewis told her attorneys. He acknowledged early in the proceedings that a lot of money was at stake as a result of his ruling.

Ghent and Howard aren't the only ones interested in the outcome of Monday's ruling. Twentieth Century Fox, which produces "Empire," has asked another judge to figure out whether the actor or his ex-wife is entitled to more than $50,000 of his earnings from the show.

- AP


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