CAROLINE GRAHAM reveals the ‘cataclysmic’ childhood that propelled Sharon Stone to stardom

It is a telling picture – a scrawny ten-year-old is showing off, flexing his muscles in mock defence of his baby sister. In another snapshot, the siblings stand side by side in their Sunday best before heading off to church in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. They are devoted.

Yet, despite an unbreakable childhood bond, their lives would take very different paths.

For the young girl in these exclusive photographs is Sharon Stone, a superstar who rose to fame thanks to talent, beauty – and that notorious ‘leg-crossing’ scene in Basic Instinct.

Today she remains a rarity in Hollywood.

A woman who built a $50 million fortune from scratch, Sharon Stone is admired as much for her brains as her appearance, and at 64 remains in demand for film and television projects.

The other child in the picture is her older brother, Michael, who, despite good looks and charisma of his own, would eventually become a major drug-dealer, bringing misery and shame to those around him.

Despite its far-reaching consequences, the story of their childhood and its chaotic aftermath are barely known, something too personal and too painful to be discussed in public.

Michael Stone (pictured), brother of actress Sharon Stone, speaks to his sister about their challenging upbringing and his drug smuggling career

Until now, that is, with the filming of an extraordinary conversation between the siblings. 

In four-and-a-half hours of raw, uncensored footage shown to The Mail on Sunday, Sharon talks about their ‘cataclysmic’ upbringing and how it helped propel her to stardom. And she grills her brother on camera about his drug-dealing and the ‘catastrophic consequences’.

The interview is also a testament to Sharon’s generosity. Michael’s criminal behaviour could have sunk her career, yet she refused to give up on him, even at the height of his addiction.

As becomes clear, without her support, her brother would not be alive today.

If the story of Michael’s drug-dealing runs throughout the filmed encounter – tentatively dubbed Stone On Stone, and the basis, they hope, of a big-screen documentary – so does the shadow of poverty.

Their mother Dorothy, known as Dot, had been born into ‘three generations of Irish maids’ in Pennsylvania’s hillbilly country.

As Sharon explains, the family was so poor that her mother had been given away to a dentist’s family at the age of nine ‘so she could have a better life than she had, living in a terrible two-room shack… They lived right on the tracks, you could reach out and touch the train’.

Their father Joe worked in a sweltering ‘tool and die’ factory, casting steel car parts from molten metal.

Sharon recalls ‘men in their asbestos suits, those helmets with flaps down over the shoulders and glass in front of the eyes lifting huge pots of fiery ore… a liquid that made me feel like I was looking into hell.’

New footage of Sharon Stone (pictured), 64, interviewing her brother and discussing their childhood offers a very personal insight into her career and their lives

New footage of Sharon Stone (pictured), 64, interviewing her brother and discussing their childhood offers a very personal insight into her career and their lives

The pressure on the Stone siblings to work hard and succeed in life was ingrained. ‘It was a bizarrely strict family,’ says Sharon. ‘The boundaries were really strict and the punishments were severe.’

Two more siblings followed – brother Patrick, now 55, and sister Kelly, now 50. ‘We were all expected to work,’ says Michael. ‘I had a paper round. Sharon and I had to earn our keep from a very young age.’

Michael used to bring Sharon along on his round, making her a tiny muslin bag which carried just one newspaper. He was ten, she was barely three, ‘but she wanted to be with me’, he says.

‘I wanted anything, I had to buy it myself with money I earned. Sharon was the same. Sharon flipped burgers at McDonald’s. We built fences, mowed lawns and shovelled snow, anything to earn a dime.’

Grandmother Lela – their father’s mother – taught Sharon how to steal things from restaurant table tops. ‘Grandma Lela’s house was filled with hotel china from all over the place,’ she says. ‘She had silver salt and pepper shakers. It was about survival.’

In her teenage years, Sharon entered beauty pageants to earn extra money and was duly crowned Homecoming Queen, Tulip Festival Queen and Miss Crawford County.

It wasn’t just cash that was in short supply. Sharon has spoken in the past of feeling that her mother showed little affection.

Michael says: ‘I’m not sure Mum was able to cope with us. So we forged a bond as siblings. Dad would come home from work exhausted and Mum’s focus was on him.’

At 18, Michael enlisted in the US Navy. That was when he encountered illegal drugs and his life started to take a very different path.

It started with a nasty accident when, as he was repairing machinery, his finger was ripped off and he spent time convalescing in hospital alongside survivors from the Vietnam War.

‘I first smoked marijuana in the naval hospital,’ he recalls. ‘The Vietnam War was going on. We were in these long wards and around 6 o’clock at night the Navy [guards] would leave and everyone would fire up and start smoking joints.

