How A Troubled Childhood Set The Stage For The Arquette Siblings 


The acting talents of Academy Award-winner Patricia Arquette and her siblings Alexis, David, Rosanna, and Richmond have been deservedly hailed. However, the harrowing backstory of their lives is not as commonly known. It’s as gut-wrenching as a Hollywood drama, but for the Arquettes, it was reality.

Patricia and her brothers and sisters reportedly endured harsh deprivation, tragedies, cruelty, abuse, addiction, and hardships that would bring anyone to their knees. Through it all, they have been there for each other. Grit and determination kept the Arquette siblings afloat. Their steadfast mutual love may have been what ultimately saved them.

An Impoverished And Abusive Childhood Forged Strong Bonds Among The Arquette Siblings

(L-R): Actors Alexis Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Richmond Arquette, Patricia Arquette and David Arquette
(L-R): Alexis Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Richmond Arquette, Patricia Arquette and David Arquette (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

Performing was the Arquettes’ family heritage. They outwardly exemplified success and creativity. The siblings’ grandfather was renowned comedian and Hollywood Squares TV game show regular Cliff Arquette, whose stage persona was Charley Weaver; their dad, Lewis, was an actor who had a role on The Waltons; their mom, Brenda “Mardi” Nowak, was a poet.

The family relocated from Chicago to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the early 1970s to live in the Skymont Subud commune. As Patricia told The Wall Street Journal in 2017, “They wanted to raise us in a spiritual, utopian society away from the rat race and closer to nature.”

While this may sound romantic and idyllic, it was more of a primitive experience for the Arquettes. They lived in stark poverty reminiscent of an earlier century—everyone slept in one room; there was no electricity. Rosanna and Patricia have spoken of not even having basics like a bathroom or running water.

During a 2011 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the sisters chatted in a matter-of-fact tone about what they said was a deeply dysfunctional household where there was allegedly violence, physical abuse, and a father who often drank and used marijuana. “When you grow up in that kind of family,” Rosanna said, “it is a family disease. It affects everybody.”

Coping with their chaotic childhood made the Arquettes extremely close. They would continue to support each other throughout the different challenges they would experience later in life. In 2016, People referred to them as “one of Hollywood’s largest and tightest-knit families.”

David Inherited His Father’s Struggles With Addiction

Patricia said that David was “the all-American good boy” who played baseball and basketball and was “a great son.” She also astutely pointed out that sadly, he couldn’t fix what was wrong with his family by being perfect.

David’s problems with substance abuse began when he was just a kid. He admitted that he swiped pot from his dad when he was only 8 and he began drinking at 12. He said that he downed his first alcoholic drink at the tender age of 4. He got seriously into drugs when his mother was dying.

There was also turmoil for David and his wife, actress Courteney Cox. He had divulged private details of their life on the radio to Howard Stern in 2010 and talked about some of the issues plaguing their marriage. David brought out in the open what probably should have stayed behind closed doors.

He aired his grievances with Cox, such as when she allegedly told him, “I don’t want to be your mother anymore.” David also said they had legally separated (they eventually divorced), and that Cox had been the one who wanted the split.

With David’s addiction intruding uncomfortably into his life and marriage, Patricia and Cox knew that they had to do something to help him. They had an intervention for him, and David went into a 28-day rehab program for his drinking.

However, it was an almost-fatal incident in 2018, that finally persuaded David to come to grips with his substance abuse and its dangerous effects. During “a stint in the professional wrestling world,” David was stabbed in the neck by accident with a light bulb by his opponent in a death match, Nick Gage.

“I thought I was dying,” David told People. “I got out of the ring and I was totally lost. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear.” After being treated and recovering from his injuries, he acknowledged that he was “feeling pain to numb pain.”

His scary mishap in the ring was partly responsible for changing his outlook on recovery, as was therapy with the support of his wife, Christina McLarty Arquette, whom he married in 2015.

David truthfully took stock of himself. He said, “I had to stop being self-destructive and making choices that were throwing bombs.” Even so, he admitted to IndieWire in 2020 that he’s “never been a full-on sober person.” He said he still smoked CBD with THC in it, and had quit drinking hard liquor. David does not drink or use pot while he is working.

