'Black-ish' star Jenifer Lewis gets raw and real in memoir

"Black-ish" star Jenifer Lewis has released a memoir titled "Jenifer Lewis: The Mother of Black Hollywood."

Story highlights

  • Lewis is unflinching in her biography
  • She said she wants fans to take away a hopeful message

(CNN)Jenifer Lewis is in a dropping wisdom kind of mood these days.

"The time is now," the "Black-ish" star told CNN. "The past is gone, the future ain't here. We gotta live right here, right now and do the best we can."
It's a lesson the 60-year-old actress has learned well and shares in her new biography "Jenifer Lewis: The Mother of Black Hollywood."
    The title comes from Lewis's prolific career in which she's played the mother of various stars, including rapper Tupac Shakur's character in the film "Poetic Justice" and Whitney Houston's in "The Preacher's Wife." She currently stars as Anthony Anderson's mom in the hit ABC comedy "Black-ish."
    But there is much more to Lewis than her film and television fans may know.
    Her memoir traces the actress's story from the age of five, when she got her first taste of stardom after she wowed during a church solo.
    "I knew my destiny, baby and what I had to do with my life," she said, laughing. "I was a born entertainer."
    Beyond her career, Lewis reveals her struggle with substance abuse, sex addiction and how she manages her bipolar disorder.
    "The elevator to success is broken, so I tell people take the stairs so you can enjoy getting there," she said. "That's what I did. I took it one step at a time."
    Revisiting her life for the book was at times painful, she said, particularly when discussing the AIDS crisis that hit Hollywood and Broadway especially hard in the 1980s.
    "We weren't prepared for that at such a young age," she said. "You lose your friends when you start to get old, that's the natural process. We weren't prepared for a silent war."
    But Lewis said there has also been great joy throughout her 40-year career.
    She is still recognized as Will Smith's Aunt Helen from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
    Her 1999 Lifetime movie "Jackie's Back" is considered a cult classic -- celebrated by fans each July 15 with "Jackie Washington Day."
    Most recently, Lewis added viral star to her resume when a video of she and actress/singer Brandy singing, "I don't want nobody f***ing with me in these streets" caught fire.
    Lewis said she hopes readers grab hold of the lessons in both her tragedies and her triumphs.
    "I've been through the fire baby and came out on the other side," she said. "I just want to let people know if I can you can."