‘I’d go to the bathroom and there’d be a guy in there firing up heroin. So that’s where I first smoked a joint and then throughout the military we got high, almost everybody did.’

He was discharged in 1973, aged 22. At about the same time, his marriage to his childhood sweetheart fell apart. And then, as Sharon was finishing high school and embarking on higher education, Michael found himself a new career: instead of just taking drugs, he started trafficking and dealing in marijuana.

Soon, he was earning $60,000 a month, he says, but the consequences for his family were inescapable as a world of violence started to intrude.

‘All hell started breaking loose,’ recalls Sharon. ‘People were getting shot and beaten up.’

Sharon and Michael as kids in approximately 1961 in Pennsylvania

Sharon and Michael as kids in approximately 1961 in Pennsylvania

‘They thought I would be safer to get me out of there. So Mum and Dad let me leave and pursue my dreams in New York.’

Aged 19, Sharon signed with the prestigious Ford modelling agency and, though she was considered too short and ‘too fat’ for the catwalk, started making good money appearing in magazine advertisements.

Then she landed bit parts in Hollywood. Her first role was as ‘the pretty girl on the train’ in Woody Allen’s 1980 film Stardust Memories.

Acting was a tough life, too, but in a different way. ‘It takes a lot to accept the vulnerability of being alone… especially in this town,’ she tells her brother. ‘I can’t tell you the millions of times people would tell me if I didn’t do this, do that, f*** this person, f*** that guy, that no one would like me. And they don’t like you anyway, whether you do or whether you don’t.’

In 1990 she landed a part in Total Recall opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then in 1992 came the role that made her a global sensation: the part of ice-cool killer Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct, opposite Michael Douglas. And that famous leg-crossing scene.

Sharon would later complain that she had no idea the director would expose her completely: ‘He told me to take off my panties because they were white and were reflecting in the camera.’

She did as she was asked, unaware of the controversy that would follow.

Sharon says that for all her outward confidence, she was plagued by insecurity. She believes this reflects a childhood wearing hand-me-down clothes and watching as her parents struggled to put food on the table.

‘Mum and Dad came from such a distorted family upbringing with Mum in such incredible poverty. There was such madness in her family. And Dad with alcoholism. Neither of them finished school.

‘So they were the family that was going to pull it together, no matter what. There was a lot of fear behind it. [Our parents] came from everything being a s*** show.’

Sharon felt she had to show the same resilience. ‘Sometimes I think when the boundaries are so strict and expectations are so high, it can make you feel like you’re not enough, all the time.

‘I know that was really hard for me. I never thought I was pretty, or that special, or smart or anything.

‘When I got As, I needed to get A+.’

As Sharon’s career took off, her brother was having a different kind of success.

By the end of the 1970s, Michael was masterminding an operation worth millions of dollars, smuggling huge quantities of drugs out of Belgium, often hidden in secret compartments in furniture. 

He even trained his own sniffer dogs to ensure the drugs were sufficiently well hidden, sealed inside the furniture.

He buried ‘tens of thousands’ of dollars in coffee cans around the Stone family home in Pennsylvania. While his sister applied herself on the road to stardom, Michael was barricading himself into motel rooms, guns by his bedside.

In 1981, he started trafficking cocaine, a move with desperate consequences for not only Michael, but those around him.

Michael and Sharon in their Sunday best before heading off to church in the backwoods of Pennsylvania

Michael and Sharon in their Sunday best before heading off to church in the backwoods of Pennsylvania

‘I was in the weed business for six-and-a-half years and I was only in the cocaine business for eight months,’ he says. ‘It was something I really had no intention of doing. It’s completely different types of people.

‘Cocaine ruined everything. There was no upside to it.

‘Suddenly we were dealing with the Colombians.’

The violence escalated dramatically. In the interview, he tells a shocked Sharon about the time he arrived in a hotel room to find a woman beaten half to death.

Then his business partner was shot dead.

On December 18, 1981, the FBI kicked down his hotel door and arrested him. He had 2 lb of cocaine with him, drug-weighing scales and a crack pipe that he used to smoke or ‘freebase’ the drug.

During one of the most painful exchanges in the footage, Sharon spells it out directly: ‘It was so terrifying for all of us. Didn’t you use crystal meth? Quite frankly, we felt like you were our worst enemy.

‘When it’s happening within a family you are really torn because this is the guy who made me my own single muslin bag so I could carry one paper and go on your paper route with you when I was four or five.