Alexis Arquette’s Gender Identity Was Ahead Of Her Time

Alexis Arquette smiles in silver dress while holding a black fan
(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Alexis knew she was transgender from a young age. While waiting to have a laser procedure, she reflected on film about her experiences as a boy who liked wearing dresses. She said she was cross-dressing since age 9. By the time she was 13 or 14, her parents sent her away from the commune in Virginia to Los Angeles to “get away from club life.”

She was bullied for being effeminate but she didn’t let it stop her from beginning a male to female transition in 2006. An A&E documentary, “Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother,” portrayed that transition. Alexis passionately advocated for change and for acceptance, not just for herself, but for all LGBTQ+ people. She told Newsweek in 2007, “Until all of us can feel we can walk down the street without ridicule, none of us really will ever be safe from Hitler’s Gestapo.”

Describing herself as a cross-dresser and drag queen, Alexis pushed back against ironclad, restrictive gender stereotypes with bold questions: “Are you really a man just because you dress like one? What are real men and real women? How about real people. Do men have to kill and women have to heal? I think everyone knows we’re all capable of the same.”

She credited her family with being very protective of her when she came out as transgender. A longtime friend, Sham Ibrahim, said, “Alexis had told me that she used to run around in high heels and wigs since the age of 2 and her family was very supportive about the whole thing.”

Her siblings remember her having a fluid understanding of gender. Nicki Swift reported that she told David that she was “gender suspicious” and could feel like both a man and a woman. As Rosanna told The Daily Beast in 2021, “Alexis would have been a they.”

In 2013, she began presenting as a man again, and told a friend that “gender is b*llsh*t.”

She Died Of Complications Relating To HIV/AIDS In 2016

Alexis had HIV/AIDS for 29 years. Toward the end of her life, The Hollywood Reporter claimed she was living in low-income housing in West Hollywood provided by The Actors Fund for individuals with AIDS or HIV.

Even though drugs were available that might have mitigated her condition and allowed her to extend her life, she adamantly refused them—despite being implored by her family to try them. A liver infection coursed through Alexis’ body and she died on September 11, 2016. Her triumphant, uncompromising earthly journey was over far too soon.

Her death at 47 shook the Arquettes profoundly. “I can only speak for myself,” Rosanna told The Daily Beast, “but I know that it really left a huge, gaping wound in the family structure.” In Alexis’ honor, her siblings established the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation to support grassroots organizations helping the LGBTQ+ community.

Patricia And Rosanna Have Faced Career Obstacles As Women In Hollywood

Roseanne Arquette (L) in blue top and Patricia Arquette (R) in white gown
(VALERIE MACON/Getty Images)

Both Stood Up To Powerful Men Who Sexually Harassed Them

Rosanna was among the first women to publicly allege being the target of sexual advances from film executive Harvey Weinstein in a 2017 New Yorker article written by Ronan Farrow.

She told the magazine that she was allegedly coaxed by Weinstein to have a sexual encounter with him in a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the early 1990s. Rosanna said she refused and left. Weinstein denied having unwelcome sexual encounters with women. She felt that her career suffered as a result. “He made things difficult for me for years,” she said.

Also in October 2017, Patricia posted this message on Twitter: “Years ago [director] Oliver Stone wanted me to do a movie. We talked about the Material which was very sexual. The meeting was professional.” Patricia alleged that Stone sent her roses, then chastised her for bringing her boyfriend to attend a screening of Natural Born Killers.

They’re Both Advocates For Fair Pay

Rosanna’s rebuff of Weinstein had financial repercussions for her, she believes. She told The Guardian that she was “the only famous actor [in Pulp Fiction] who didn’t have a back-end deal [a share of the profits].” The film was produced by Miramax, Weinstein’s company.

She alleged that rejecting Weinstein or speaking out against him put actresses’ professional lives in jeopardy. “There was a significant drop in careers. We’ve gone from the top of A-lists to bottom of the C-minus list within minutes.”

Rosanna suspected that there was a whispering campaign afoot against her so she would not be offered good roles anymore, but she had nothing to prove that. She did still get parts, but maybe not the choicest ones in her opinion.

Patricia decried the low amount she made for being in the film Boyhood (2014). “I paid more money to my babysitter and my dog walker than I made on Boyhood, and to be in Boyhood!”

What the Arquette siblings went through early in their lives because of their turbulent upbringing cannot be imagined by many people. Somehow, with each other’s constant love and support, they survived. It seems as if the travails they had to face gave them the strength to take risks, find their voices, and use them to bravely denounce unfairness, oppression, and inequality.





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