Inside Barbra Streisand's Sad Real-Life Story

She's the funny girl with the thick Brooklyn accent and flair for musical comedy that got her a Broadway start when she was barely out of her teens. But Barbra Streisand's childhood was not all fun and games, and neither was the life she led that made her the strong and successful woman she is now. In fact, she a tragic start that helped define the rest of her life.

Streisand was born on April 24, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, to Diana and Emmanuel Streisand. It seemed like she would have a perfectly normal childhood until everything changed course when she was only 1 year old. Her father, an English teacher, died of an epileptic seizure at age 35, leaving her mother alone to raise her and older brother Sheldon (via Biography). That fateful day when her father never came home changed his young daughter's childhood and life forever.

Barbra Streisand grew up starved for acceptance and affection

Diana Streisand was a single mother in the 1940s when most women did not work outside of the home. But she had no choice and took a job as a secretary, eventually moving herself and her two young children in with her parents, according to Biography. However, it was apparently not a happy home where children could thrive. The singer's brother, Sheldon, described what it was like living with his grandparents to People back in 1983. "[They were] decent, hardworking people, but there was no love in that house. I remember there was a huge table in the dining room and Barbara and I would scuttle under it to avoid beatings."

When Streisand was only 7 years old, she returned home from summer camp to a shock — her mother had remarried and the family was moving into their own place. But that didn't bring happiness to the young girl's life. Her mother soon gave birth to another daughter, and the older sister felt little love from her mother and stepfather. "He taunted her continually, telling her how plain she was compared to Roslyn, her little sister, who was his daughter with my mother," Sheldon said. 

Meanwhile, Streisand told People that she finally found a way to get positive attention. "I used to wonder — what did I have to do to get attention ... When I started to sing I got attention."

Barbra Streisand uses her voice to escape her family life

As soon as Barbra Streisand graduated high school, she knew she had to get out of her house and forge ahead with a performing career. She had already begun studying acting with the Cherry Lane Theater after she negotiated a scholarship in exchange for babysitting the owners' children, but she soon learned she'd have to sing for her supper (via Biography).

Streisand was only 18 years old and living in Manhattan, but finding work on Broadway was impossible. That's when she began singing in Greenwich Village gay bars, which were considered taboo at the time. She won a singing contest at the Lion that helped her support herself until her big break came along, according to The New York Times. While it can take years for some people to make it on Broadway, it took Streisand only one. At age 19, she auditioned for a role in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" and landed the part. It's also where she met the man who would be her husband, Elliott Gould (via Biography).

Her marriage to Elliott Gould didn't last

In 1963, Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould got married as Streisand's star was on the rise. Her part in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" was a supporting role, but she soon landed the lead in the new Broadway show "Funny Girl," the biopic musical about Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice. That Broadway run led to a London run and then an Oscar Award-winning film for which Streisand won for Outstanding Lead Actress (via Biography).

She gave birth to their son, Jason, in 1966, but alas the marriage didn't last and they divorced in 1971. In 2020, Gould explained what went wrong to People when he related the story about what he told his ex-wife when she was preparing to write her memoir and asked him how they grew apart.

"And I said my question would be, 'How could we have grown apart?' And the answer to that is that we didn't grow together and the reason for that was because she became more important than us. Then I also said to her, 'We did great. We made it very fast and nobody has what we have. There's you and me and our kid.'"

Barbra Streisand spent decades unlucky in love before finding happiness again

Although her career flourished, Barbra Streisand's love life did not. While she had a long-term relationship with hairdresser turned movie producer Jon Peters, she also had a series of shorter romances over the course of many years. In the 1980s and 1990s, she dated Andre Agassi, Don Johnson, and Liam Neeson (via Ranker).

Then, in 1997, she met actor James Brolin, and on July 1, 1998 they married at her Malibu home. As of this writing, Streisand and Brolin just celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. As the date approached, Brolin told the CBS talk show "The Talk" about their life after a year of COVID-19.

"A lot of people, their marriages haven't gone well during these 15 months," he said. "We've literally fallen in love over this period of time, just being stuck together every day and making it work ... Neither one of us have ever gone out the door [after] an argument and we are good at talking things out. And 23 years is better than ever, I must say" (via People).