‘We’d have breakfast alone in the kitchen,’ she recalls, ‘and there’s this big picture window and the lilac bush was in full bloom and we were sitting there laughing and then a blue jay hit the window. And you reached over and you took my hand.

‘And that moment really helped me not lose full contact with you in those terrible times.

‘I don’t know if you remember, but some of those times when you were suicidal and you overdosed your friends brought you to me and I literally put you on my back and dragged you back and forth across my little shaky apartment, all night long, several different times until you came to and could walk with me. I kept you from dying.

‘It was really very difficult because you see someone on a road that isn’t even a road and it’s like you’re running in an ever-shrinking circle.

‘Mum’s ability to be sensible was gone and Dad, when you see a guy like that sobbing, it’s just so hard.’

For his part, her brother acknowledges the responsibility and the guilt. ‘For years I have lived with anxiety and unrest,’ he tells her. 

‘The hardest thing is you have to live with what you do and that’s one of the reasons I’m glad we did this [interview].’

After his arrest for cocaine possession, Michael faced a jail sentence of between 15 years and life, such was the gravity of his crimes. Striking a plea bargain, however, he eventually served just two years, including a spell in New York’s Attica prison.

There, he says he immersed himself in literature and survived by helping fellow inmates compose love poems to their wives.

Today he is clean and has rebuilt his life in the wilds of Montana, where he works in construction and performs his poetry every Thursday. 

He is writing a book and maintains close friendships with some of those he met during his years in Los Angeles, including Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood.

Sharon talks about a difficult memory when she says she kept her brother alive after he overdosed

Sharon talks about a difficult memory when she says she kept her brother alive after he overdosed

The filmed interview is partly an attempt to put the past behind him, but he also hopes the final three-hour edit will be sold to a commercial streaming service:

‘I’d like to see it run as a series,’ he says. ‘It’s a story about a family and redemption, and if one person watches it and learns from it then it will all have been worthwhile.’

Michael has mostly been a footnote in his sister’s fame.

He wrote a script based on his life which Michael Douglas wanted to appear in, but Michael stepped away after his sister’s advisers said the publicity could damage Sharon’s career.

He was briefly engaged to 90s It Girl Tamara Beckwith, but the British socialite’s parents put an end to that when they learned of his criminal past.

Touchingly, Sharon tells her brother that no matter how low he fell, she always believed in him.

Remembering an incident from childhood, she tells how she tumbled into a river and almost drowned. ‘You put me on your shoulders and saved my life,’ she says. ‘Your instinct as a human being was a caring one. You looked after me.

‘It’s particularly important to have this frank discussion, particularly now when we’re looking at a nation that has been divided by the extraordinary situation of poverty and oppression and fast talk and the loss of integrity.

‘Your story is really important. In desperate times and fearful times, we do things that seem harsh and unforgivable but there is redemption. 

‘We come from an extraordinarily difficult and impoverished upbringing, a cataclysmic kind of upbringing and to struggle through all these things and to come back is a commendable thing to do.’

In a world where even minor celebrities curate their images meticulously, it is all the more extraordinary that an A-lister such as Sharon Stone should agree to reveal so much about her past.

As Michael explains: ‘For years, this was something we kept private. I never discussed it and nor did she. We didn’t talk about it as a family and we certainly didn’t talk about it publicly. I’ve been offered serious money over the years to sell my story but I would never have done that to Sharon.

‘Regardless of the mistakes I may have made, I have always been her protective big brother.

‘It was actually Sharon who suggested she interview me. There were so many things she wanted to ask, things she wanted to say to me, things she has waited years to ask.

‘We ended up hiring a studio and sat there for four-and-a-half hours and talked in a way we’ve never done before. At times it was brutal, very painful, but, ultimately, it’s been cathartic for both of us.

‘Like any family we have had our issues but the love that was forged in our childhood has always been there.

‘I’m always described as her deadbeat brother, the black sheep of the family,’ he says. 

‘Sometimes they throw in drug-dealer or drug-addict for good measure. For decades we’ve kept everything bottled up. But not now. Neither of us are getting any younger and we both felt it was time for this to come out.

‘Talking about this has been taboo for most of our lives. She was the star and I respected that. A lot of our reluctance to talk about this stuff is that we were worried it might hurt her career. But she’s so far above that now. It’s time to get honest. She wants that and so do I.

‘Sharon has been a wonderful sister. I’ve tried to be the best big brother I could be. It will be strange to have this all out in the open after so many years of secrecy, but it’s a good thing.

‘Ultimately, we love each other and we stick together. If our story proves nothing else, it is that love always wins out. Always.’

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